David Calling

Lisbon, Falling

Democracies play by the rules. That’s the test, is it not? A country with a political system that does not play by the rules cannot be a democracy. Witness Iran or Afghanistan or Russia, where the powers that be have openly and recently rigged votes. Such countries are dictatorships even though they may not declare themselves as such. And now Europe joins them.
Those who run the European Union have been trying to create a single state out of the 27 component countries. The so-called Lisbon Treaty was drawn up for the purpose. If ordinary people everywhere were asked for their opinion, this treaty would be rejected outright. The French and the Dutch did actually vote to reject the treaty, but their rulers simply ignored that fact. In Britain, Mr. Blair promised to hold a referendum, but then with no apparent strain on his conscience decided not to, leaving his successor to sign up to it without the legitimacy to do so. The majority of European governments have followed this path, cheating their electorates one by one, moreover keeping them in the dark as though they were Romanov or Habsburg emperors, and politics were some private domain about which voters should not be consulted.
Except for Ireland, whose constitution mandated a referendum. Irish voters then rejected the Lisbon Treaty, whereupon the powers that be in Europe insisted that the Irish vote a second time in order to reverse the first vote, spending a great deal of money to gain support and raising all sorts of fears about the future that Ireland might face. Operating more or less clandestinely, refusing to play by the rules, a junta of determined European politicians have succeeded today in getting the Irish to obey them — in plain language they have rigged the vote to obtain the outcome they wanted. The Lisbon Treaty is virtually certain to be certified. Among other consequences, the people of Europe are likely to have a president for whom they never asked but chosen for them by the junta of heads of state in an exclusive process of horse-trading behind closed doors. Worse still, they can neither vote for him nor dismiss him from office. According to leaked reports, Mr. Blair will soon become president of Europe as his reward for having broken his promise to hold a referendum in Britain — without doubt the British would have said no to the Lisbon Treaty with an overwhelming majority (incidentally throwing a spanner into the complete works of the European Union). In which case the Irish who sought so long and so hard for independence from Britain will have a British super-official wished on to them above their heads, about which they can do nothing.
In normal circumstances, democracies will not tolerate trickery of the kind. Treated with such open contempt, genuine electorates take to the streets and build barricades and start burning institutions that do not represent them. A state built on deception is not worth having, and for the future it looks as if force alone will be able to maintain it. Europe is set either to collapse with unimaginable consequences or harden into some sort of authoritarian monster. It so happens that I have just finished reading Christopher Caldwell’s far-sighted Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, with its final conclusion that Europe is “a civilization in decline.” The handling of the Irish proves his point, and it bodes ill for all of us.


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