Only the Czech president and the Irish people stand between popular sovereignty and further unaccountable rule from Brussels.
The Czech Senate ratified the Lisbon Treaty last Wednesday. Only the Irish people and Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who must sign the document for it to take effect, stand between the European Union and political consolidation. But both remain formidable obstacles.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus routinely offends Europe’s governing elite by speaking unpleasant truths. Like when he recently lectured the European Parliament — delivering a “blistering diatribe,” reported one publication — about the danger of concentrating ever more power in Brussels.
The European Union grew out of the wreckage of World War II. European economic cooperation became a means, in addition to NATO, to link Germany to its neighbors. The organization started as the European Coal and Steel Community, turned into the European Economic Community (or “Common Market”), and became the European Union in 1993.
Further strengthening the EU has become the premier project of Europe’s elite, an amalgam of supra-national politicians, continental bureaucrats, deracinated intellectuals, and borderless businessmen. The original benefits of intra-European trade were obvious: a continental market promoted European trade and prosperity, while the prospect of joining the most prosperous states of Europe spurred economic and political reform in the new nations formed out of the Soviet empire.
But the EU’s goal of ever-expanding continental markets is running into rising nationalism. The Czech Republic, which holds the rotating EU presidency, is battling France over the latter’s plan to bail out the French auto industry. Denmark and Germany fear further EU expansion if workers are free to move throughout Europe.
Moreover, the EU increasingly micro-manages economic activity, from mandating use of metric measurements to banning “defective” vegetables. To improve people’s health, the Commission is proposing to limit the salt content of bread. “What the EU is doing amounts to stupid interference,” complained Matthias Wiemers, chairman of the Central Association of German Bakeries.
Yet the Eurocrats dream of turning Brussels into more than a giant OSHA. They want to harness Europe’s population of a half billion and GDP of $19 trillion in order to compete with the U.S. for global influence. For that they have proposed creating a stronger government structure with greater authority to develop a continental foreign policy. Hence the Lisbon Treaty.
In 2001 the Europeans began negotiating a constitution of formidable length and incomprehensible verbiage. It created a president and foreign minister, dropped the requirement of a commissioner per country, limited national vetoes, and reshuffled EU institutional responsibilities (the European Parliament continues to debate the exact apportionment of duties). Whether the treaty is a good let alone necessary is for the Europeans to decide. But which Europeans get to decide?
Signed in 2004, the constitution had to be approved by popular referendum and was quickly rejected by both Dutch and French voters. European consolidation looked dead, but the Eurocrats changed a couple of commas and reissued the constitution as the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007 — which, conveniently, didn’t require popular approval. French President Nicolas Sarkozy admitted: “There will be no treaty at all if we had a referendum in France.” Then the carefully prepared railroad unexpectedly ran off the rails. In June 2008 Ireland held a referendum, as required by its constitution, and the voters said no.
The wailing and gnashing of teeth could be heard across the continent. The collective reaction was: How dare they! Under the rules the treaty was dead, but the Eurocrats write the rules, and they agreed that the treaty must be ratified, irrespective of the rules. Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, announced: “I believe the treaty is alive and we should now try to find a solution.”
Much was said of democracy and majority rights by elites which were doing their best to prevent the people from having any say on their form of government. Britain’s Lord Mark Malloch-Brown complained: “I am not sure whether the voters of Ireland should have a right of veto over the aspirations of all the other people of Europe. I am not sure whether that is, or is not, democracy.” Similarly, German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said: “a few million Irish cannot decide on behalf of 495 million Europeans.”
Of course not. Only a few thousand people — the Eurocrats — are supposed to decide on behalf of 495 million Europeans.
The problem, argued Czech President Klaus, is that “There is no European demos — and no European nation,” which intensifies the problem of “the democratic deficit, the loss of democratic accountability, the decision-making of the unelected.” Klaus warned of “a situation where the citizens of member countries would live their lives with a resigned feeling that the EU project is not their own.” He was particularly scathing of the EU’s attempt to suppress popular sentiments: “Not so long ago, in our part of Europe, we lived in a political system that permitted no alternatives and therefore also no parliamentary opposition. We learned the bitter lesson that with no opposition, there is no freedom.”
Although British Member of the European Parliament Graham Watson acknowledged “some kernels of truth” in Klaus’ description of “the distance between the voters and the [European Parliament],” the Eurocrats are prepared to increase that distance in order to push through the Lisbon Treaty. One option is turning Dublin into a second class EU member; another possibility is tossing the Irish out of the EU. But the preferred result is having Ireland hold a second poll — so long as voters make the right decision. As Mats Persson of the think tank Open Europe observed: “Ever since the Irish voted No to the Lisbon Treaty in June, politicians in Ireland and across Europe have tried to find ways to force this unwanted document through — against the clear will of the people.”
After winning some theoretical concessions, essentially promises to make future changes, on issues of interest to Irish voters, the government in Dublin announced plans to hold a revote later this year. Current polls have the “ayes” ahead and the EU is spending more than $2 million to lobby the Irish public. But the apparent upsurge in support may be temporary, reflecting economic fears, and groups like Declan Ganley’s Libertas, which played a key role in defeating the treaty in the first Irish vote, plan to keep fighting.
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