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Betraying liberal democratic principles in Europe

On Friday, the citizens of Ireland will go to the polls to vote for the second time on the Lisbon Treaty, after apparently giving the 'wrong' answer the first time around. After agreement was reached in June on the so-called guarantees that are supposed to assuage Irish fears about the Treaty, the EU Presidency confirmed that "the text of the guarantees explicitly states that the Lisbon Treaty is not changed thereby." The Irish people are therefore being served a re-heated Treaty – even more unappetising than it was before. One can argue over whether transferring more power to the EU level is a good or a bad thing. Clearly many people across Europe are opposed to it, as shown by the French and Dutch people's rejection of the EU Constitution, whose content, in the words of the man who presided over its drafting, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, is "all to be found in the Treaty of Lisbon".

But that is not the only issue at stake here. Asking people the same question until they give the desired answer raises an utterly more fundamental debate – about the rules of the game, about democracy itself. It has been said many times before that politicians in Brussels and Strasbourg live in a bubble, safely out of the public eye and at a comfortable distance from the platform they were elected on back home. The leader of the German CSU party recently accused one of his own MEPs of having "lived too long on the Brussels gravy train".

This phenomenon is particularly apparent when it comes to the EU's so-called liberal parties, which in the EU Parliament sit on the ALDE group. All over Europe, these have always championed their firm belief in democracy and opponents will say that they have often been ahead of other parties when it comes to advocating initiatives such as citizens' petitions or referendums. The fact that they are often not the dominant political force probably plays a role in that. However, it is striking how often these parties' attitudes to direct democracy don't make it on to the plane when they confront EU issues.

Take the German liberal party, the Free Democratic Party or FDP, which has just enjoyed great success in national elections. Back in 2003, they were in favour of submitting the European Constitution to a popular vote. They even launched a legal proposal to change the German Constitution to make this possible. But they changed their position after the referendums in France and the Netherlands delivered the 'wrong' response. Now they are only in favour of a 'Europe-wide' referendum – a poor substitute and so politically impossible it comes across as an empty gesture rather than a bold policy proposal.

Another prominent ALDE member is the Dutch centre-left leaning "Democrats 66" (D66) Party, which has always called for "radical democratisation of the political system". The party, formed in the Sixties, considers the proposal to introduce referendums as one of the "crown jewels" of the party due to its entrenched belief in direct democracy. At least this is what Dutch voters were led to believe. After the Dutch referendum, where 61.6 percent of the population rejected the European Constitution, D66 approved the Treaty of Lisbon in parliament in 2008, while at the same time admitting that it "only cosmetically" differed from the rejected Constitution.

Interestingly, D66 stresses in its manifesto that "parties should always promise beforehand that they will respect the outcome of a referendum." This seems to have slipped leading D66 MEP Sophie in 't Veld's mind when she voted on 20 February 2008 with the rest of the parliament in favour of ignoring Ireland's first referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, even before that referendum had taken place. Shockingly, no less than 88 percent of ALDE MEPs joined her, including Dianna Wallis, Fiona Hall and Andrew Duff, Liberal Democrat MEPs from the UK.

In 2005 the Lib Dems joined all the other main parties in the UK and pledged to hold a referendum on the European Constitution. In 2008 however, leader Nick Clegg U-turned on his promise, blocking calls for a referendum on the treaty in parliament. Clegg instead proposed to have a poll on Britain's continued membership of the EU, using the same political trick as the German liberals: promise something politically distracting in the knowledge you will never be called on it.

The ALDE Group itself, while defending the idea of direct democracy and referendums, is at the same time the group that has been viciously fighting all attempts to respect the outcome of the referendums in France, the Netherlands and Ireland. Reacting on its website to the No votes in 2005, ALDE is proud that the group "played a substantial role in the careful analysis of the possible reasons for these negative results", setting out how "a period of reflection must re-launch the constitutional project". Many liberals will know F.A. Hayek, who said: "Whoever betrays his principles, will go to hell". They'd better take his advice.

Dit opiniestuk van Pieter Cleppe verscheen in de "EU Observer".

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7 Reacties:

At 16:52 Anoniem said...

There is still a possibility to vote online at

At 16:57 Vincent De Roeck said...

Op In Flanders Fields postte ik een videoclipje van Daniel Hannan waarin hij de vergelijking met de Bijbel maakt op de "campaign trail" met zijn vriend en ideologische evenknie Mark Reckless. Hij schetst op een wel zéér ludieke manier een beeld van de wirwar van Europese overregulering en toetst die aan het Noach-verhaal uit de Bijbel.

At 16:57 Anoniem said...

Geniaal :D

At 16:58 Anoniem said...

Ik beantwoord toch liever aan de voorschriften van de EU, dan aan die van de God die noah de ark liet bouwen.Was het niet diezelfde God die aan Abraham vroeg om zijn zoon Izaak te offeren, en vroeg hij van zijn volk niet voortdurend een complete onderwerping, tegen alle menselijkheid en logica in.
Neen ik kan de grap wel smaken, maar ben tevreden dat we van het juk van Jahweh bevrijd zijn, en hoop dat hij niet terugkomt met een andere naam, Allah bvb.

vr grt
pierre plum

At 16:58 Anoniem said...

Pierre heeft de betekenis van het Abraham-verhaal niet al te best begrepen.
Het is juist een duidelijk (goddelijk) verbod om een mensenoffer te brengen (Isaak wordt immers door God gered).
De Joodse religie en later de christelijke én de islamitische hebben nooit mensenoffers gekend net omwille van dit verhaal.

At 16:58 Anoniem said...


Als God Soddom en Gommorha vernietigt omdat zij zich overgeven aan zedeloos gedrag, en Loth in een zoutzuil veranderd omdat ze omkeek, kan ik dat niet bepaald een uiting van menslievendheid noemen.
Het is overigens een koud kunstje om uit het oud testament excerpten te halen die het jaloerse en opvliegende karakter van de Jahweh-God aantonen.Hij noemt zich overigens zelf zo: ik ben een jaloerse God.Maar het staat je geheel vrij om via ad hoc constructies, en persoonlijke interpretaties alles wat Jahweh decreteerde en ondernam in een positief daglicht te plaatsen.
Laat mij zeggen dat ik mij daar niet toe geroepen voel, en hoop dat deze fase afgesloten is.
Het is mij overigens niet helemaal duidelijk waarom iemand in een discussie over theologie het anonimaat wil bewaren, maar dit terzijde.

vr grt
pierre plum

At 16:58 Johan B. said...

Sorry, maar ik zie niet in wat er "zéér ludiek" is aan Hannans stuntelig geneuzel.

Het Euromonster verhoudt zich tot de hemelse dictatuur als een amoebe tot Tyrannosaurus rex. Het enige wat Hannan aantoont is dat de Europese overregulering in een zeer extreem geval toch nog onbedoelde positieve gevolgen kan hebben, nl. het verhinderen van de ultieme holocaust.


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