Magazine article The Spectator

Lie, Lie and Lie Again

Magazine article The Spectator

Lie, Lie and Lie Again

Article excerpt

There has been much sniggering in the Western media over Tuesday's referendum in Iraq on re-electing Saddam Hussein, since it is obvious that the only permissible answer was Yes. But how different are referendums in the European Union? On Saturday the Irish will be voting for the second time on the Nice Treaty, because when they voted on it in June 2001 they got the answer 'wrong' and voted No. If the vote is now Yes, the televised jubilation across the Continent will be as synthetic as it was in Baghdad.

Doctors in the Netherlands say that committing euthanasia becomes easier after you have done it once. The same is evidently true of overruling democracy. In 1992, when Denmark voted against the Maastricht Treaty, Danish democracy was gangraped when the other 11 EU states demanded that Denmark ignore the result and re-run the vote. In neither the Danish nor the Irish case was there any suggestion whatever that the first vote had been technically flawed; in both cases, the second vote was on the same text as the first.

Referendums are the purest form of democracy: in Ireland, unlike in Britain, they are actually part of the legislative process. After the 2001 No vote, the Irish government should have demanded a renegotiation to take account of its people's legitimate concerns. Instead, by repeating the Danish experience, the EU has shown that its problem is not that it suffers from a `democratic deficit' - an ugly piece of technobabble which implies that the deficit can be easily filled - but instead that the whole EU project is structurally hostile to free democratic choice.

Moreover, this second Irish poll is being held just as the EU is promising, in the `Constitutional Convention' which is being chaired by Valery Discard d'Estaing, to bring itself closer to citizens. Yet what better way is there to distance yourself from citizens than by ignoring their vote? The Irish are the only people in the EU to have been allowed a direct vote on this treaty; their ballots last year should therefore be valued all the more highly. Instead of this, they have been discarded.

How long can the European project carry on like this? All three of the last referendums held on the EU have produced a No: the Danish vote on the euro in September 2000, the Swiss vote on opening EU accession negotiations in March 2001, and the Irish referendum in June 2001. This is why the former French minister for Europe, Pierre Moscovici, gave expression to the EU's anti-democratic philosophy when he declared in 2001 that he did not want a referendum on Nice in France `because the answer might be No'. …

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