11 November is rightly a poignant day. I wear a red poppy, always have, for the reasons I used to 40 years ago, ignoring the overlay of militaristic propaganda, which was always there but has been hyper-amplified of late.
But this is the day the music died for European democracy. It is of course a mistake to choose a single day or event as the day any historical grand process unfolds. But a single day can symbolise it, like the fall of the Bastille.
I didn’t notice it at the time, but democracy actually stopped meaning anything in England some years ago as all the main English political parties were bought for the neo-con agenda.
In Europe, today is one of those symbolic days as the former Vice President of the European Central Bank is imposed on the Greeks by the Germans as their Prime Minister, and as former EU Commissioner Mario Monti is forced upon the Italians, in neither case with any voter having a chance to do anything about it.
15 years ago, as First Secretary of the British Embassy in Warsaw, my main job was to help move Poland into the European Union. I attended many conferences organised by the EU – and some organised by me – to promote this. At one Konrad Adenauer Foundation organised conference, speaker after speaker outlined what they called “the role of elites” in promoting EU integration. That was the title of one of the sessions. The thesis was put forward, quite openly, that European Union was a great and noble idea which had always been moved forward by great visionaries among the elite, and that popular opinion may be relied on to catch up eventually, but should not be allowed to stop the project.
If you haven’t seen and felt it from the insde, you cannot understand the reverence the eurocrats feel towards the names of their founding fathers, like Schumann and Monnet and Spinelli and a host of others you and I have never heard of. Participants at conferences like the one I was at in Poland, run by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, are made very much to feel that they are a part of this elite, a kind of superman with a superior knowledge and insight to the ordinary pleb. It was heady stuff for ambitious young Polish politicians of the mid 1990s.
I made a speech at that conference in which I warned against the elitist model and spoke of the need for informed consent in a democracy. This was viewed as rather quaint, though I did make a great many rather good jokes. I remain broadly in favour of European integration in principle, and entirely in favour of Europe’s open internal borders, but still very mindful that those driving the European project do not really believe in democracy if it means that common people can tell great minds like them what to do.
11 November may go down in history as the day that helped the ordinary people of Europe realise that.