The Day Democracy Died in Europe 77


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.


77 thoughts on “The Day Democracy Died in Europe

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  • alan

    You comment about the replacement of countries leaders without elections, but putting aside the (disastrous) unelected ascendency of gordon brown, elections in this country manage a very low turnout, with most people too disillusioned or complacent to vote. In my case, disillusioned, as all three parties offering candidates in my constituency require me, as a basic rate taxpayer, to earn about £170 to buy £100 of basic goods. I am opposed to most aspects of the EU, but the elected governments have done, in too many cases, a criminally poor job of managing their countries. We’re between a rock and a hard place, with few apparent alternatives.

  • mike cobley

    Craig, I agree – I would be quite happy to live in a United States of Europe, but the current arrangement is a misbegotten dogs dinner suffering a serious democratic deficit. I feel torn between not wanting to see the whole thing crash to pieces, and wanting to see the elites humbled.

  • Stephen

    So democracy is dead – but what would you replace it with then? Nihilism? Theocracy? A benevolent dictator (they are always benevolent at the start)?

    No one ever claimed that democracy was perfect or that particular forms of it are not capable of improvement. I think you place too little onus on the ability of people to express different views and to be able to get people to vote for those different views to be put into action. Did our ancestors give up on democracy when the Chartists demands were not met at first or when women did not get the vote at the first attempt?

    You also do not recognise that the need to govern with some degree of public consent places important restrictions on the ability of the elites to do what they want – if you don’t believe me just look at Syria where no such constraints are in place. Don’t you think it somewhat strange that when people living under totalitarian eventually get their freedom their usual response nowadays is to seek some form of democracy?.

    The honest answer under democracy when you don’t like something – is to try harder to get your arguments across. Democracies do progress over time, even if that progress is often of the two steps forward, one steps backward process. We should also remember that democracy is the one thing that totalitarians really fear and will often fight tooth and nail to prevent – just look at Syria if you want a current example.

    So three cheers for the least worst form of political organisation and those brave people who fought to defend it.

  • John Goss

    Democracy is an ideal. On paper it sounds good. In practice it has probably never existed. I believe in an integrated Europe because it is better than European nationals killing one another on the poppy-fields of Flanders. The contribution you Craig and others made towards an integrated Europe is laudable, and when we get an integrated world, so much the better. Some believe the cream gets to the top, others the scum. Whatever, if they listen to ordinary people they do not act, unless their cosy existences are threatened by mass protest. I shall never forget when Bill Rodgers helped start the SDP he addressed the students’ union. He explained how when he first entered parliament MPs only had a locker and how things had progressed with Offices and secretaries. He had nothing to say about policy, he was only concerned with how much better things were for MPs. Well they are even better now, like footballers’ wages. It was a big lesson for me. But what do MPs represent? It is not the ordinary person, or the fallen in battle, it is themselves, and how a governing elite can continue to govern without some other scumbag usurping their cosy lifestyle.

  • Richard

    Unelected government in Europe? It’s news, but it’s not new. Papandreou, a third-generation Prime Minister, came to power because of Greece’s formal Disproportional Representation system, that awarded his party an extra 50 of the 300 seats in Parliament. Berlusconi came to power through numerous fiddles, but among them a lying media, nearly all owned or controlled directly by Berlusconi. That’s a curse which has messed up democracy very badly in the USA and in the UK in recent decades; mainly through one and the same big owner. I’m just saying the previous system wasn’t so good. But I am still very unhappy that we’re putting financial technocrats in charge in order to rescue us from the mess caused by irresponsible speculators by satisfying the requirements of the Bond Market. In other words, we’re giving all power to Bankers so they can save us from the depradations of the bankers by doing whatever the bankers require.

  • craig Post author

    Stephen,

    In the nineteenth century there were fundamental differences between the parties. Gladstone, as former PM and leader of the opposition, in 1880 campaigned against the 2nd Afghan War annd said specifically of Afghans fighting British soldiers “If they resist, would you not do the same”.

    Nowadays not only do all main parties support all the neo-con wars, leaving the minimum 30% of the population against the wars in Libya and Afghanistan unrepresented, it would be impossible for any mainstream politician, let alone the leader of the opposition, to say that those fighting the British army were right. The media would attack you unanimously and you would be guilty of “glorifying terrorism”.

    The existence of TV, and the extreme narrowness of the terms of debate allowed on it – see last night’s Question Time, or the almost total non-representation during the Libyan war of the third or more of Britons who were against it – limit the scope for genuine democratic debate in a modern society.

    Yes I can stand on a soapbox like O’Connor of the Chartists. He had as much democratic access to a soapbox as Palmerston, and both would draw large crowds. Nowadays those crowds are not out but in their homes getting their politics from TV, and to that access is anything but equal.

    I have absolutely no desire to replace democracy. I want some back.

  • TFS

    So let me get this straight.

    The man running Greece, is the same man who colluded with Goldman Sacchs to defraud its entry into the EU? and what noone is suing GS and this new president.

    The banking industry is just one area of capitalism that keeps on giving…

    Didn’t I read it somewhere that of all the countries invaded by Germany in WWII, Greece was the only country to not receive war reparations? Also during WWI didnt Germany impose a loan from Greece to support its war effort which Germany has so far failed to return, with interest (HMRC are you watching)?

    I’m not sure, but you seem to have one group of people (The Bankers), trying to take over the world.

    TFS

  • TFS

    I’m not sure our elected officials have been sub par?

    What has surely been equally prevalent in our society is “Apathy”, which has allowed these morons to not be held accountable.

    Seems to me, we should blaming ourselves.

    TFS

  • ingo

    This crisis is within us all, only now we are beginning to realise how far we have been pushed and how much we have been asked to consume together.
    The mistake was in its inception. never was there any date envisaged for a gradual alignment of tax policies, it was all about lowering/abolishing trade barriers for those who wanted Europe to become a great big fat market opportunity, democracy was always missing because those in Power would not have wanted a EU union if they could not appoint the decisions makers, rather than elect them.

    To appoint the Commissioners guaranteed that the 1% got their placemen were they wanted them, on top. The Parliamentarians could merely nodd or abstain. This equation forced the assembled Parliamentarians into their various corners, they had to organise blocks to get some of their policies heard, never mind adopted.
    Unless the multi billion frauds of agricultural and development grants, often pointed to by the auditors who failed to return books on many occaisions, were stopped, nothing would have changed much, with many of them from the Med countries, crunchtime was bound to hit us.
    Blaming does nothing, if we want to have a future market in Europe we have to get into the centre of this European storm, inform our public of how it works, for starters, and make it work for all/us.
    from now on we will be going backwards, but the Euro will stay. An orientation around the more prosperous norther European countries will be more rightwing, internally focussed and most likely not a free trade area for all, accept those who are within.

    Greece has its PM imposed, so has Italy, but there is not much difference between them and us, we have our politicians appointed by apathy and disillusionment of the process. Not even being allowed to freely choose between electoral voting system make s this perfectly clear.
    Imposing interim PM’s is required by the markets, in turmoil about the future of the global system, it serves the Gholum. That does not mean you abolish elections or democracy. And what value democracy if its mistreated, shunned and ridiculed for its weak franchise, its lack of adhering to a basic mandate, if it can be turned into any ol’ totaliatrian torture tool?

    Blame will not shift responsibility either. Cameron says that he will not provide any bailout monies for these countries, he’s happy sniping from the sidelines, and when they fall out and leave the EU, he will not help them either, what a great partner he is….
    If Greece leaves the EU, it might not be able to pay its contributions to NATO and or be part of it anymore, but is that OK? Should we let Greece regress, would we like to pay tourist taxes, £ 100 to visit the Pathenon? a shipping tax for whatever we’ve purchased?

    Greece needs support even after it has left, who will provide it if it is not the City of London?, daft question really, it will be the ECB in Frankfurt.

    Now VAT was an EY taxation, initially it was not to last, here for a certain period, but eventually, once we got used to being fleeced, it was accepted as normal taxation, thing is It was a EU taxation initially. So, when we extradite us from Euriope and anker of baltimore’s coast, this will have to be reliquished, or would it not? It has been such a good earner and we all would be very sad to see it go, or would we? 🙂

  • Stephen

    “I have absolutely no desire to replace democracy. I want some back.”

    Good – then think about how to do it, rather than moaning about the futility of doing so.

    I disagree about there not being difference betweeen the parties – on economics the approaches are fundamentally different (it is only the Lib Dems that try to ride both horses) and I guess now that the Labour Party is coming to its senses it has a different view on regulation of the financial sector as well. There is more to life than Middle East – and even there my guess is that Labour is more likely to seek to use international institutions rather than military means first; but the sad truth is that there is little serious thinking about how this should be done as opposed to the alternative of saying that they are all the same and only looking to fight wars.

    The last Prime Minister to stand on a soap box was Major – and look where it got him. I don’t think that Chartists thought that they had as much democratic access as their rivals – far from it.

  • ingo

    When it comes to informing the public about their work in Europe, the respective party’s allegaiances with this that or other group, sometimes just for the sake of a singl;e policy decision than I can’t agree Stephen.
    Politics should never have been onesided, dumbed down with the help of the MSM, voters need and want more say, five seconds of power whilst making a cross behind a name is not enough.
    All parties denied us choice over how we elect them, they all were prepared to toe one single line in order to present us with a fait a compli, with the worst possible option they grudgingly agreed to, thats not democracy, thats impositioning of an ultimatum.

    How should a dumbed down, used and abused public which hardly gets the right picvture over its own inhouse politics, get any impartial informative view of what happens in Europe? An impossibility in a country of partisans.

  • Stephen

    Craig

    On the Chartists – I think you forget that Chartism grew out of the corresponding societies which were set up as the means by which working people could get their ideas across against the ruling classes domination of most forms of current media. If the message is right then there is always a way of getting it across.

  • Quelcrime

    But didn’t we export our democracy to Libya? That must be why we’ve none left at home.
    .
    On a different but related note, I see that repulsive ex-director of Walmart is now threatening violence against the Asia-Pacific region.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/nov/11/hillary-clinton-asia-pacific-speech
    .
    I was asking myself where the FUCK does the US get the nerve to lecture other countries about human rights. I was thinking, the US has more than 1% of its adult population incarcerated; the US imprisons children for life without the possibility of parole; in parts of the US women are prosecuted for suffering miscarriages; the US assassinates its own citizens without even the pretence of beginning judicial process; the US has foreign citizens imprisoned on trumped-up charges (or none at all) and, unlike Iran, North Korea and Myanmar, which all pardoned imprisoned US citizens (most but not all imprisoned quite legitimately), there is no chance that a US President would have the guts to pardon them; the US operates secret prisons and torture chambers; the US regularly bombs into submission countries which don’t accept its economic domination; the US subverts the UN using bribes and threats in order to prevent it fulfilling its role of maintaining peace in the world.
    .
    Then I realised the US talk of human rights is always hollow. It’s just as hollow when they criticise China for sticking a few dissidents in jail for 10 or 15 years as it is when they claim their bombs are protecting human rights. The entire edifice of ‘moral leadership’ is false. The USA is not a moral leader whose foreign policy has lost its bearings. It’s a bloodsucking fiend from hell.
    .
    Was the USA really founded on those principles they spout? Was it gradually perverted into this monster, or was it always fucked up? Is there any connection between the genocide on which it was founded, the slavery on which it was built, and the tyranny it exercises today? Is there something about the system which requires blood to suck, and when it had sucked the Indians and the blacks more or less dry it had to turn its eyes abroad? Was there some sort of humane interlude? Could a large and powerful state founded on the principles of liberty and equality and democracy ever simply live and let live? Was this inevitable?
    .
    Is the UK’s gradual evolution into sham-democratic police state a result of the same forces – that is, will all countries under the sway of the US turn into shit? Are we being subjected to a subtler form of the bombs and sanctions which are applied elsewhere? I’m not asserting that the US is doing this to us, but isn’t there a parallel between what the US does where it can and what is happening to the UK, and to the EU?

  • craig Post author

    Stephen,

    It is simply not true there is always a was to get your message across. Correspondence and personal meetings were the normal forms of communiaction then. Now effective political impact requires television, and that requires very ;arge capital formation.

  • writerman

    Craig,

    It’s nice to have you back, firing on all cylinders, (which might be part of your “problem”) but creative, intelligent, and sensitive people, are often subject to the “up ‘n’ downs”.

    Charles the First, supposedly commented that Democracy was “Greek drollery”, but then he would think that wouldn’t he? He also believed in the devine right of kings to rule… “I sit on the right hand of God.”

    I’ve been watching an American documentary series about ancient Greece, which was interesting, in the sense that the series seemed to be about the United States and Israel, and their situation in relation to Iran, or at least this was the subtext. Plucky, progressive, democratic Athens, standing alone against the threat from the Persian Empire and its totalitarian leader Xerxes. It was remarkably like the recent Hollywood movie “300”, which was a homo-erotic fantasy about the same subject.

    Paradoxically, the series, whilst supposedly dealing with Greek democracy, concentrated on the central role of a handful of individuals from the ruling elite in Athens. Even the “paradox” that “democracy” in Athens was concentrated in the hands of between 15% or 20% of the population of Athens, the male citizens who actually were allowed to vote, didn’t seem to interest the producers of the programmes at all.

    I think we’ve, for various historical reasons, moved away from classic, bourgeois, democracy; and our democracy has become, objectively, less and less “representative.” Power has become increasingly, over the last few decades, concentrated in the hands of the executive branch of government, with the Commons playing a diminished role and acting increasingly as a mere rubber stamp.

    I’d prefer a return to the style of typical bourgeois democracy that existed in the fifties and sixties, though that wasn’t perfect, it’s preferable to the form of neo-con, totalitarian, non-representative democracy we’re yoked under today.

    I suppose that fundamentally it’s impossible to sustain bourgeois democracy, and at the same time follow a neo-con, imperialist, foreign policy, as the gap between the political rhetoric and the actions we take becomes ever wider.

  • Tom Welsh

    “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”.

    Welcome to the thoroughly parboiled frogs club!

  • Tom Welsh

    “Was the USA really founded on those principles they spout? Was it gradually perverted into this monster, or was it always fucked up?”

    Quelcrime, many of us have wondered the same. I think you have to recognise that – just as “there is no such thing as society” (in a particular, but genuine sense) – there is no such thing as the USA. Rather, there are a hell of a lot of different individuals, groups, and organisations living in a nation called the USA. Some of them say one thing, some say another. Some think one thing, some another. (Some of them, but by no means all, usually say what they think). It’s very convenient to have one group of specialists doing everything they can to make the USA wealthier, more dominant, stronger, and generally more supreme; while a separate group emits continual verbiage about human rights and God and suchlike. Most of us tend to confuse the different groups, much to the advantage of those Americans who run the show.

  • larry Levin

    Enoch Powell made some great speeches about European Union, and the fact we have to pay alot more for food because of it, “from nation to province” was one title, in papers released after the 30year rule show that he was target for smears and to be undermined because he knew what was happening,”Enoch Powell Speech – Intentional Dismantling of British Race” a superb speech

  • mary

    A reminder
    .
    Channel 4’s ‘Unreported World’ at 7.30 on 11th November will focus on the challenges facing the Palestinian Paralympics team in Gaza as they train for London 2012. ‘Gaza has one of the highest disability rates in the world, partly because it’s common for poor people there to marry into their extended families. The city is also effectively under siege, and Israeli control of the border means essential supplies such as prosthetic limbs are scarce: we meet a female shot putter who needs a new prosthetic leg and a nine-year old boy who has waited months for a new arm that is sitting somewhere in a Tel Aviv warehouse.” (Radio Times).
    .
    Note the mention of consanguinity. There are no means of getting out to find other mates.

  • Stephen

    “Now effective political impact requires television”

    I disagree – I don’t thing the Arab Spring and the fall of communism to eastern Europe can be attributed to television coverage. Plenty of trends nowadays start outside television – and even in the West television can be used to get a new message across – look at Band Aid etc. What is needed apart from a coherent and popular message is just a little creativity.

  • Stephen

    Larry

    As well as being an extreme nationalist, and I’m afraid nationalism plays a part in many of the world’s conflicts – I think you should also note that the basic predictions Powell made in his rivers of blood speech were actually pretty rubbish and did not come to fruition.

  • Abe Rene

    This discussion reminded me of something I read about the American Constitution. The Founding Fathers weren’t too keen about “democracy” either; they wanted to avoid rule by the mob. So they arranged for an elected elite to rule, under a set of laws drafted by themselves. But the democratic principle, that rlers need to properly listen to their people and rule by their consent, was nevetheless built in sufficiently for America to increasingly democratise as time went on.

    Democracy works in well-educated and humane populations. Elsewhere, or in difficult or unstable times, it can quickly degenerate into tyranny. We have seen this both in Weimar Germany and is the newly former Soviet republics.

    As for Britain, if anyone has an adequate and serious political vision with the people to work out its ideology and credible policies, they are at liberty to set up their own political parties and be elected, but of course they will have to convince the voters. Pesky thing this democracy, it keeps allowing these NeoCon oppressors into power, just because people voted for them. That’s democracy for you. 🙂

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