Thursday, 7 May 2009

European elections: Libertas disparages representative democracy

Libertas.eu has expanded its web presence during the last days. Some of the posts offer crude indications of where Libertas stands on political issues, although the emphasis is more on doom and gloom than on useful information for informed voters. Here is a brief descriptive list of a few themes:

• Public access to documents
• Lech Walesa’s speech to the Convention in Rome, which despite the halting English translation seems to exhort Libertas (Declan Ganley) to recruit more judiciously
• Apprehensions ahead of the European Parliamnet’s vote on the Telecoms package
• Vituperative comments about the European Parliament’s debates on preparatory issues for the possible entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon (by now approved by the parliaments of 26 member states)
• Criticism against the Czech Senate for its approval of the Lisbon Treaty by a qualified majority
• A few new critical blog entries and links to web sites of national Libertas chapters


My impression is that Libertas’ marketing has become active and professional, although the contents can be described as hyperbolic populism.

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Plebiscite democracy

In the footsteps of Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler and Hugo Chavez, Libertas has embraced plebiscite democracy as its distinct plank with regard to the European Union.

The fourth “core principle” of Libertas is:

“Have your say: Every country must hold a referendum on any Constitution.”

The petition or pledge Libertas made such a show of signing in Rome and wants citizens to sign, actually goes further:

“We, in the name of a stronger Europe, pledge that no new European treaty can be implemented without a referendum.”

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Additional information

Some 22 days from the beginning of the European elections, we are still offered the same text on the Policies page: The Libertas programme for a better Europe will be published on this site in the coming weeks.

But there is actually some additional information about the fourth core principle, with regard to the Treaty of Lisbon:

“Libertas wants a strong Treaty: The Lisbon Treaty would ensure that those who govern Europe are even less accountable to the people than they are now. Europe needs a strong treaty. A treaty that is clear to Europe’s people and that is supported at the ballot box by Europe’s people. A short and readable basic treaty, no longer than 25 pages. A treaty that motivates people to read it, understand it and vote on it.

The Lisbon Treaty is bad for the people of Europe

The Lisbon Treaty - both in its content and in how its masters planned to enforce it – would do nothing to bring the European Union closer to its people. Despite earlier promises of referenda from many country leaders, Ireland was the only Member State that asked its people to reject or accept the Treaty. Libertas led the ‘no’ campaign in Ireland. With an unexpectedly high voter turnout, the Irish people rejected the Lisbon Treaty. According to European Union law, this means that the Treaty will not come into power.

The EU does not respect democracy

In an appalling rejection of the democratic choice of the people, the EU has refused to accept that the Lisbon Treaty is dead. Instead the Irish government, encouraged by elites in Brussels and throughout European capitals, want to ask the people to vote again. And this time, they want the people to accept what will be bad for them and bad for the future of the European Union.”


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What does it mean?

Despite the added explanations, the motives behind Libertas’ demands remain unclear, the resoning seems flawed and there is a need for more exact answers concerning the implications.

Here are some of my doubts and questions waiting for answers:

Even if the Lisbon Treaty resembles a repair manual more than an arousing political manifesto, one of its strong points is that it strengthens the role of the directly elected European Parliament and hence the democratic legitimacy of much EU lawmaking. (Incidentally, the amending treaty also tidies up the existing treaties; the text is more systematic and readable than the current one.)

A rejection of the Lisbon Treaty means acceptance of the Treaty of Nice. This could hardly be called an accomplishment.

The Treaty of Lisbon has been agreed between 27 nationally accountable governments and approved by the elected parliaments in 26 member states, representing about 485 million Europeans. Representative democracy is the norm; the Irish referendum and its outcome are exceptions.

The Constitutional Treaty was and the Lisbon Treaty is about incremental change, far from qualitative leaps to a “federal superstate”. The European Union remains a treaty based organisation, despite supranational elements.

A European Constitution could be short and readable, if written like the federal US Constitution, which includes the powers to amend the Constitution. If and when a number of European countries agree to establish a new union, based on its citizens, it would be fair to arrange a referendum on the transition to this new stage. The new union would require a majority of the votes, and it would enter into force between the states where it finds the support of the voters.

The new European Union would not be based on a treaty, but on a proper Constitution. It would not be held hostage to a minuscule proportion of voters. The new union would function according to the principle of representative democracy.

Libertas is far from clear. Its fourth core principle speaks about a referendum on a Constitution. The pledge seems to extend this requirement to any treaty and every single amendment.

Does Libertas want to retain the veto powers too? In that case it is hard to see Libertas as a progressive force for the strong and successful Europe chairman Ganley is fond of talking about.


Ralf Grahn