“We have a form of government not fetched by imitation from the laws of our neighbouring states – nay, we are rather a pattern to others, than they to us – which, because in the administration it hath respect not to a few but to the multitude, is called a democracy”
Pericles spoke those words in 430 BC, at the end of the first year of the Peloponnesian War. In his famous funeral oration he commemorated the men of Athens who had died defending their democracy from the military dictatorship of Sparta, and reaffirmed what they had died for.
They had died for democracy. In thousands of years since Pericles spoke, on thousands of battlefields, millions more have died for it.
They have had to because the notion “that government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except the sovereign people”, as Ronald Reagan put it, has been repeatedly challenged.
One of the most dangerous challenges to democracy in recent times is the European Union.
From the start, the ‘European Project’ has been driven by elites, by politicians and by bureaucrats, without reference to the peoples they rule.
An entire continent has found itself with a political and economic structure that no-one but a few Federalist zealots ever wanted. And it has been created by lying to and ignoring the people.
When he set out to take Britain into the European Economic Community in 1970 Edward Heath told the House of Commons “there will not be a blueprint for a federal Europe”. The White Paper in 1971 promised “there is no question of any erosion of essential national sovereignty”.
But when Heath appeared on Question Time in 1991 and was asked “…the single currency, the United States of Europe: was that in your mind when you took Britain in?” he replied “Of course, yes…”
In 1992 Denmark narrowly voted by 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent on a turnout of 83.1 percent against the Maastricht Treaty. At the same time France voted for Maastricht by 51.04 percent to 48.96 percent on a turnout of 69.7 percent. The Danes were told to vote again on the flimsy excuse that the margin wasn’t large enough but the French weren’t asked to try for a bigger ‘yes’ vote.
The real reason was that the French had already given what the Projects’ leaders had already decided was the ‘right’ answer. The people were simply there to ratify it. This is the very opposite of democracy.
This inversion of democracy has been shamelessly displayed many times since. In 2001 Irish voters rejected the Nice Treaty. They were told to vote again in 2002. They rejected the Lisbon Treaty in 2008. They were told to vote again in 2009.
The farce surrounding the Lisbon Treaty showed how national political elites are in on the anti democratic fix.
The European Constitution was rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands in 2005. Rather than accepting the verdict of the voters the Projects’ leaders renamed the Constitution the Lisbon Treaty and passed it without referendums except in Ireland (where the result was ignored). As one Eurocrat put it “The good thing about not calling it a Constitution is that no one can ask for a referendum on it”.
Tony Blair promised Britain a referendum on the Constitution before he left office. His successor, Gordon Brown, when faced with calls to put the Lisbon Treaty to the promised referendum refused, saying that the Lisbon Treaty and the Constitution were totally different things.
But Brown struggled to find anyone willing to back his lies up.
Valery Giscard D’Estaing, one of the authors of the Constitution, said, “The difference between the original Constitution and the present Lisbon Treaty is one of approach, rather than content. The proposals in the original constitutional treaty are practically unchanged”.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said,“The good thing is that all the symbolic elements are gone, and that which really matters – the core – is left”. Gemany’s Angela Merkel said,“The substance of the constitution is preserved. That is a fact”. Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said,“90 per cent of it is still there…These changes haven’t made any dramatic change to the substance of what was agreed back in 2004”.
The British people didn’t get the referendum they were promised but the leaders of the European Project got what they wanted.
So it was no surprise when the European Project’s leaders reacted with horror to last week’s news that Greece was going to hold a referendum over the terms of its most recent bailout.
Prime Minister George Papandreou told the Greek parliament “The command of the Greek people will bind us. Do they want to adopt the new deal, or reject it? If the Greek people do not want it, it will not be adopted”.
Such a display of democracy was described as “Irrational and dangerous” by Nicolas Sarkozy and “Irritating” by Angela Merkel.
Immense pressure was put on Papandreou, including a very public telling off, to cancel the referendum. Whether or not the wrist-slap was successful depends on whether there was ever to be a referendum or whether it was simply a ruse to bargain a better deal.
Nevertheless, it is off. And the point is the Greeks have missed the chance to have a say in their future.
It is true that Greece’s outrageous spending and risible tax collection are largely to blame for the mess the Greeks find themselves in. And it’s true that leaving the Euro and devaluing will be scarcely less painful than continued EU dictated austerity.
But it is also true that nobody who voted in Greece’s last election was given the option of refusing the raising of VAT to 23 percent, the 20 percent cut in pensions and the laying off of 30,000 civil servants the EU has ordered.
They should have that choice.
An earlier generation of Athenians took pride in being a democratic “pattern to others”. Let them be so again.
This article originally appeared at The Commentator