Do the Lib-Dems understand democracy? At all?

I was brought up short by a piece in Open Europe’s daily press summary (which by the way is an invaluable tool — do think about signing on for it).  I reproduce it verbatim:

Writing in European Voice, Lib Dem MEP Andrew Duff looks at the Government’s proposed European Union Bill and argues that “there is a delicious irony in seeing those parliamentarians most vexed by the ceding of parliamentary sovereignty to the EU institutions perfectly happy to hand sovereignty to the hapless electorate via binding referenda.

“European Voice: Duff Open Europe research Open Europe press release

What Andrew Duff is saying is that he is surprised to see parliamentarians who are attached to democratic institutions being prepared to listen to the opinion of their electorates.  What does he imagine their job is, if it’s not listening to the opinions of their electorates?  Does he imagine that giving the people a say is somehow inimical to democracy?

Perhaps he does, and if so, it is not too difficult to see why.  The EU institutions talk the language of democracy and human rights, but they have a towering contempt for the great unwashed citizen out there.  Again and again they ignore referendum results.  Whole countries — Ireland (twice), Denmark — are told that they got the wrong answer and must go away and vote again.  In the case of France and Holland, which voted against the EU Constitution, they were not told to vote again, but simply given a virtually identical text in a different wrapper — and told that this time they wouldn’t get a vote at all.

The institutions may be slow, but they’ve finally noted a pattern.  Give the citizen the right to vote on some measure of European integration, and he will mostly vote NO.  The solution?  Don’t give him the right to vote at all.  Dream up all sort of pseudo-democratic devices, like “subsidiarity”, and Agoras, and the European Citizens’ Initiative (that’s the petition of a million signatures — but there’s no obligation on the institutions to do more than say Thank You), to make the public feel involved.  But don’t give them the chance to put a spoke in the wheel, by voting down a treaty.

And poor old Andrew Duff has been in the European parliament quite long enough to absorb the governing ethos, and to go native.  In the real world, parliamentarians who want to protect national parliamentary sovereignty do so precisely because they want to protect the democratic rights of the people.  So putting major constitutional questions like the Lisbon Treaty to a public referendum comes naturally to them.  Far from being ironic, it is what anyone who understands the word “democracy” would expect.

It is simply appalling that anyone who has the word “Democrat” in his party’s very name should fail to understand that.

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5 Responses to Do the Lib-Dems understand democracy? At all?

  1. This is very worrying indeed, for the state of parliamentary democracy (in view of the fact that Liberal Democrats are part of the coalition government). Even so, it is perplexing to me, that Conservatives in the coalition seem to be so willing to allow current (and new policies) to be influenced by a liberal democrat agenda. Roger, as you have made clear – the implications of this press summary in regard to EU issues and basic democratic principles are contemptible. It would be a very good idea to disseminate this report as widely as possible, so as to enlighten the electorate regarding the true level of contempt in which they are held by the ruling political elite?

  2. Democracy is indeed much more than just an instrument to get one’s will done, it is a basic right including agenda-setting and decision-making tools. The new European Citizens’ Initiative is the firts agenda-setting toool at the transnational level and according to the new regulation theinstitutions have to do more than just say “Thank You”. For a backgrounder see the new Handbook at http://www.gef.eu/index.php?id=46&no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=170&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=25

    • It’s mere window-dressing, Bruno. Don’t be taken in. What do you think would happen if we got a million British signatures calling for a referendum on EU membership? You’re right. Nothing.

      • Bruno Kaufmann says:

        Sure, you have to take the European Citizens’ Initiative
        for what it is, a (first) transnational direct democractic
        agenda-setting tool, not a national popular initiatives triggering
        popular votes. But that’s not the same as nothing. It makes sense
        indeed to require that signatures for a transnational initiative
        must come from at least seven EU member states. And it is a start
        only. In Britain very weak signs for an opening to more
        participative democracy can be seen. Do you lnow more about this:
        http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10321257

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