Recent events in Portugal show more clearly than ever that the aims of the European Union are incompatible with nation state democracy.
Portugal is in the midst of a political crisis. The 4 October legislative election saw the governing centre-right coalition, Portugal Ahead, lose 25 seats, handing an absolute majority in parliament over to leftist parties. Portugal Ahead is still the largest bloc in parliament, but finds itself unable to form a coalition. The leftist parties by contrast are fully prepared to unite and form a government. There is just one problem: Portugal Ahead refuses to relinquish power.
In order for a party in Portugal to attempt to form a government, they need to be invited to do so by the president. The current president, Aníbal Silva, is the leader of one of the parties that forms the centre-right bloc. He refuses to allow the leftist parties into government on the grounds that their eurosceptic leanings would be dangerous for the future of the country. Portugal, like Greece, is currently implementing a programme of austerity measures imposed by the European Union. Since the Portuguese electorate has now rejected that programme, the governing coalition faces a choice: the will of the people or the will of the EU. It would seem they are opting for the latter.
This isn’t the first time that the aims of the EU have taken precedence over the will of an electorate. Germany was coerced into the euro in 2002, despite the majority of the German public wanting to keep the Deutschmark. The Dutch voted against the European Constitution in 2005, and yet had most of its measures gradually foisted upon them. In 2011, the EU organised the replacement of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi with the unelected technocrat Mario Monti. In July 2015, the Troika (i.e. the EU, ECB and IMF) defied the 61% of Greeks who voted against austerity measures. Now, for the first time, an entire general election is being ignored for the sake of placating the EU. The EU, acting like a loan shark, has acquired so much power over indebted national governments that they’re too scared to let their voters defy it. Nation state democracy is dying in Europe.
EU officials know what they’re doing, but they’re blinded by a haze of good intentions. The EU was founded in order to prevent a repeat of the political strife that plagued Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. Euro-federalists such as Guy Verhofstadt and Nick Clegg believe that a politically united Europe, its borders erased and its policy uniform, will engender peace and prevent tension among nation states; if you have no nation states, then you can’t have wars between them. As poll after poll and election after election shows however, European citizens are becoming increasingly sceptical about this internationalist dream. But EU officials think they know better and are willing to pursue that dream, even if doing so means riding roughshod over democracy itself.
It is easy to blame the violence and upheaval of the 1940s on “nationalism”, and then assert that internationalism is the only path to peace. The fault in this line of argument is that it ignores what kind of nationalism the Axis forces represented. Whereas modern nationalist parties are pushing for a Europe of politically independent but peacefully co-operating liberal democracies, the Nazis opposed democracy and wanted to unite Europe under a single flag and a single technocratic government. Those who fought the Nazis espoused a different kind of nationalism: a civic nationalism which, in Britain’s case, was based on the principles of liberty and democracy.
Now the EU is poised to take away what liberals and democrats fought for in the twentieth century. It is a painful irony: euro-federalists oppose populist and nationalist forces in order to avoid a repeat of the strife and tyranny of pre-war Europe; in doing so however, they drag us away from local, accountable, transparent governance and towards technocracy. The EU no longer prevents acrimony, but creates it. The German Chancellor ends up being depicted with a Hitler moustache, southern Europeans protest en masse against EU economic policy, and Sweden…well, let’s not go there.
It is becoming clearer every day that the people of Europe now face a binary choice: democracy or the EU. You cannot have both. The aims of the EU are diametrically opposed to the existence of a variety of self-governing, democratic nation states. This time, it is Portuguese democracy that is being de facto suspended. In July 2015 it was Greek democracy. One wonders where crisis will strike next. Perhaps, if support for eurosceptic parties continues to rise, there won’t be any more crises of this sort.
One thing you can definitely say is this: sometime before the end of 2017, the British electorate will get to formally express their position on the UK’s part in the euro-federalist project. It will be a democratic vote on the future of British democracy. If the snubbing of the Portuguese voters doesn’t bother you, vote to remain. If however you believe that accountable government is more important than misguided utopianism, I strongly urge you vote to leave. Unless euroscepticism prevails, nation state democracy is on borrowed time.