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EU's disdain for voters

By Peter Saunders - posted Thursday, 24 July 2008

A letter writer to the London Times put his finger on it. "Can anybody explain to me," he asked, "what is the difference between democracy in Zimbabwe and democracy in the European Union?"

In Zimbabwe, back in March, Robert Mugabe called an election which he was sure he would win. But despite widespread intimidation and vote rigging, he lost. His Zanu-PF party lost its majority in parliament, and Mugabe himself was defeated by Morgan Tsvangirai in the presidential race.

But Mugabe refused to accept the result and organised a rerun. This time he made sure the result would be the right one.


The point the letter writer was making is that something similar keeps happening in European Union referendums. Whenever voters reject a proposal put forward by Europe's political elite, they either get ignored, or they are told to vote again until they get it right. It happened to the Danes in 2000 when they rejected the Maastricht Treaty and a second referendum was called. The Irish then rejected the Nice Treaty in 2001 and had to have a rerun. And now it's happening again after French, Dutch and Irish voters have rejected the Lisbon Treaty.

This latest democratic charade began in 2005, when the European Commission published plans for a new constitution creating the structure for a European federal superstate.

French and Dutch voters threw a spanner in the works by rejecting the proposals in national referendums. Europe's leaders were stunned, for France and The Netherlands are normally rock-solid supporters of EU federalism. The plan was withdrawn before Eurosceptic Britain had the chance to vote on it, and the leaders went back to the drawing board.

Two years later, they came up with the Treaty of Lisbon. In content, this was almost identical to the earlier constitution. It creates a new European president, just as the constitution tried to do. It establishes a European foreign minister (now called the high representative for foreign affairs) and it creates a European diplomatic corps.

It extends qualified majority voting to 68 new areas of policy, just as the constitution did (this prevents individual countries from blocking changes on which most other countries are agreed).

Like the constitution, the treaty anticipates a single European army and defence policy, and it recognises the euro as the common currency.


References to European "laws" have been struck from the text, but EU "regulations and directives" have exactly the same force as laws.

The treaty also stops short of making the Euro flag and anthem legally binding, but these symbols of statehood have long been established across the continent anyway.

The treaty differs from the draft constitution only in form.

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First published in The Australian on July 16, 2008.

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About the Author

Peter Saunders is a distinguished fellow of the Centre for Independent Studies, now living in England. After nine years living and working in Australia, Peter Saunders returned to the UK in June 2008 to work as a freelance researcher and independent writer of fiction and non-fiction.He is author of Poverty in Australia: Beyond the Rhetoric and Australia's Welfare Habit, and how to kick it. Peter Saunder's website is here.

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