Democracy laid low by Europhilia

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THE RANK emanations of moribund Maastricht are infecting democratic institutions throughout Europe. They are attacking democracy at its most vital junction: the connection between the electorate and the elected. In matters affecting the proposed and already crumbling Treaty on European Union, persons elected as national representatives are behaving as if they are no longer responsible to those who actually elected them but already to a notional European consensus which does not, in fact, exist.

This disease of democracy is far advanced in the three leading countries of the European Community. In Germany, a chancellor who no longer has the confidence of his own people presses forward - and presses the rest of Europe forward - towards goals that he knows his people don't want: European monetary union and, beyond that, the shadowy and dubious federalist grail of European political union.

In France, that unrepentant federalist Francois Mitterrand is a buoyant presidential lame duck, bobbing defiantly on the electoral floodwaters that have just engulfed his once great party. If the electorate, last month, had had a chance of removing him, they would have done so with enthusiasm, just as the Germans would remove his partner-in-Maastricht, Chancellor Kohl. No matter: the two arch-federalists are still in office, and as long as they are, the central axis of Maastricht, increasingly wobbly though it is, is unlikely to collapse altogether.

In the French referendum, Maastricht only squeaked by, despite its endorsement by the great majority of elected representatives. It would not have been carried at all had it not been for the then government's shameless abuse of its control over broadcasting to swing the referendum. Four times as much television time was allocated to advocates of Maastricht as to its opponents.

It was the then dominant Socialist Party's control over broadcasting that took Maastricht through. French Socialists are now an endangered species; most of their former following stayed away during last month's elections. Given the narrow margin by which the Maastricht referendum was carried, the collapse of the party that was principally responsible for its carriage means that a majority of those who elected the new French government must be anti-Maastricht. Yet - as has become routine where Maastricht is concerned - it looks as if the new French government is bent (at least for the present) on ignoring the feelings of the electorate on the question.

As this newspaper's Paris correspondent reported this week: 'For all the powerful anti-European undercurrents in the newly elected French National Assembly, the government named by the Prime Minister, Edouard Balladur, is one that is four-square behind the process of 'building Europe', as the French call it, or European integration.'

So Prime Minister Balladur, in harmony with President Mitterrand, sets off to meet Chancellor Kohl, all very much in the spirit of Maastricht, at least so far. What the French people think about it all, or the Germans for that matter, does not appear to the pertinacious Eurocrats to be a matter of any particular importance. The idea is to get yourself elected, on any grounds available, and then get on with 'building Europe' even if you know that those who elected you want you to get on with the better governance of what they still regard as their and your country.

This debilitating condition, of Europhiliac insensibility to the feelings and attitudes of national electorates, is now dangerously widespread in the European political class. In Britain, in particular, this condition is much farther advanced than anyone would have thought possible in the Thatcherite heyday.

It is known that the British people want a referendum on the ratification of the Treaty on European Union. It is not contended that the treaty is a minor or peripheral matter; on the contrary, both sides agree that its ratification is a matter of fundamental importance, for good or ill, for the future of the United Kingdom (as it is still known pending its integration in a United States of Europe as required for the completion of the grand federalist project). No reason that is even superficially tenable has been offered for the refusal of a referendum. The real reason is that a parliamentary majority for ratification is believed to exist, and that the people, if allowed to butt in, would only upset the Maastricht applecart.

The present Parliament of the United Kingdom is assuming that to harness the people to an applecart which it would upset if it had the chance is a sensible and auspicious piece of management. Fortunately these parliamentarians are likely to be saved from the worst consequences of their present infatuation by the eventual collapse, as a result mainly of the ineluctable changes going an under the surface in Europe, of the arrangements with which the present political class is apparently so enamoured. But in the meantime, throughout Europe, the Europhilia of elites, a sentiment not shared by peoples, is doing serious damage to the most vital element in democratic continuity. By this, I mean, quite simply, the democratic habit. As a habit, an aspect - which only people who never think about history would ignore or despise - democracy flows in national channels, not in European ones. To fail to take adequate account of national moods is to try to 'build Europe' on insecure foundations.

We should not take democracy for granted, as the Europhiliacs habitually do. Democracy in Europe is under greater threat than at any time since the end of the Second World War. Sustained structural unemployment is a continuing threat. So is mass immigration from the East and the South.

In one major member of the European Community, Italy, the only democracy it has ever known has recently been comprehensively discredited. The habit there is broken, and new habits are not easy to acquire. We would forget today, at our peril, that the rise of Fascism in Europe began in Italy, under quite similar conditions, 60 years ago.

In these conditions, it is not safe for elected representatives to bypass their peoples in pursuit of chimerical international projects, playing fast and loose with actual and deep-rooted national feelings.

(Photograph omitted)

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