Democracy went down in a blaze of glory last week. Both the German Bundestag and our own House of Commons put up one hell of a fight against the dying of the light. Maybe history will record that fact in an elegy on the demise of the great 18th-century experiment in government by the people: they were eloquent to the end. Because at the end, eloquence was all they had.
Trying to hold back the resurgence of oligarchy – the final dismantling of democratic responsibility in the governing of Europe – has been looking pretty hopeless for a long time. That eruption of excellent rhetoric and faultless argument which sprang to the defence of the rights of the governed (and in Germany’s case, of constitutional legality) made the loss seem all the more tragic, but no less inevitable.
So this is where we are. The agreed EU “stability union” triumphantly paraded before the media in Brussels will have the power to approve or disapprove budgets of countries in the eurozone – that is, to vet and police them – before they are submitted to the elected parliaments of those countries. In other words, parliaments which are directly mandated by, and answerable to, their own populations will not control the most essential functions of government: decisions on taxation and spending. Even without the ultimate institutions of economic and political union, which still elude the EU, actual power over fiscal policy will be taken from the hands of national leaders. And if, as a voter, you cannot influence your prospective government’s tax and spending policies, what exactly are you voting for?
Britain being outside the eurozone, we will not have to present our fiscal arrangements for authorisation before submitting them to the scrutiny of our legislators (and their constituents). But since our own economic recovery relies so heavily on the stability of the euro, we find ourselves (or at least, George Osborne has found himself) enthusiastically supporting this rape of democratic principle in countries which regard their freedom and self-determination as precious in much the same way, remarkably enough, that free-born Englishmen do.
And among those hapless, soon-to-be-disenfranchised peoples, hatreds have been awakened that the EU was, ironically, designed to bury. The Greeks hugely resent what they consider to be the implicitly racist contempt of the Germans: the political opposition in Athens on both Left and Right rejects the idea of being “bailed out” of a crisis (with all the compliance that entails) that they believe to have been caused by the artificial constraints of euro membership rather than by national character flaws. Even their moderate spokesmen are beginning to characterise Germany’s economic impositions as a revival of its wartime attempt at conquest.