They say that committing murder becomes easier after you have done it the first time. The same is true of killing democracy. Next Saturday, Ireland will vote on the Nice Treaty, having already voted No to it in a referendum held in June 2001. This is the clearest possible betrayal of democracy and it bodes very ill for the future of the European Union.
When the Irish voted No, Europe should have re-negotiated the treaty and submitted a new text to the people. Instead, the same text is being submitted again until the people get the answer "right". This is exactly what the EU did when Denmark voted against the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. Europe has long since decided that its "onward march" is far more important than quibbles about democratic votes.
An explicitly anti-democratic mentality has now infected the whole European political class. When the Nice treaty was originally signed, in December 2000, the then French minister for Europe said he did not want to see it voted on in a referendum because he feared the answer might be No. He was right to have that fear. Many European citizens regard the institutions of the European Union as opaque, unaccountable and even dictatorial. They have been proved right by the decision to re-run the vote in Ireland.
The Nice treaty is said to be necessary in order to enlarge the EU to admit ten new member states from Eastern Europe. This is a straightforward lie. Four new member states were admitted in 1994, but no new treaty was required for that. Instead, the real reason why European politicians and bureaucrats are determined to ratify Nice is that it hands them unaccountable power on a plate. With an EU of 25 member states, they are determined to prevent individual countries from thwarting the decisions taken in Brussels by the European Commission and by the most powerful states.
They have therefore devised a system which would make EU decision-making impregnable to pressure from individual countries. If Nice is ratified, power will be sucked away from smaller countries and given instead to the Franco-German axis and to Brussels. Henceforth, individual countries will be unable to oppose new EU policy initiatives, such as the plan to militarise the European Union by creating a European army. And not every country will have its own Commissioner in Brussels. Nice divides Europe into an inner and outer core, handing control over all the major issues to the inner core and leaving the outer core with the choice of putting up or shutting up. The treaty simply centralises power behind closed doors in Europe which is why all politicians are in favour of it.
It is a bitter irony that states which shook off the Soviet yoke only a decade ago are now being brought into a political structure in which national parliaments are just window-dressing for the reality of foreign control: it will seem just like old times for them. No wonder representatives of the Communists who still govern Poland and Slovenia have been traipsing around Ireland trying to bully the Irish into voting Yes this time. Eastern Europe is simply exchanging the rule of the Commissars for that of the Commissioners.
Irish politicians and foreign ones alike have been trying to make the Irish feel selfish for rejecting Nice last year. "We want to become rich like you did," say the East Europeans. "Let us in to your club." But the first Irish No was a victory for the democratic rights of small states like the ones in Eastern Europe. Moreover, rich states like Britain should take note that the only reason why the East European states want to join is that they want subsidies paid for with our taxes, to be sure.
If Nice is ratified, other European governments including our own will garner from the Irish important clues about how to rig their own referendums in the future. For on the last day before the Christmas recess, a bill was pushed through the Irish Parliament in a single day, which removed from the countrys statutorily neutral Referendum Commission the role of giving public money to the Yes and No campaigns alike. In the campaign last year, £2.5 million in public money was given to both sides. This time, there is no public money at all. Consequently, there are only private advertisements in this campaign. Because "official Ireland" has been stitched up the business confederation and the trade unions are both campaigning with the government for a Yes, even though they have not consulted their members this means that there are now some ten times more posters for the Yes than for the cash-strapped No campaign. This has ramifications for us because a new "European constitution" is to be drawn up in 2004. That will have to be voted on in at least some member states in a referendum. So any tricks learned in Ireland can de deployed elsewhere, for instance in Britain.
In 1953, when the Communist government of East Germany suppressed a workers rebellion in Berlin, the playwright Bertold Brecht commented bitterly, "The government must now dissolve the people and elect a new one." That joke has become the sick reality of the European Union of today. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991: the anti-democratic architects of todays European Union seem determined to repeat exactly the same mistake.