With lots of stuff in the news lately about elections and so forth, I've had a real heaviness in my heart that I wanted to exercise and get some other people's opinions on.
As the title of the thread says, I genuinely don't know if Europe is a democracy anymore, and it scares the shit out of me.
The roots to this go back quite a long while, and the list of examples I could cite would have me writing for days on end, but as much as I can I'll try to parse my thoughts down to the most salient examples.
--I'm Irish, and generally speaking I have a positive view of the European Union - or, rather, what the EU *COULD* be, not under any circumstances what it increasingly looks like it really is. Twice in recent history, as per a quirk of our constitution that requires a referendum for any change to the constitution, the Irish have voted down EU treaty changes (first of all Nice, and then Lisbon). Both times, the EU simply told us to vote again - albeit behind the excuse that we just didn't "understand" what the vote entailed and so needed to vote again in good faith. In any other situation I would imagine this would be utterly reprehensible - imagine what would happen if Americans elected a president only for Congress to say "You didn't understand the issues; you should try again." What adds to this is that, as far as I understand it, prior to Lisbon becoming a new EUropean treaty, it was rejected in a similar fashion by French and Dutch voters - it was in the wake of this defeat by ballot that the EU reshuffled the constitutional changes they wanted to make into a treaty, so that it could slip through for the most part without recourse to referendum.
--The media - and quite a worrying amount of regular folks besides - seem to have a savage opposition to fundamental tenets of democracy. This is most notable with center-left parties all over the EU - bear in mind, first of all, while I probably hold to a fair few center-left ideals myself I'm absolutely not a socialist. I don't like Syriza, though their treatment at the hands of Europe and the press is an example worth noting. But I'll get to them. First and foremost we have media outlets of every vein - from Reuters to The Economist - making much of this new term, "populist." "Populism" has been the go-to phrase to put down any Eurosceptic party, of either side of the political specturm, and snub them as lunatics and madmen. What's so worrying about this position is that it's being picked up now by regular voters unconnected to the political process or the media, and used as a buzzword to discourage taking a party or their policies seriously - like "terrorist," the word "populist" now creates an instantaneous, negative reaction. But the dictionary definition of "populism" as as follows:
"Populism is a doctrine that appeals to the interests and conceptions (such as hopes and fears) of the general population, especially when contrasting any new collective consciousness push against the prevailing status quo interests of any predominant political sector."
...so basically, the right of people to vote for their own interests above those of the elite. Literally, the right of democracy to trump oligarchy. THIS is what we are being told to fear and loathe? :S And it's a concept repeated everywhere, by publications and politicians alike - anyone who diverges from the economic and political orthodoxy (that is to say, austerity, austerity, austerity, combined with convenient tax breaks for the very wealthy - even though both the IMF and ECB have since admitted this policy is flawed in its entirety) is a "populist" and therefore shouldn't be allowed obtain power.
--We saw this most notably with Greece' Syriza. Now, admittedly, Syriza are awful and haven't a clue what in God's name they're doing - they don't understand how Europe is run, nor do they understand the most basic tenets of politics. So they were going to crash and burn one way or the other. But what is noteworthy is how Europe - and the media - reacted to them. The banks effectively laid siege to Greece, cutting off all lines of credit and starving them out so that they were forced to accept a new austerity regime that, yet again, the IMF expressed its disbelief in. IMF economists were literally saying, this deal does not add up and will not work, and the EU was saying dam the torpedoes, this deal is gonna' happen - and in the ensuing clusterfuck, the blame for everything was laid squarely at the feet of Syriza. They're not blameless, no, but to vilify them in the name of defending an economic model whose own inventors are admitting doesn't work - as the media have done in this regard - is particularly worthy of scrutiny, I would imagine.
--We saw it happen yet again with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in the UK. I don't know if I like the guy, personally, I think he's way too far to the left to be economically viable, but that's irrelevant in the wake of the political and media reaction to him. David Cameron basically went on Twitter and called him a terrorist. Here's a guy who believes, to put it succinctly, that the Labour party should be more than just the exact same party as the Tories - they should offer a left-wing alternative to the Tories' right-wing platform. It's really not much different than that. Will Labour win on that left-wing manifesto? Honestly, no, probably not. But the people were not electing a PM - they were electing a Leader of the Opposition. That is to say, a man who is supposed to be opposed to the current government. And because his policies ACTUALLY are at odds with the government's? THe media has CRUCIFIED him - he's a danger, a menace, a devil in disguise. How dare the Opposition have a different policy package to the government?? Who does he think he is??
It's honestly deeply unsettling - the implication one gets from it is that parties are no longer allowed stray from a very narrow spectrum of acceptable politics - those politics, of course, invariably set and decided on by the European Central Bank and IMF. It becomes sort of a Chinese model of democracy - we get to vote for our local leaders, sure, but they're all vetted and pre-approved by the faceless men in suits at the top of the hierarchy. Europe, effectively if not literally, has become a one part state, where every electable party has had their entire policy platforms written for them by the banks.
--But it got its most egregious with the recent Portuguese elections, where the incumbent right-wing government were defeated by a coalition of left-wing parties boasting over 50% of the vote...and Portugal's President, the man charged with approving the new government, reacted by going on TV and saying in so many words that any party that defied Europe wasn't allowed to form a government. Thus, he handed the reins of government back to the ousted Prime Minister, in the name of economic stability.
This is...devastatingly blatant. This is literally the example I cited earlier - imagine Donald Trump gets in next year, and Americans are told, sorry, he's unacceptable to the Federal Reserve. We're gonna' give Obama one more term (it's obviously an imperfect example given the US' term limits, but you see what I'm getting at). In America, it wouldn't be stood for - there would be an armed march on Washington. In Europe...it hasn't even gone reported on in most media circles. We're almost supposed to accept that this is the way things are - there is only one political and economic agenda that is acceptable - anything else is extremist lunacy and must be disregarded.
I would go so far as to earnestly say, it doesn't matter if the president has a point. It doesn't matter if that government is going to simply blow up the economy for the sake of it and ruin the country - surely, if that's what the Portuguese people voted for, isn't that what should be?
Democracy means rule by the people - that means the people get their way, whatever that may be. As soon as we start saying "Yeah the people get their way, but so long as their way is satisfactory to the people who have the most money," then we're not a democracy. And that, actually, is probably fine - there's an economic argument in there for that sort of thinking, that economically destructive, "populist" parties may do more harm than good and so should be excluded from the political process...
...but then, at the very least, can we stop deluding ourselves by calling our countries "democracies?" 'Cos time and time again we've seen that it's just not true. We CANNOT vote for the candidate we want, and our vote most certainly DOES NOT count, unless the IMF and ECB says it does.
It's disheartening, and frankly frightening that so few Europeans seem to even realise this.