U.S. Shows Europe How Democracy Works
From the July 3 Chicago Sun-Times
July 3, 2007
by John O'Sullivan
LISBON -- Whatever the merits or otherwise of the "comprehensive" immigration reform that foundered in the Senate last week, its defeat was undeniably a victory for democracy.
All the crack regiments of the establishment -- the White House, congressional leaders in both Houses, the establishment media, the "mainstream churches," the major charitable foundations, Corporate America, and Big Labor itself -- were solidly in favor of it.
Its opponents were a handful of determined, well-informed legislators -- applause, please, for Senators Jeff Sessions (R.-Ala.) and Jim DeMint (R.-S.C.) -- immigration reform groups such as Numbers USA, talk radio hosts including Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, bloggers like Mickey Kaus and Kathryn Lopez of National Review Online, and individual researchers (notably Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation and my Hudson Institute colleague, John Fonte).
This was David vs. Goliath. David won. The informal media of talk radio and Internet bloggers organized this popular opposition, spread the facts about the bill, and threatened reluctant senators with an election defeat down the line.
The bill failed, the people prevailed, democracy triumphed. Now, as Hamlet says: "Look here, upon this picture, and on this, The counterfeit presentment of two brothers."
Voters in France and Holland rejected a proposed constitution for the European Union in 2005. They were the only countries at that point to have submitted the Euro-Constitution to the test of a referendum. Unanimous consent of member-states is legally required for ratification. So a single defeat should have doomed it. Instead, Europe's leaders canceled the process of ratifying the constitution while extending the deadline for ratification indefinitely. They privately reached a more profound decision: not to make the mistake of consulting the voters a second time if they could avoid it.
Ten days ago a European Council -- the heads of European governments acting together and so known to the media as a European "summit" -- took the next step. They laid down a "mandate" for a new European treaty that would contain almost all the provisions of the previous constitution in a cosmetic version. The cosmetics include: removing the fact that EU law has primacy over national laws from the main body of the treaty but including it in a footnote; replacing the office of European foreign minister with that of "High Representative for Foreign Affairs and National Security" which has the same duties and the same large diplomatic staff; and, of course, calling a constitution that transfers 40 areas of government, including immigration and crime, from national to EU control a mere "reform treaty."
There is method in this madness. If the constitution is a mere treaty, it need not be submitted to a referendum. Neither the Dutch nor the French governments intend to do so. Tony Blair's last service to Brussels was to assure his successor, Gordon Brown, that he could now ignore their joint election pledge to hold a referendum.
None of this is, alas, unusual. The EU has bullied the voters into ignoring or reversing unfavorable referendums several times before. What is new is that Brussels is now bullying national governments, too. Polish leaders at the "summit" were pressured and even insulted to secure their agreement. They claim persuasively that promises made to them do not appear in the treaty's text.
But official EU spokesmen declare that the "mandate" cannot be amended in any way. It must be passed in its present form by a so-called "Inter-Governmental Council." Until then discussions to iron out any "misunderstandings" will be held in secret. All this may be illegal. Under current European treaties, a European Council has no power to issue binding instructions either to national governments or to an IGC. It is the creature, not the creator, of treaties and constitutions. Any single European country can veto the mandate. Polls suggest that Britain and perhaps other countries would do so if referendums were held. But Europe's temporary governing elites have decided. The fix is in.
America's open debate over immigration demonstrates that the United States is a democracy by any standard. The EU's false prospectus, secret deliberations, closed circle of decision-makers, and contempt for the voters make equally clear that "Europe" is anything but a democracy. If it turns out to be merely a ramshackle, bureaucratic, multinational empire like the Hapsburg one, we'll be lucky.
John O'Sullivan was a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.
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