The Brief: Has democracy become too dangerous?

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“If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal”. This quote attributed to Emma Goldman, a Russian feminist and anarchist, no longer does the trick.

Recent elections have changed a lot of things. The Brexit referendum and the Trump election are anything but business as usual. In theory, a Marine Le Pen victory on 7 May has the potential to put an end to the EU.

A victory for the 5 Star Movement in Italy’s next election may bring down the eurozone, and the EU with it.

The European architecture would crumble without either France or Italy. The UK is a special case; it was indeed a piece of the architecture, but it was an ornament, not a cornerstone.

Poland and Hungary are even less significant. They may have become “illiberal democracies”, but they are minor icebergs, too small to sink the EU.

And even in the recent elections that “went well”, in Austria and in the Netherlands, disaster was never far away. The compromises needed suggest troubles on the road ahead.

In several countries on the EU’s doorstep – Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia – elections produced chaos.

In all the three EU hopefuls, the political process is blocked, with the opposition boycotting parliament.

Elsewhere in the EU’s backyard, apprentice sultans, such as Turkey’s Erdogan, and apprentice dictators, such as Serbia’s Aleksandar Vucic, have the wind in their sails. Both appear to use democracy to assert their authoritarian rule.

But there is hardly much democracy left in Turkey or Serbia. And it is surprising that the EU is so firm in its support of Vucic, despite the protests of Belgrade’s youth continuing for a 17th consecutive day.

While protestors call Vucic’s rule a dictatorship, Brussels calls the newly-elected Serbian president “pro-European”.

Somebody must be wrong. Either it’s the Belgrade youth, or it’s Brussels.

Russian interference in elections has been cited as a destructive factor, but it would be too simplistic to see the hand of Moscow in all the EU’s problems. Of course Russia interferes in other elections, but so do all influential countries.

The crisis of European democracy should rather be explained by the collapse of the ultra-liberal model which has prevailed since the West thought it had won the Cold War.

Keynesian politics prevented the surge of Communism during that period. To prevent the surge of nationalism and populism, we do not need to reinvent the wheel.

Helmut Schmidt dicit!

The Roundup

Commission President Juncker and Brexit chief Michel Barnier will meet Theresa May in London next Wednesday ahead of the EU summit later in the week. May has refused to appear in TV debates before the general election. Broadcasters will instead ‘empty chair’ the prime minister.

EU sources say the planned Mercosur trade deal could double European exports to South America and save companies over €4 billion. The Commission wants the UK to pay all the costs related to Brexit and they want them paid in euros.

Romania is concerned plans for a two-speed Europe could divide the continent in the same way the Iron Curtain did. Commission VP Frans Timmermans said the executive could soon lift its judicial monitoring of the country, which has been in place since it joined the bloc.

Euro Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said in Washington that the EU is counting on “decisive” support from the US when it comes to IMF participation in the Greek bailout.

Austria wants to crack down on illegal dual-citizenship holders. Turkey’s election authority rejected an opposition request to cancel Sunday’s referendum result. Climate change exacerbates terrorism, according to the UN and a German think tank.

Albania has failed to elect a new president after the ruling party did not provide a candidate. Serbia is unhappy about a comment by Albanian PM Edi Rama about a potential union between his country and Kosovo. Belgrade asked Brussels to intervene.

A British TV presenter has called on the European Commission to do more to make Malta adhere to EU bird legislation. Chris Packham was cleared of assaulting illegal bird hunters and used his court appearance to issue his plea to the EU executive.

French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen wouldn’t appear on TV with the EU flag behind her earlier this week. The Commission was quick to share this subtle dig across social media. Rival candidate Emmanuel Macron showed off his bottle flipping skills during a video Q&A.

Sam Morgan contributed to this Brief.

Look out for…

Finance Commissioner Pierre Moscovici will attend the G20 finance ministers meeting in Washington.

Views are the author’s.

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