The European politics of the perpetual referendum
A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of the referendum. Its current popularity in the toolkit of international politics – from Greece to the UK – illustrates just how difficult it has become for representative democracy to deliver meaningful outcomes in international negotiations. And yet, instead of affirming participatory democracy, the increasing use of referendums bears the risk of undermining it.
On the brink of Graccident
The culmination of the Greek debt saga in this weekend’s referendum provides a cautionary tale for Britain on the road to its own EU referendum.
A few weeks ago - after months of stalled, fruitless negotiations – (then) Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis warned that “we are dangerously close to a state of mind that accepts an accident”.
Yesterday, 61% of Greeks said ‘OXI’ (no) and rejected the proposed bailout terms. The Greek government is emboldened by the outcome, but initial reactions abroad have been harshly negative. While affirming ‘the will of the people’, the referendum has drastically reduced the room for manoeuvre on all sides. Greece now moves into a stage of deep uncertainty.
When this crisis began, hardly anyone thought that Grexit was a likely, let alone desirable scenario. As neither side seems willing to back down, Grexit may simply occur almost by accident, without anyone making that deliberate choice.
There is now a high risk of Greece becoming a failed state – a state whose political institutions are not merely dysfunctional but that have become hollow. And where the democratic process – be it via elections or referendums – proves incapable of bringing about change and delivering on promises made.
On the road towards Braccident?
The Conservatives have steadily built towards a head-on collision with Brussels ever since they came back into power in 2010.