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2 June 2005 Edition

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A lesson in democracy

The ancient Greeks, who came up with the idea of 'democracy', differed greatly to modern day citizens in their understanding of the concept.

Women, non-landowners and foreigners were all excluded from the vote. Only the political elite, propertied, wealthy men, were considered wise enough to make decisions on behalf of all citizens.

It may have taken until the 20th Century for that definition of democratic participation to be extended to include all citizens, but the ancient Greeks would be proud of their 21st Century bureaucrat descendants in the European Union.

The political elite in Europe believe that they too are the only ones capable of making decisions on behalf of Europe's millions of citizens. These self-proclaimed founding fathers of a better Europe have produced a constitution they believe will lead our continent to the greatness it once knew as the leader of the industrial, imperialist, capitalist world.

There's only one fly in the ointment — many of Europe's citizens get to vote on this Constitution.

It all came unstuck on Sunday, when France delivered a resounding No in its referendum on the document. This was not a No to Europe. It was a No to a document that aims to militarise the EU; to cement the power of unelected representatives to make economic decisions for member states; and to further erode the sovereignty of national parliaments.

But the referendum result did not create the backlash it should have. That the Europhiles of Europe were saying No to the constitution should have put an end to the whole sorry affair. Instead, it reminded us that the political elite in Europe see democracy as a concept with moveable goal-posts.

French President Jacques Chirac immediately dismissed the idea that the Constitution was dead, announcing a possible re-run of the referendum with some minor concessions. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder also rejected the outcome, saying the will of the majority of Europeans (which he seems to have more of an insight into than the Europeans themselves) could not be over-ridden by the voting of one nation.

Our own Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, echoed his support for the re-run idea. Sure wasn't that how he got this country to say Yes to Nice?

Unfortunately for the powers that be, France is not a blip in an otherwise obedient Europe. As we go to print, the Dutch are also voting on the constitution. An even larger No is expected.

The European elite will find it hard to ignore more countries saying No to their constitution. But instead of learning a lesson in humility, it's highly likely that they'll try to press ahead with it anyway.

For our part, we must make sure that we add our voices loudly to the No camp, and give Bertie and Co another lesson in democracy.

An Phoblacht Magazine


  • Don't miss your chance to get the second edition of the 2019 magazine, published to coincide with Easter Week
  • This special edition which focuses on Irish Unity, features articles by Pearse Doherty, Dr Thomas Paul and Martina Anderson.
  • Pearse sets out the argument for an United Ireland Economy whilst Pat Sheehan makes the case for a universally free all-island health service.
  • Other articles include, ‘Ceist teanga in Éirinn Aontaithe’, ‘Getting to a new Ireland’ and ‘Ireland 1918-22: The people’s revolution’.

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