A Portuguese Coup: How The EU Suppresses Democracy Without Trying
There may be no tanks on the streets, but only because that’s not the EU’s style. The European Union has now mastered the art of the bloodless, self-administered government coup
Television stations continue to broadcast. People continue to work, shop and go to school. In fact, life goes on as normal in nearly every way. But there is still a coup taking place in Portugal today.
At the beginning of October there was a general election in Portugal. The governing centre-right government led by prime minister Passos Coelho lost seventeen seats and their parliamentary majority, and though they remained the largest party they were unable to form a new government. After a few weeks of political horse-trading, the leader of the Socialist Party, Antonio Costa, forged a coalition deal with two other left-wing parties, the Left Bloc and the Communists. Together, they held a wafer-thin majority and could plausibly claim the right to govern.
But unfortunately, some of these left-wing parties held the Wrong Views. They were against the existing “austerity” terms of the bailout provided to Portugal by the European Union. Some of them — quick, fetch the smelling salts — were against the European Union entirely. And for holding these eurosceptic positions — views which were validated by the Portuguese electorate less than a month ago — they were prevented from forming a majority coalition government.
With these chilling words, the Portuguese president openly admitted that which has been an unspoken reality in Europe for some time — that democracy may exist, so long as it does not stand in the way of ever-closer European union:
In 40 years of democracy, no government in Portugal has ever depended on the support of anti-European forces, that is to say forces that campaigned to abrogate the Lisbon Treaty, the Fiscal Compact, the Growth and Stability Pact, as well as to dismantle monetary union and take Portugal out of the euro, in addition to wanting the dissolution of NATO.
That is to say: democracy is all well and good, so long as it consistently validates what the political elites are busy doing anyway. But as soon as the democratically expressed will of the people runs into conflict with the anachronistic, mid-century vision of a politically integrated Europe being pursued by the elite, it is democracy, not the establishment, who must yield.
This is perhaps the least-reported subversion of western democracy in recent history — as of this weekend, the only prominent articles in the international press reporting Portugal’s constitutional crisis were a suitably outraged piece by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Telegraph, a piece in the Huffington Post and a short mention in the New York Times, which appeared to place the blame on the socialists for having had the temerity to win.
Why is this story, or the #PortugalCoup as it is now being described on social media, receiving so little mainstream attention? Not because of any great conspiracy, as some are suggesting, but simply because it is widely understood in the media that this is how the EU now operates. After having already influenced the formation of governments in Italy, Ireland and Greece, the pre-emptive smothering of democracy in Portugal simply isn’t a big news story.
But what’s most interesting here is that unlike the recent case of Greece, the EU did not have to lift a finger to achieve its desired outcome (the thwarting of anti-austerity parties opposed to EU-IMF bailout terms). Portugal did this to itself — or rather, the Portuguese president, acting not from any democratic mandate but based entirely on his own arbitrary decision about what is “best” for his country, decided that there are limits to democracy. And where are those limits set? At the point when the national interest risks contradicting the interests of the European Union.
That’s how the EU now suppresses democracy in member states. Tanks and guns are definitely no longer required in this technocratic age. And after the abject humiliation and punishment of Greece for stepping out of line, active intervention by EU institution leaders is no longer required either. The EU’s wishes are now virtually self-enforcing, with political elites in many member states now simply too scared to argue in favour of their own national interest or on behalf of the majority of their electorates when these wishes run counter to the direction set by Brussels.
Portugal’s president Anibal Cavaco Silva clearly took his lesson from the Greek euro crisis earlier this year, and decided that a few months of strident anti-EU posturing by an amateurish left-wing government — followed by the inevitable meek capitulation in the face of uncontrolled exit from the euro — would do more harm than good.
And he is probably right — until the Portuguese people realise that there really is a binary choice between being in the EU and determining their own economic affairs, the country will continue to drift along in permanent stagnation, trapped in an unsuitable currency union and bullied by more powerful members of the political union.
But the decision to weigh the consequences and bar the left-wing coalition from power was not rightfully Cavaco Silva’s to take, even though no technical rules may have been broken. It is for the people to determine their destiny, vote for whom they please and face whatever consequences may come. It is not for the political elite to high-handedly override these decisions, seeking to protect the people from the consequences of their own free will.
Why is this happening? It’s quite simple. The European Union demands the right to exist as a permanent, powerful layer of supranational government, sitting above member state national governments but remaining unanswerable and unaccountable to any of its citizens. Furthermore, the EU demands the right to formulate economic policy (and increasingly foreign and defence policy too) in the supposed interest of its member states, and to enforce those policies where there is local democratic resistance.
But the EU has no great interest in abolishing national governments or forming a formal “superstate” to achieve these goals, because it intends to become so powerful, so ensconced as the only level of government that really matters, that the idea of the autonomous, self-governing European country comes to seem as quaint and irrelevant as county councils in over-centralised Britain.
That’s what the EU wants. And any member state harbouring doubts about this dystopian future has a choice. They can either acquiesce like Greece, like the Portuguese president is trying to do on behalf of his people, or like David Cameron will inevitably do at the end of his sham “renegotiation”, or else they can leave. But there will be no picking and choosing. There will be no assertion of the national interest where the EU does not choose to grant it.
And who is to say that the EU will not succeed in this aim, when the political elite of a European Union member state like Portugal deliberately override the outcome of their general election in the hope of avoiding confrontation with Brussels?
Who is to say that the EU will not succeed when this type of behaviour is so unremarkable, so widely accepted as the “new normal” that an anti-democratic coup in Portugal merits no outcry in the international press?
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Originally published at semipartisansam.com on October 26, 2015.