The referendum in Italy yesterday ended with a sounding no against the proposal for reforming the Italian political system. It is no secret that Italy has had a very turbulent and unstable political development after WWII and that political reforms are necessary, at least from an European perspective. However what the European establishment fails to realize is that what might be beneficial for Brussels is perceived less so by the Italians. Italy as a nation is quite young, united only some 150 years ago through the efforts of foremost Garibaldi and Cavour. However northern Italy have a long tradition of independence, Venice for instance was a republic for over a millennium. An Italian friend of mine once said: “-The only time Italians have a sense of unity is when there´s an international football championship.” The internal differences between the North and South makes political reforms difficult since the rich and independent minded North has little interest in giving Rome a higher degree of saying at their expense. The South differs substantially both culturally, socially and not least economically. No wonder then that the referendum was a success for Lega Nord and the Five Star Movement. Not without that one comes to think of the historical comparison to the political frictions between the Northern and Southern states in America with Brussels being the equivalent of Washington DC. Internal Italian affairs have thus become European affairs and Brussels have repeatedly failed to understand that nations and nationalism still are most viable from a political perspective.
One might think that Brussels after Brexit realized that the project for a federal Europe lacks popular support and that is quite counterproductive to try enforce this in a pig headed fashion. But the response has been quite the opposite. “-The right answer to Brexit is “more Europe” said for instance Guy Verhofstadt. It is no secret that Verhofstadt is a proponent of a federal European state. Those that oppose this agenda is quickly labeled as an extremist whether this is true or not. It is quite evident that the EU-Commission, which is appointed by the various national parliaments, has an agenda that lacks popular support among the citizens in the member states. There is a abysmal distance between the ordinary citizen and the EU-Commission. Civil servants, that few have ever heard of and who´s appointment they have no real influence over, are appointed to set the political agenda of almost the entire of Europe and since the MEPs of the European Parliament lacks the right to add motions they can only react to an agenda set by the Commission. Hence it seems that the European Parliament only exists to give some form of democratic legitimacy to the EU although all shots are really called by the Commission. And since the Commission fails to adhere to the EU´s own laws and policies regarding for instance the principals of subsidiarity, this is very much evident regarding the Firearms Directive that has met with substantial criticism among law abiding citizens around Europe, no wonder that an increasing EU-skepticism arises around Europe.
The problem is however that there is no room for EU-skepticism within the establishment today. If you are a neoliberal or a socialist and pro-EU you´re quite fine, but if you question the democratic deficit within the EU then you are quickly out in the cold within an established party no matter your political inclinations. When the Swedish Parliament voted for adding the EU-membership into our constitution the only opponents were the right wing populists, Sverigedemokraterna, and the Left Party, formerly known as the Communists. Any opposition within the other parties could not raise their voices. The truth is that the EU Sweden joined in 1995 was quite different what the EU of today is. Few doubt how beneficial the Coal and Steal Community and the Common Market has been for Europe but very few support the agenda of for instance Verhofstadt.
In the former Eastern Europe right wing populists and conservative parties have had significant success. This is most of the times explained by increasing xenophobia and racism due to the Refugee Crisis. But this can only to a certain degree provide an explanation and is also part of the narrative of “the EU-elite” in order the dismiss criticism. The fact is that the rise of nationalism in Eastern Europe can also to a high degree be explained from a principal political perspective. Smaller states such as the Czech Republic and Hungary were promised upon entry into the Union that they would not be politically subjugated to the terms of the greater member states. However that is exactly what is happening. People that have lived under totalitarian regimes and have had things told to them by Moscow have increasingly started to view Brussels in the same way to some extent. They are not being listened to. And since there are few possibilities to have an open and sensible debate within the establishment that has “become part of the EU-elite” people end up voting to the right och in some cases to left such as in Greece as many tend to see Brussels as a bully given the poor state of Greece´s finances and the demands of reforms from the EU.
The problems associated with the latter is a good example that a union can only be successful as long as the member states are fairly similar when it comes to social, financial and political strata. If differences become to great, if member states cannot live up to the demands put upon them, and if the union seems to live in a self illusion that it can expand idenfinently judicially, financially and geographically without running into trouble sooner or later it certainly will do so.
The European Union has to a large degree become a project by the elite for the elite and when there are appeals coming from high ranking officials within the EU bureaucracy not hold any referendums that will allow the citizens to disagree with the political course set by the EU-Commission they only provide proof for the narrative of the opponents. Sure enough there is always a risk that populists that promises a reversed course without the means for it and opposes unpopular albeit perhaps necessary economic reforms will cause trouble for the EU. But still, can one define oneself as a good democrat while not being willing to allow the citizens their rightful say? The word democracy as we all know comes from the ancient Greek word “demokratia” which translates into “the power belongs to the people”.