Friday, June 5, 2009

How it Looks from Here

Over here we vote on Sunday in the EU Parliament elections. No one seems to care very much. There is a general acceptance of the EU here, since at one time Spain recieved a lot of money from Brussels and there was a sense that joining a group of democratic nations would help make their own young democracy more stable. My own feeling is that it was in no danger, but the Constitution of 1978 established the first genuine democracy Spain has ever known (whatever the Republicans tell you) and it is easy to understand why people were nervous about it.

Now it is hard to find anybody who cares that the EU itself is not remotely democratic, or that the much-loved and celebrated Constitution is not the one that was approved in a referendum 30 years ago- it has been altered twice, without the permission of the public, in order first to allow membership of the EEC and then to explicitly subordinate itself to EU law in accordance with the EU Constitution/Lisbon Treaty. The EU Constitution itself was put to a referendum in Spain, and was approved by a fair majority, but it is one thing to ask people to vote on 'taking our place in a more modern Europe', and quite another to ask them specifically to accept that their own Constitution no longer represents the unbreachable guarantee of democracy that it once was. So the Constitutional Court helpfully decided- acting with complete independence of the political process, of course- that the change in the Constitution was not important enough to bother the people with. As I recall, the argument was essentially that, since EU law was already, de facto, above Spanish law, the change merely recognised this fact rather than allowing anything new. An argument with one or two flaws, but the thing about Constitutional Courts and similar bodies (the US Supreme Court, for example) is that they don't have any real points of reference and can more or less make law up as they go along. This is worth remembering when the next UK government proposes some such body as a guarantor of our rights and freedoms. They're not doing it for you, they'll just send you the bill.

Anyhow, drifting slowly back to the point, insofar as there is any interest in this election at all here, it is as an opinion poll, a kind of mid-term, a popularity contest between the two main parties. Few people I know even have any intention of voting, let alone any interest in discussing it, and the campaigns have been subdued and entirely about national matters and personalities, when not descending into infantile name-calling.

Even though the EU is more or less accepted, partly because there is no one to articulate the real nature of it and how bad it is for freedom in general, and business and prosperity in particular, no one even pretends to take the EU parliament seriously. Manuel Marín, its former president, is from the town where I live, and still lives here. One of his favourite bars is next to one of mine. But even here, no one cares. It looks as though the centre-right Popular Party (the opposition) will win narrowly, but it will have nothing whatever to do with their policy on the EU.

One aspect of the elections which has entered the public consciousness is that the terrorist spokesmen who used to call themselves Herri Batasuna have been prevented from standing, but some of their candidates have been put on the lists of a puppet party, and so will receive votes anyway. This is as it should be. If someone can present and defend a point of view or a political programme and persuade others to vote for it those votes should count for something. That's what democracy means. You can jail people for murder, violence, extorsion, conspiracy to do the same, raising or providing money for any of that, but not simply for for not condemning it. Once you start locking up people you don't like you will quickly discover that there are also people who don't like you. I have said it before, with regard to Geert Wilders and one or two others*. These people must be heard, then we can support them or not as we see fit. It is not for government or the courts to decide what arguments we are allowed to hear.

By the by, I have long accepted that there is nothing remotely resembling a proper newspaper left in Britain, but this election has made me realize just how badly informed we are. The FT at least has some idea of what news actually is, which no other paper does, but it is so tediously and unreflectingly 'orthodox progressive' that it takes an effort to read. The government itself seems to be too busy falling apart** to have noticed that there is an election going on, judging from its various websites, and I am reduced to reading the Guardian, which seems to be offering the most up-to-date results and comment.

*The legalisation of the Communist party in 1976 is held by many to be one of the great moments of the emerging democracy. I can't agree that it was a great moment, but it was a sign that the transition was being taken seriously by the new government.

**The Spanish press doesn't know what to make of it. They're having fun with Silvio Berlusconi, but that's Italian politics and it's supposed to be messy and largely incomprehensible. Because it's Britain they're trying to make sense of it all; they can't quite believe that we have a Prime Minister who is probably past the edge of insanity, a government that consists mostly of rats biting each others' throats for the last scraps of food, an opposition that doesn't know how to oppose and so is rather glad that it doesn't have to, and nobody wants to do anything about it in case it is held against them in the future. Why would they believe it? A year or two ago, neither would I.

No comments: