The EU: no friend of democracy

The EU pretends to be a force for altruism in the world, but as its reaction to the Egyptian coup shows, it has a take-it-or-leave-it approach to democracy.

Back in the Nineties and early Noughties, a lively academic debate grew up about the nature of EU power. Posed as an alternative to the bad old US, with its penchant for military power and the supposed pursuit of its material interests, the EU was a ‘normative’ power, a postmodern power, that is, one that exercised its power through setting an example in good governance and democracy. The ultimate global mentor, as it were.

Rather than outright intervention, the EU used influence - conditions attached to trade for example - linked to democratisation and human rights. That is, the EU pursued policies for the benefits of others. Its aim was to spread democracy, human rights and contribute to human happiness and flourishing.

Those who promote this altruistic view of the EU might therefore have been slightly surprised to note the very relaxed attitude that the major political figures in the EU have taken towards the Egyptian coup, in which the elected president was deposed by the army. At the start of last week, Catherine Ashton, the EU’s high representative for foreign and security policy, flew to Egypt to meet with the deposed president, Mohammed Morsi. Early reports seemed to suggest that Ashton was actually blindfolded beforehand, as she claimed she did not know where she had met Morsi. Anodyne statements followed; Ashton urged dialogue, that the parties should try to work things out, and so on.

Perhaps she had not been well briefed and had missed the news that Morsi had been deposed in a military coup, was kidnapped by the military and was being held at its behest. Moreover, Egypt’s feared secret police have been killing protesters with impunity and are arresting opposition figures. By the end of last week, Al Ahram, one of Egypt’s main papers, reported that a senior figure in the Muslim Brotherhood claimed that Ashton had pressed Morsi to accept the coup. We can’t verify this, but given that the US secretary of state, John Kerry, has welcomed the coup as a restoration of democracy, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised.

It really should not have been a surprise that the EU thinks little of an old-fashioned military coup. After all, since the financial crisis, the EU has been limbering up with its own series of internal, non-military coups in which elected governments have been deposed. Italy and Greece, for example, had technocratic administrations imposed upon them in order to push through economic policies that are more or less crushing their respective economies.

The EU-fostered coups are, of course, not a reversal of EU policy properly understood, but a fundamental part it. A short review of EU approaches to democracy within the EU will reveal the real, anti-democratic nature of the EU. A good example is the way that Ireland was forced to hold a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 because the Irish electorate had voted the ‘wrong’ way first time round.

No one should be under any illusion about the purpose and nature of the EU. The EU, as has been argued on spiked before, is premised upon the steady exclusion of the people from the policymaking process. Whether at home or abroad, the EU is a fundamental enemy of democracy.

Tara McCormack is a lecturer in international politics at the University of Leicester. She is author of Critique, Security and Power: The Political Limits to Critical and Emancipatory Approaches to Security, published by Routledge. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).)

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