Tuesday

21st Aug 2018

Opinion

Black day for democracy in Spain

  • Guardia Civil face down pro-independence protesters ahead of the referendum. (Photo: Jordi Boixareu/ZUMA Wire/dpa)

It has become evident that the attachment to democracy by mainstream European parties has become increasingly precarious.

What to make of the political treatment of the 2005 referendums on the European constitutional treaty? The voters said no; the political elites acted as if nothing had happened.

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What to make of the troika, which, during the eurocrisis, simply swept aside national parliaments in Ireland, Greece and Portugal and dictated economic policy-making from above?

Or what to make of the enhanced Growth and Stability Pact, which has eroded the say of parliaments on state budgets?

Or what to think of the fact that last week, mainstream parties in the Netherlands killed the idea of future binding referendums - despite being suggested by these very same parties in the first place?

What is happening in Catalonia at the moment is simply the next episode of the attempt to kill democracy in Europe by a thousand cuts.

At the same time that I was witnessing lively debates here in Madrid at an animal rights conference, some 600 kilometres to the east in Barcelona, citizens were being wounded by rubber bullets and forcefully manhandled by police. And only because they want to enact their democratic rights.

I am ashamed in the face of colleagues from Oman, Ecuador, Georgia and Ukraine, present at the conference in Madrid, who have been forced to watch with horror and amazement how we in Europe – the self-professed guardian of democracy – suppress the right to participation of innocent citizens with a display of unnecessary violence.

I am fully aware that the bone of contention between Catalonia and Madrid is a longstanding, highly-complex and highly-emotional one.

As a Dutch member of parliament I do not want to pretend to be able to weigh in on that conflict. But I don't need to. The horrible images from Barcelona and other places in Catalonia speak for themselves.

A state that uses violence on its own citizens who are in the process of enacting their democratic rights raises the urgent and difficult question of whether it still may call itself democratic.

As member of parliament and leader of the Dutch Party for Animals I want to forcefully express my dismay over the exorbitant violence used by the Rajoy government in order to intimidate Catalonian citizens and suppress their chance to enact their democratic rights.

I want to make an urgent appeal to all European democratic parties and governments to follow the example of our Spanish sister party, Pacma, to condemn the Spanish government in the most explicit of terms for the behaviour of their police on Sunday in Catalonia.

We, Europeans, don't hesitate to raise our voices if in Myanmar, Beijing or Washington democratic rights are being breached. Can we then let this black day in the history of democracy in Europe pass without a loud and collective condemnation? Just because Spain is a member of the European Union and as such beyond reproof? Just because Rajoy is a friendly head of state?

In my view, we can't.

Marianne Thieme is leader of the Party for the Animals group in the lower house of the Dutch Parliament.

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