April 16, 2013
Greece is considered to be the cradle of democracy globally. This great achievement and feeling of being part of this country is destroyed by the way democracy is applied in practice. In these four years of austerity politics we have not really experienced the very meaning of democracy in its great extent. And this observation comes in parallel with the level and quality of democracy inside the European Union.
Is it possible to measure democracy? Definitely yes, we do measure democracy both in terms of its alignment with the constitutional chart, but also in terms with its applicability in daily life in-between of the pre-electoral periods. Concerning the first perspective, it is actually a common belief that we do have democracy as far as we have free elections and the public can decide and elect the candidates they best serve the public interest. This is the constitutional prerequisite that is always followed and respected by all EU member-states.
Concerning the second perspective, it is actually well-observed that we do not have democracy in practice in-between the pre-electoral periods. This observation mainly refers to a political decision or program that has been developed in x manner during the electoral campaign, and afterwards being applied in the y manner. Bringing this into practice, the party that won Greek elections last June and its leader had promised that the government would fight hard in the negotiation table to tackle the Memoranda of Understanding between the Greek state and troika and develop a new policy that would be much more fair, equal to all, and finally against the wide sense of solidarity and public good. And what is that “public good”? The one that is offered and addressed to all citizens independently and individually and dealing with a fair wage and pension policy, the safety net of a welfare state concerning individual property, the normalization of taxation policy, and finally, the combat against any increase in unemployment and poverty rates. Nothing of all these issues was addressed by the government and the coalition parties that support it. This is called a betrayal or, in other words, more formally, a complete abandon, denial and abrogation of public expectations.
Therefore, the question that consequently rises is the following one: how the public can react to such a shift as long as it has voted for a completely different political program?
The democratic system in Greece has not responded yet to such a question. Instead, the public endeavors to alter conditions and press the government by launching successive strikes and manifestations, all contributing to the increase of grievances and unrest. This is not a viable solution to press the government and it has been proved in practice.
The response might stem from a different democratic system in the center of Europe and outside of the European Union. This system is the political system of Switzerland where the launching of referendum is considered to be a fair solution. For every issue of global concern, referenda are launched in cantonal and central level, providing the space to the public to behave and act democratically and determine the policy of the central government. In 2011, the ex-PM of Greece Mr. Papandreou endeavored to launch a referendum for the issue of Memoranda, but the European leaders, and especially Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy, pressed him that much that he was obliged to withdraw his proposition. In another framework, if the launching of referendum was a vital component of the Greek constitution, nobody could deal with it other than the Greek citizens themselves.
My concluding point is that the Greek Parliament needs to reconsider the applicability of the fundamental tool of referendum and expand its usage in eras of crises and imminent issues of nation-wide concern. I strongly believe that this is the most efficient tool of monitoring political action during the term in office, that binds both sides with the right to question a certain policy (i.e. the public) and the right to reconsider a counter-public policy (i.e. the government).Dimitris Rapidis