Weekend reading, Saturday January 16th, 2016
Margaret Thatcher once dismissed referendums as “a device of dictators and demagogues”. The opposite was true for the central and eastern Europeans who joined the EU in the 2000s; their accession votes, usually passed with whopping majorities, marked the final rejection of tyranny. Elsewhere most EU referendums have turned on one-off issues, like joining the euro or ratifying an internal treaty. Negative votes, such as the French and Dutch dismissals of an EU constitution in 2005, have at least forced Eurocrats to pause for breath before resuming the march of integration.
But now the silly season is here. A few months before the Dutch referendum, Danes were asked to vote on whether their government should convert its “opt-out” on EU justice and policing matters to an “opt-in”. They plumped for the status quo, leaving their government with an awkward negotiation in Brussels. A few months earlier Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s prime minister, called a referendum on a euro-zone bail-out agreement that would expire before the vote was held. His mighty oxi (“no”) victory was quickly converted to humiliating assent when his government realised that tough bail-outs were the price of euro membership.