Belgium’s prime minister said winning at the ballot box does not mean “absolute power”, setting out the threats of “some” in Europe wanting to install “illiberal democracy” and heading towards a “tyranny of the majority”.
Alexander De Croo said in a heartfelt speech that the EU is a “union of values, not a cash machine” – and gave a warning to “those” who use a new world war as a threat.
Speaking to the College of Europe, he said liberal democracy is under threat, adding: “What used to be self-evident ten years ago, is not longer today.
Liberal democracy is about ‘strong leadership’, not ‘a strong leader’
“When I was a teenager, when the iron curtain came down, liberal democracy was something people worldwide aspired for. Admired us for.
“Today, the leaders of China and Russia have chosen a different path, the path of autocracy. Even here in Europe, some want to install “illiberal democracy” as if something like that actually would exist.”
He added: “Liberal democracy is not the easiest answer to our current challenges, but it is the right one. For the simple reason that it means ‘all of us deciding together’ on where we are headed.
“Liberal democracy is not about having ‘a strong leader’. It is about “strong leadership.
“It is my deep conviction that strong leadership is based on diversity and on inclusion. Liberal democracy is as much about protecting minorities, protecting diversity, as it is about the power of the majority.”
Tyranny of the majority
Quoting former British MP and philosopher John Stuart Mill, De Croo warned that “the tyranny of the majority over the minority” is popping up in Europe.
He said some national governments have been attacking the free press, denigrating immigrants and denying fundamental rights to women – whilst saying Europe’s liberal democracy is exactly the opposite.
“It is about human decency, personal freedom, and allowing people of all walks of life to live their lives freely and come together in one society,” he said.
He added: “It is above all about the separation of powers. A victory at the ballot box does not mean absolute power.
“Independent courts enforcing civil liberties are a crucial part of democracy; because it’s these courts that need to be strong enough to stand up against a tyrannic majority.”
Attacks on European Court of Justice ‘affect trust’ and miss the point of EU
De Croo said recent attacks on the European Court of Justice are “completely unacceptable” – just as the Tories have been pushing for scrapping it.
And he gave a warning to Poland, whose prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, suggested the European Commission may “start the third world war” by withholding money as a sanction.
De Croo said: “European governments that are not willing to respect the ground rules of liberal democracy, they undermine all trust. Trust between member states, trust between the people of Europe. Trust we need if we want a common future.
“To those who give incendiary interviews and think it’s necessary to declare a new world war in the Financial Times, I want to say: you are playing a dangerous game, you are playing with fire when waging war with our European colleagues for internal political reasons.”
He added the EU’s measures are not about “arrogance”, but about an “overwheliming majority of member states who agree our Union is a union of values, not a cash machine”. “You cannot pocket all the money but refuse the values,” he said.
At the same time, De Croo said the way forward is for the EU to listen to the message of the 100.000 Polish citizens who took to the streets “carrying the Polish flag with the European flag, side by side, to refute fire brand tactics.”