9 april 2016, ukraine, utrecht, uttoxter... uer OUT

Stop scratching your head. The little-noticed dutch referendum on ukraine last week was a disastrous portent of things to come. It wasn't about an eu trade deal, the question on the ballot. That was signed 2 years ago and has been in force since january. Trade is an eu power (though holland and the other member states have their say along the way; they were in favour). The referendum was the anti-eu lobby taking advantage of a new dutch law forcing a referendum whenever enough signatures are gathered. This was a flash version of the uk's slow progress to the same instrument. Though well-intentioned, this pan-european trend towards direct, as opposed to representative (parliamentary), democracy is having a malign influence. Referenda are becoming the populist vehicle du jour, both of oppositions and governments, witness hungary's echo of greece in ridiculously calling a loaded-referendum on whether the government is right to oppose the eu's solution on migration it didn't agree with but, according to the rules, was outvoted on. With still no date set, that looks increasingly like bluster. Not so the dutch, where a strong majority, some 61%, voted against the eu (treaty), landing policymakers a real headache. Once again, the fundamental question of how democratic majoritarianism in the eu demos can function alongside a system of predominantly national democracies is raised (see 21 february 2015, le demos nouveaux et arrive !). Holland is bigger than greece. Britain is bigger still, and its looming vote to leave is increasingly looking likely to trigger a full-blown eu crisis as that pillar of the european demos looks at best well ahead of its time and at worst a fantasist elitist project that is really just cover for all the capitalist/socialist/liberal (take your pick) ills of the world. It is of course the former, but as more and more eu citizens (for that is what we have been since 1992, see passport to citizenship) are forced to think about it, its ever-wider perception as the latter becomes more and more corrosive, leading populist champions to increasingly define themselves against it. In the uk context that self-reinforcing realisation will just invigorate the outers. The worst berlaymont fears of this as a decade of eurosclerosis are now looking rather like an optimistic outcome.