‘Referendums can liquidate democracy’

Cohn-Bendit, 72, was a leader in France's 1968 student protests and served in politics in Germany and on the European Parliament

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, bad boy of the European Leftist movement, thinks Turkey’s April 16 referendum could spell the end of democracy as we know it.

This content was published on April 4, 2017 - 13:50

A leader in France’s May 1968 demonstrations who later became politically active in Germany and the European Parliament, Cohn-Bendit is in favour of reforming the EU to make it a “United States of Europe”. On his way through Switzerland for public appearances in Bern and Zurich, he weighed in on the political challenges facing the continent.

On Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: “What no one understood – nor I, at first – is that he had a hidden agenda. He needed Europe to emancipate Turkey from the control of a very authoritarian army, and we believed that [his AKP party] was religious but democratic. But once he got rid of the army, his true colours emerged.”

“We must be wary of parties with religious connotations. From the moment a party puts religion above democracy, it is the beginning of the end."

On Europe: All of the criticisms levelled against the EU have a fair basis. Europe is the image of our societies. The problem is how to address the challenges we’re facing, from the deterioration of the climate to globalisation and social injustice. We can’t deal with them on a national level. In 20 to 30 years, France will be as significant a player in the globalised world as Andorra now is in Europe. That’s why our hopes for civilisation, social progress and a more humane world can only be realised by Europe. Europe has flaws, so reform it – but everything will go through Europe.”

On direct democracy: When it comes to direct democracy by referendum, I think we need a quorum of participation and a constitutional definition of what we can vote on. I am not saying that democracy by referendum is more or less democratic than other models. Parliamentary democracy also has flaws, with many citizens feeling they don’t have a say, but a democracy by referendum works through emotion. Let us not forget the historical cases of Hitler’s referendum in Germany and the upcoming one being held by Erdogan in Turkey. The referendum is also an opportunity to liquidate democracy”.

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