In the wake of a potential ‘Brexit’ a top French lawyer has demanded that the European Union (EU) “stop sacrificing the European project” and ban referendums.
Laurent Cohen-Tanugi called direct democracy “populist suicide” and claimed that people’s opinions in the internet era are invalid.
Describing Britain’s referendum on EU membership as a “lamentable soap opera”, the Paris-based international lawyer urged the bloc’s leaders to “stop playing with fire”.
Writing in Le Monde, the Paris-based lawyer branded referendums “contrary to the dignity of public office”, “opportunistic and demagogic”, and called for European leaders to:
“Stop sacrificing the European project, the states you are responsible for, the geopolitical position of the West and the global economy on the altar of your personal ambitions and the interests of your followers!”
Mr. Cohen-Tanugi dismissed imagined “howls of outrage from anti-EU pseudo-democrats”, criticising European elites for having “bought into the simplistic, demagogic” argument that Europeans should have a say in how they are ruled.
The lawyer, whose practice focuses on international mergers and acquisitions, arbitration and corporate governance, argued that leaders who allow referendums are “abdicating their responsibilities”.
Frequent columnist Mr. Cohen-Tanugi poured scorn on the idea of direct democracy at a time when people have more access to information than ever before. He said in the internet era: “all of the opinions expressed are not equal”. Judging people’s opinions an “even worse advisor than before”, the New York and Paris bar member said he believes representative democracy “more necessary than ever”.
The lawyer dismissed “the majority of British citizens” as “getting ready to vote against Eastern European migration”.
“Who would dare to claim,” Mr. Cohen-Tanugi asked, that British voters “have the slightest idea of the disastrous repercussions of a ‘Brexit’ on the United Kingdom, the European project, the Atlantic alliance and the stability of the world?”
The lawyer, who has previously worked for the U.S. government, called for EU treaties to ban referendums. He asked:
“Which European leader will have the courage to declare loud and clear that it is time to end — with a prohibition in the treaties — unilateral, opportunistic and demagogic national referendums on questions that put the future of all Europeans at stake?
“Tossing a coin over the future of the United Kingdom or European Union has nothing to do with democracy.”
Mr. Cohen-Tanugi lamented that a UK vote to Remain equates to “blackmail” while a Leave vote could cause “contagion” to other countries.
“Enough energy wasted, taking of useless risks, inexcusable cowardice. Stop the populist suicide!”, the lawyer’s piece argued.
Earlier this year, the Netherlands decisively voted “no” in a referendum that was seen largely as a bellwether of approval for the EU. Shortly afterwards, former senior adviser to the Commission, Fraser Cameron, wrote a piece on why “it is time for an EU ban on referenda”.