Euro-crisis: dictatorship of the bean-counters
The bankrupting of democracy is too high a price to pay for the Euro-elites’ scheme to save their system through more austerity and integration.
Amid all the endless speculation and wrangling over how the Euro-crisis will end, one question remains unanswered: who has bothered to ask the people of Europe what they think of the anti-crisis measures being imposed across the continent, or of their rulers’ plans for the future of the Eurozone and the European Union?
When even the Europe editor of the Europhile BBC suggests that ‘it is quite possible that an early casualty in the Eurozone crisis will be democracy’, it is surely time to ask some serious questions about the way that the handling of Europe’s financial and economic problems is intensifying the crisis of democratic politics.
If there is one thing that worries the Euro-elites even more than their out-of-control finances these days, it is their uncontrollable electorates. Governments, EU bureaucrats and Euro-bankers do not trust the ignorant European masses, many of whom have stubbornly refused to accept (on the rare occasions they have been asked) that the authorities know what’s best for them. We have followed on spiked in recent years the elites’ sustained efforts to impose a new centralised constitution on the EU and then, when those nations offered a vote rejected their imperious plans, to sneak it in through the backdoor anyway. They will not take ‘no’ for an answer, no matter how often and how loudly we tell them.
The contempt for democracy in high places has come out more forcefully in response to the Euro-crisis. First the faceless officials and financiers of the EU, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund effectively deposed the elected government of Ireland and took over managing its debt-ridden economy. Now Greece, the current cockpit of the Euro-crisis, is suffering the same fate, sentenced to a debtors’ prison and subjected to dictatorship-by-bureaucrat.
And the supposedly more powerful members of the Euro club are not immune either. We now know that in August the ECB wrote to Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, demanding that ‘bold and immediate action’ to cut public spending and reform the labour market was ‘essential’ before the ECB could help to lower Italy’s debt burden. It reads like a bailiffs’ demand to indebted tenants, only aimed at a sovereign government. And all done in private, of course, until somebody leaked the letter last week.
Some elder European statesmen have raised concerns about this behind-closed-doors undermining of democratic governments. The German president Christian Wulff has warned that the ECB’s manipulation of Euro states’ national finances through the purchase of government bonds strikes at the ‘very core’ of democracy, leaving some governments in ignorance of what is happening to their own treasuries. A former Austrian chancellor has also reportedly warned of the danger of an advancing ‘dictatorship of experts’ in Europe.
Yet within today’s political circles there remains a largely unspoken consensus that this is how things have to be. Everybody can now see that it was misconceived to imagine they could smoothly integrate economies as different as mighty Germany and creaky Greece into the same single European currency. But what is the only solution the elites can see for the failure of economic integration? Why, more and closer Euro-integration, of course! They want to centralise control over public finances and borrowings as well as exchange and interest rates. And this concentration of more power in the hands of bureaucrats, bankers and accountants is now effectively endorsed as the only solution not only by the Euro-bureaucrats themselves, but also by ‘outsiders’ such as US president Obama and Tory chancellor of the UK exchequer George Osborne.
Every discussion of the possible outcome of the crisis only seems to suggest two options: either a ‘disastrous’ break-up of the Eurozone or its ‘restructuring’ – that is, a mega-bailout coupled with further moves towards fiscal as well as economic union. The first of these is not really considered an option at all by the Euro-elites. It would be an act of political suicide on their part. So the second option is their only one. But they also fear what the reaction of their peoples will be to that, especially in Germany and France.
Their answer has been effectively to suspend democratic debate of these matters and keep the public out of the loop, conducting the real deals in smoke-free rooms and secret correspondence behind a curtain of media obfuscation. So for example, we have been repeatedly assured that the idea of the Greek government defaulting on its debts is out of the question. Meanwhile behind the scenes, plans have been put in place for a sort of slow-motion, secret default on at least half of Greece’s national debt. We have also been assured that each bailout of banks and governments is the last – until the next one. Meanwhile, the numbers apparently required for a grand bailout of governments and re-capitalisation of banks have crept up from ‘only’ billions of Euros to trillions. No doubt when the leaders finally agree the latest deal it will be declared a triumph for European democracy, the absence of any public consent for it quietly shoved under the carpet along with those unpaid Greek debts.
Through all of this semi-secret financial jiggery-pokery there has been a remarkable absence of any real public discussion of the fundamentals of Europe’s economic crisis. Great play was made in the British media last week of the German parliamentary debate before the Bundestag voted to pass the Greek support package by a large majority. Rather less was said about the fact that this stage-managed occasion was merely ratifying the deal done back in July, not the Euro-leaders’ latest proposed mega-bailout, and that it was passed only after senior figures assured parliament that there would be no bigger demands made on the German taxpayer. Even then, the uncertain parliamentarians were hardly reflecting the views of their voters, half of whom tell opinion pollsters they would rather scrap the Euro and bring back the Deutschmark. Little wonder the Eurocrats are so nervous about telling us the truth.
Yet despite the widespread discontent and anger across much of Europe at the counter-crisis measures being imposed, there is little sign of any political alternative on offer. Instead, formal political debate has been reduced to the sort of petty issues we have seen kicked around during the UK party conference season. Meanwhile, the leaders of all Europe’s major parties basically agree that on the substantive issue of the crisis there is no alternative; the austerity-and-integration show must go on, whether the citizens of Europe they purport to represent like it or not, and whether or not it will work.
It has become almost a cliché to talk about the need for more leadership in European politics. Like many clichés, it is true. But what the political-media class largely means by leadership today is having the nerve to press ahead more forcefully with the bureaucracy’s big plan for Euro-survival, and worry less about what the little people think. For them, ‘leadership’ equals unqualified elitism. For some of us, on the other hand, genuine political leadership in a supposedly democratic society would mean leading a public debate on the crisis and winning the argument for your vision. The pathetic excuses we have for leaders today, however, have no argument to offer, beyond the spectre of Euro-apocalypse and the desperate need to cling together for their own survival.
Yet what opposition does exist today seems to have if anything even less a grasp of reality. The sort of protest groups that have grabbed headlines in Europe and America of late look more like childish adolescents throwing a tantrum at their mean parents than serious movements for social change. In this context, the protesters’ demand for countries such as Greece and Ireland to default on their debts looks less like a radical alternative than another stop-the-world-I-want-to-get-off cop-out. There is no more engagement with the issues of economic crisis and the future of our societies here than in the empty debates in our parliaments and at party conferences.
Is there an alternative to the current elitism scheme for imposing further austerity-plus-integration? The consequence of allowing debtor nations to default and the fallout that would follow would undoubtedly be very serious. But that is no excuse for closing down the debate and refusing to think outside the accountants’ box-file.
Democracy is a meaningless charade without choices and competing visions for the future of society. And the bankrupting of democracy is surely too high a price to pay for any financial package. There is no ready-made alternative economic solution to hand. But the very least we should demand is that the true depth of the crisis be made public, and that every aspect of the counter-crisis measures must be openly debated. The first step in that direction should be to challenge the way that European democracy is being bankrupted and asset-stripped in the name of saving the continent. Fighting for the future of Europe is not the same thing as the survival of the Euro-elites.
As things stand, we in Europe look set to end up with the worst of both worlds. We are supposed to swallow the abrogation of democracy and imposition of the dictatorship of experts and bureaucrats in the name of economic necessity. And then their elitist schemes won’t work anyway either to bring about an integrated Europe or to revitalise the Euro economy.
The future of all the peoples of Europe is far too important to be left to the discretion of Eurocrats, accountants, bankers and political cowards.
Mick Hume is editor-at-large of spiked.