With austerity the watchword in every capital of Europe, technocrats are replacing elected politicians in a bid to the solve the crisis, writes Azeem Ibrahim
Western democracy has taken some new turns recently as the eurozone evolves. The United Kingdom is notable for standing firm on its democratic foundations as other European countries seem to be heading towards a federal future.
Because of the global depression, a number of countries appear to have given up democratic freedoms for the financial security of having bankers run their nations instead of politicians. This may be considered a temporary imposition while the future of the euro is being negotiated but it is disturbing to see unelected technocrats making decisions for citizens who have no redress at the ballot box.
The next few weeks should be crucial in seeing what the new Europe is going to look like.
The European Union has developed from a small free-trade area in 1958 to a 27-nation union with a common currency, a court of human rights and a central bank. When Jean Monnet envisaged the European Community it was for the collective good and future peace of the nations, still bruised from two world wars. “We are not forming coalitions of states, we are uniting men,” he said, but today the euro has become a dictator rather than a uniter.
The Great Depression of the Thirties saw technocrats, the chiefs of industry and men of science, as the salvation of beleaguered western economies. But, as the Keynesianism v monetarist debate shows, even economics is not above politics.
Austerity economics now prevails as Europe lurches along after five years of no growth. Today, the wealthier nations are basically deciding how much austerity the poorer nations of Europe should put up with. France and Germany have emerged as the strong partners under Nicolas Sarkozy and chancellor Angela Merkel – “Merkozy”. But as the crisis continues, the European financial press increasingly talks about the possibility of France and Germany being unable to hold the centre.
A look at the national governments of Europe today reveals the disconnect between national interests and the common European cause. The real power is the troika of the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission, which are making national governments somewhat irrelevant. Belgium finally has a prime minister after 19 months of no government, the UK and Ireland both have coalitions and Portugal had a caretaker government for months.
Greece is on the brink of insolvency and has been forced by the troika to take drastic austerity measures. Former Greek prime minister Georgios Papandreou could see the lack of democracy and attempted to hold a referendum. He lost his job and was replaced by Lucas Papademus, a technocrat approved by Merkozy.
Italy now has a government run by a banker, Mario Monti, instead of an elected president, and it seems apparent that the democratic national governments of Europe are looking fragile. Governments forced to hold new elections are hardly likely to get a mandate for austerity. The alternative of appointing technocrats is an elitist and undemocratic way of running a country and is a terrible failure of leadership.
Europe is, indeed, in a critical position, with popular democracy failing to meet the challenges of the economic crisis, leaving the future uncertain. Whether it will lead to more European Union or less, with or without popular assent, remains to be seen. And in the meantime, the UK will be watching from the sidelines, democracy intact.
• Dr Azeem Ibrahim is a fellow at the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding.