If the technocrats weren't so dull, wouldn't this look like a coup d'etat...?
RECALL the Treaty of Lisbon? asks Adrian Ash at BullionVault. Rejected by voters in three of the only five European Union states to be asked, it was signed regardless by the heads of all 27 member states in 2009.
This top-down decision "completed the process [of] enhancing the efficiency and democratic legitimacy of the Union," apparently. Bottom-up, only voters in Luxembourg and Spain gave the right answer first time (and only then with 56% of the vote and a 42% turnout respectively). The Irish were asked to vote again, just as they were after rejecting the Treaty of Nice – aimed at enlarging the EU – in 2001.
Again, it was second time lucky for Ireland, at least for a while. "A dramatic fall on the Dublin stock market," said The Irish Times of the re-run in Oct. 2009, "was avoided yesterday due to the resounding Yes vote in the Lisbon Treaty referendum, according to stockbrokers."
That was close, eh? But what of that "resounding" no in 2005 from France and the Netherlands? Well, in truth, "We need more Europe, not less," decided European Commission president José Manuel Barroso, driving the Treaty forwards nevertheless in early 2006, and also claiming (with a straight face) that "The EU is there to serve its citizens."
Former EC president, and by then Italian prime minister, Romano Prodi agreed. "We always have to make efforts to understand the views of others, to take them on board," he said, without quite establishing who "we" are. But "it would be a misinterpretation of the people's will" to actually do what the French and Dutch referenda said and reject the Treaty, Prodi announced. And besides, as former French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing put it, "It is not France that has said no. It is 55% of the French people – 45% of the French people said yes."
Even the nay-sayers were sorry. "It was a pro-European no," said one apparently very confused young man the BBC interviewed, celebrating the no vote in Paris in May 2005 but regretting it at the very same time.
"We are not against Europe – we just want a different kind of Europe."
A different kind of Europe is now precisely what everyone's got, thanks to the Eurozone states signing up for a deflationary train-wreck. We don't recall anyone being asked to vote for that. We fear people might start to resent it. A lot.
"Our responsibility no longer stops at our countries' borders," declared German chancellor Angela Merkel to her CDU Party this week. Note the plural. Note also the same appeal as Barroso, Prodi and the rest make to some un-named, all-in-it-together "we".
"Our generation's duty now is to finalise the economic and currency union to form, step by step, a political union. We must develop the European Union's structure further. That does not mean less Europe, but more."
This demand for "more Europe" – also being parroted by Germany's Green Party – isn't a new phrase. Prodi began using it in 2002 (if not earlier), right around the time Greece joined the Euro and Ireland got round to giving the right answer on the Treaty of Nice. So it's been a key platform for Brussels' unelected policy wonks when they talk to each other for nearly a decade. Now "more Europe" is being pushed directly to voters as the only fix for Europe's mess. But just like the no voters of France and the Netherlands, Prodi's home country has already got way more Europe than it can handle. Pushing it further still, for all we know, may prove the best economic solution (although we sincerely doubt it). That's not our beef tonight, however. It's the political logic of "we" and "more Europe" that is coming to a head, and not in the way that the "We Demand More Europe" wonks might wish.
"Umberto Bossi of [Italy's] Northern League says he will relish entering opposition – where he can rail against the EU, immigrants and southern Italians," writes Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times. "Marine le Pen of the far-right National Front will have a big effect on next year’s presidential election in France. In the Netherlands, the government now relies on the votes of the Freedom Party led by Geert Wilders, which is running second in the polls. Austria's far-right Freedom Party is at level pegging in the polls with the governing People's Party. In Finland, the nationalist True Finns are still gaining ground and are easily above 20% in the polls."
You can spot the appeal just as easily as each of these buffoons. Imposed from on high – by a plane-hopping, summit-hungry mob of grey-suited bureaucrats – the grands projets of the European Union and its single currency proved very popular when it meant low interest rates and building booms. Who needed to ask for voter approval? Now the game has changed, but the nerdocrats still won't ask permission. Indeed, Greek prime minister Papandreou finally lost the backing of Brussels, the IMF and the ECB by daring to ask the Greek people if they really were up to the "austerity package" demanded to stay inside the Euro.
"All of these rising [far right] parties rail against 'elites'," notes Rachman – a badge you can stick on Brussels, the IMF and the ECB in Frankfurt just as easily as on Wall Street or the City. But no matter; according to the FT's columnist, "Technocrats have something to be said for them in the middle of a financial crisis." You know, just like they did in the economic crisis of the 1930s. Just as the "strong man" last stepped up in Europe, ready to give a very political solution where technical experts, even with the best will-in-the-world, had failed.
"Our membership of the Euro is a guarantee of monetary stability and creates the right conditions for sustainable growth," claimed new Greek prime minister Lucas Papademos last week. Stop laughing! With a PhD in economics, and little else besides the obligatory hat-tip to Goldman Sachs, Papademos doesn't need the sense he was born with. This career policy wonk is the man of the moment – just the fellow to screw his eyes shut and run headlong into history, declaring that "Our membership of the Euro is the only choice."
There's that "we" again. Papademos' new colleague in Rome, the equally unelected prime minister Mario Monti of Italy, is more expert still – a professor of economics, no less, with no experience outside the academy and Brussels beyond that vital stint consulting for Goldman Sachs.
"His cabinet is to be made up of technocrats instead of career politicians," reports Deutsche Welle. The Shorter Oxford defines "technocracy" – originating in the US in the early 20th century – as "the government or control of society or industry by technical experts". The OED forgets to stress "unelected". It also misses the historic risks in letting the lunatics take charge of the asylum.
"One of the key appointments is seen as the infrastructure and industry portfolio," DW goes on, "handed to Corrado Passera, the CEO of Italy's largest bank, Intesa Sanpaolo..."
"Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri [is] a former police chief," adds Reuters, "Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi di Santagata a former diplomat, and Defense Minister Giampaolo Di Paola, an admiral and member of NATO's military committee."
Yikes! So that's a police chief in charge of home affairs, a mandarin in charge of foreign relations, a warrior in charge of defense, a banker in charge of the economy – oh, and Paola Severino, a lawyer, running the Ministry of Justice. If you think that all sounds perfectly sensible, just ask yourself:
How far from a coup d'etat would this look if the new administrators – "a government of skilled people...experts in their respective fields," according to one commentator, and all utterly unelected – weren't almost as dull and grey as their suits?
The question then, in the absence of a national currency – "the surest mark and announcement of sovereignty," as monetary historian Alexander del Mar put it a century ago – would be quite which state has been doing the coup'ing...?
"The EU crisis demonstrates that free trade has gone far enough," reckons Peter Wilby, former editor of the New Statesman, writing in The Guardian. "The world's supranational organisations, including the [World Trade Organization] and the EU, should draw up rules that allow countries – without jeopardising their trading opportunities – to re-introduce limited tariffs and opt out of regulations..."
Unelected, supra-national approval of protectionism not strong enough for you? "The west is now in many respects too free," says Hong Kong property developer Ronnie Chan, pointing the way in the FT. "Inefficiency is sometimes the price of democratic freedom, but not this level of inefficiency."
Yes indeed – freedom is in fact the problem. No doubt the populist politicians standing ready to take over should the technocrats fall, alongside the Euro, will take note.
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