The "democratic deficit" of the European Union as currently constructed is well understood. The treaty under which the EU operates was rejected in its prior ghost as a European constitution by French and Dutch voters. Recast by German lawyers in deliberately incomprehensible language, it was rejected by the Irish before Brussels and its beholden Dublin minions told the benighted sons and daughters of St. Patrick to go back to the voting booths and get it right, or else there would be yet another round of voting. So we have a "president of Europe" who sits in an office established by elitist non-democratic means, and who was personally selected for said office through a backroom process that would make early 20th century Chicago and New York politicians blush. Should we be surprised by anything that emerges from the same people who gave Europe this, ah, system?
But even by the standards of what we've come to expect from European elites, the Sept. 8 Financial Times op-ed by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager is a head-spinner. These Dutchmen propose a solution to the Euro-crisis that would involve three stages of supervision by a new European commissioner over the profligate states that threaten the Euro itself. Such states would first be put under the "independent supervision" of a new EU commissioner with powers "at least comparable to those of the competition commissioner." This functionary would be "given clear powers to set requirements for the budgetary policy of countries that run excessive deficits." That may not be enough: "If the results are insufficient, the commissioner can force a country to take measures to put its finances in order, for example by raising tax revenue. At this stage, sanctions can be imposed..." But that still may not be enough: "...in the final stage" of failure on the part of Eurozone miscreants, the offending nation's budget will "have to be approved by the commissioner before it can be presented to parliament."
Wandering the terribly orderly streets of Amsterdam or Berlin or Copenhagen, one can well appreciate how the austere, decent northern Europeans would loath the intemperate habits of their formerly Catholic southern cousins. But what is the right name for the Dutch remedy? An EU commissioner who is a tutor? Empowered advisor? Mentor? Life coach?
Actually, the name for what M. Rutte and M. de Jager propose is "despot." These gentlemen see the failure of democratically elected governments in Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy, to a different degree Ireland, and soon France. They see no hope for democratically elected governments to fix their fiscal problems absent an iron fist from a central authority. They are bold. They are authoritarian in their defense of a common currency. They have concluded that such a currency, the Euro, is much more important than the beliefs and ideas of the union the currency was meant to solidify. Their view of European integration is technocratic, power-centralizing, and uniquely anti-democratic. They have no apparent memory of European integration as envisioned by Adenauer, Schuman, and de Gasperi.
There is an alternative. Many Europeans, including the entrepreneur and financier Declan Ganley, have put forward a vision of an integrated Europe with fiscal and monetary discipline, as part of real integration within European democratic institutions. That will be a big step beyond Lisbon. But it will be a much better step than the materialist-grounded view of Rutte and de Jager, who seem to believe that a currency is more important than democratically accountable leaders and the freedom of citizens. The economic component of the Euro crisis is very serious. The larger crisis of Europe is even more serious. Rutte and de Jager are right to be anxious for a big solution. But they should not throw European democracy out to assuage their anger over southern European irresponsibility. Europe gave the world democratic values. The Dutch should lead the integration of Europe according to those values, not toss them over the side of a false life raft in another plush Brussels office.
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