State of emergency
18 November 2011
The wheel continues to turn. Following elections on 20 November, Spain will become the third EU country to change government this month, and the sixth, in the wake of Ireland, Portugal, Slovakia, Greece and Italy, to have an administration that has either been ousted or voluntarily given up its mandate amid the ongoing crisis.
Democracy, technocracy, people, financial markets... These terms are increasingly a feature of press comment on the state of play in Europe. The manner in which George Papandreou and Silvio Berlusconi have been shown the door to be replaced by experts with remarkably similar profiles – Lucas Papademos and Mario Monti, two economists who have occupied highly ranked positions in the EU and worked for the investment bank Goldman Sachs – has raised legitimate questions about governance and democratic responsibility.
Along with the all-powerful markets, the two main targets for criticism have been French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose role in the much reported Frankfurt Group that includes the presidents of EU institutions and the managing director of the IMF, has fuelled conspiracy theories about plans to place Europe under the autocratic control of a German influenced board of directors.
But if we momentarily adopt the point of view of devil’s advocate, there is no denying the devastating impact that the announcement of a referendum in Greece had on the meager progress towards a solution in the wake of the 26 October agreement on the country’s debt, or the damage wrought by this announcement to George Papandreou’s standing, who in spite of his many qualities, completely discredited himself in the eyes of his political friends.
As for Silvio Berlusconi, given the overwhelming evidence of his personal and political unfitness for high office, we can hardly complain that he has handed over to a man who has the trust of Italy’s partners. And having spent years complaining about the lack of leadership in Europe, we can hardly take issue with Merkel and Sarkzoy’s initiative to prevent the exacerbation of a crisis, which everyone acknowledges is a genuine threat to the future of the European project.
For all that, doubts remain about the effectiveness of the emergency measures. On the one hand, the crisis, which is continuing to spread is now threatening France and Austria along with Spain and Belgium. On the other, the growing rift between the 17 Eurozone states and the ten other EU members has prompted fears of a political deadlock, which would constitute a major obstacle to future strategies to overcome the crisis and address the issue of the democratic deficit in Europe.
With this in mind, the possibility of a stand-off between Germany and the United Kingdom, which emerged in the news this week, is increasing cause for concern. On the same day, both Angela Merkel and David Cameron delivered speeches that were characterised by diametrically opposed visions Europe: the German Chancellor demanded more discipline, coordination and control that would imply the surrendering of certain aspects of national sovereignty, while the British Prime Minister who wants “the flexibility of a network, not the rigidity of bloc,” declared his intention to take back responsibilities from Brussels.
In a Union where governments do not know how long they will hold office and where mistrust of Germany continues to grow, the necessary debate on Europe’s political model is likely to be more heated than ever.
Translated from the French by Mark McGovern