A daily blog on the thrills, spills, and frequent absurdities of the world's one and only 'non-imperial empire' - as Barroso himself called it - the European Union.

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Monday, 14 November 2011

A Tale of Two Technocrats

Berlusconi and the Bush family in happier times.

No-one knows what's going on in Europe. Least of all Lucas Papademos and Mario Monti. The two men were, until recently, enjoying their comfortable retirement in the sultry southern Meditteranean sun. The former had resigned his post as vice-president of the European Central Bank shortly after the first Greek bailout - the buffers the whole eurozone crisis was supposed to stop at - to be an advisor to then-Prime Minister Georgious Papandreou. The other was previously the European Commissioner for Competition (1995-1999), and then European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Services, Customers, and Taxation, from 1995-2004. He then became active in the Spinelli Group, a federalist think-tank which he co-founded. Now, less than three days later, they are both premiers of European states.

It is a double blow for the former leaders - Papandreou has been replaced by his advisor, and Berlusconi by a man he refused to recommend for a third stint as European Commissioner. But what does it mean for the Greeks and Italians? One thing I will say is that both men are extremely competent. Mario Monti is a true capitalist - i.e. the kind that opposes, rather than indulgies, monopolies - and has a good level of experience in dealing with beaurocratic procedures. Lucas Papademos is renowned for his economic ability. But, nevertheless, they are still unelected: their countrymen have lost their last chance to have a democratic say on economic policy. As national unity governments provide little, if any, parliamentary opposition, they are pretty much stuffed as far as the democratic side of things goes. Their country's fiscal matters - not to mention their family budgets - are now dictated to them by the troika, through the austerity measures which their governments are compelled to implement. That means they no longer have any say over public sector salaries, pension funds, tarrifs, and, most importantly, taxes.

It is especially poignant for the Greeks, as the man installed as head of them is one of the select few men who might actually be responsible for their plight. From 1994 to 2002, he was Governor of the Bank of Greece. It was his role to convince the European Commission that Greece was ready for euro membership, using figures which we now know - and which the government knew at the time - to be bogus. Ten years later, he was vice-president of the ECB, and was thus in a position to safeguard Greek citizens' interests at the highest table. However, he sold them out for the sake of 'solidarity' - a word which roughly translates to the Greeks as 'being screwed over for the sake of France and Germany.'

He may be popular now, but it is highly unlikely that this will continue for more than a couple of months. Papandreou, the object of public anger, is gone, but it won't be long before the Greeks realise that they are still getting the same economic policies, even stronger now given the absence of an elective opposition. Greek national radio had already taken to calling their elected Prime Minister a Nazi stooge for his bending the knee to Franco-German, and, to a lesser extent, EU interests - what are they supposed to make of an unelected one, when he does the same?
You have to admit, the whole thing does look a teeny-weeny bit like a coup d'etat. Yes, it was the Italian President that appointed Mr. Monti Senator-for-Life, and the Greek party leaders did get to wrangle over how long the incoming technocrat's term should be, but the process is the same: elected leader goes out, and a new one is inserted in his place with the approval - or at the behest of - outside influences. In both instances, the democratically-elected head of a government has been stripped of his office and replaced with an unelected individual. There was no campaign - there was no election. There were no votes. The two were merely picked up and placed in the Prime Ministerial office of their respective countries.

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