Is EU member democracy compatible with fiscal union?

After four months of mounting tension between pro-austerity European Union officials and Greece’s anti-austerity Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, a breaking point appears to have arrived. The Prime Minister published an op-ed (see below) questioning whether the increasingly centralized fiscal / currency decision-making authority in the Union is compatible with continued democratic self-determination by each member country’s populations.

Asking that question so publicly (and in a hostile tone) is likely to solidify his growing pariah status within the European Union, but it is not altogether unreasonable. In fact, more than a few political theorists and economists have been raising the point since the start of the currency crisis in 2010. Maybe it’s simply not possible to have a strong monetary / fiscal / currency union without an equally strong political union. Such an arrangement either allows individual member countries’ voters and legislators to veto necessary standardization of union-wide policies, or it forces member countries to accept rules and decisions set by unelected and unrepresentative officials without popular consent.

In Greece’s case, the voters plainly rejected the policies that the Union and the IMF demanded the government deliver. Whether or not the policies are merited, if the people exercise their sovereign self-determination to reject the policies, the ostensibly pro-democracy European Union either needs to rethink its demands or rethink its overall sustainability as an economic union without political unity.

Here are excerpts from the Tsipras op-ed, as reported by the UK’s Express newspaper:

He envisioned a future where a “super” finance minister of the eurozone wielded unlimited power and the ability to reject budgets of sovereign states that are not aligned with its “extreme” ideals.
Writing in an article for a French newspaper this weekend, Mr Tsipras blasted creditors.

He said: “The lack of an agreement so far is not due to the supposed intransigent, uncompromising and incomprehensible Greek stance.

“It is due to the insistence of certain institutional actors on submitting absurd proposals and displaying a total indifference to the recent democratic choice of the Greek people.”

He added: “An initial thought would be that this insistence is due to the desire of some to not admit their mistakes and instead, to reaffirm their choices by ignoring their failures.

“I simply cannot believe that the future of Europe depends on the stubbornness or the insistence of some individuals.

“My conclusion, therefore, is that the issue of Greece does not only concern Greece; rather, it is the very epicentre of conflict between two diametrically opposing strategies concerning the future of European unification.”

Mr Tsipras said that the strategy of EU creditors who insist on austerity means “the complete abolition of democracy in Europe, the end of every pretext of democracy, and the beginning of disintegration and of an unacceptable division of United Europe.”

He added: “This means the beginning of the creation of a technocratic monstrosity that will lead to a Europe entirely alien to its founding principles.

“It appears that this new European power is being constructed, with Greece being the first victim. To some, this represents a golden opportunity to make an example out of Greece for other countries that might be thinking of not following this new line of discipline.”

He finished the article by adding: “If some, however, think or want to believe that this decision concerns only Greece, they are making a grave mistake.”

For more analysis on this tension between the European Union’s supranational democratic deficit and member-national self-determination see my March 2015 essay, “Drawbacks of Technocracy, Part 1: Europe’s Political Crisis”.


Bill Humphrey

About Bill Humphrey

Bill Humphrey is the primary host of WVUD's Arsenal For Democracy talk radio show and a local elected official.
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