As I’ve blogged before, I’m kinda tired of writing about the eurozone debt crisis. The results of the once again ”crucial” European summit that starts today are fairly predictable: announcements of more, even radical, fiscal discipline and sanction mechanisms across the European Union (or the eurozone), a further integration of tax and labour market policies, and no hopes whatsoever for an expanded role of the ECB in the form of it acting as lender of last resort or as issuer of eurobonds. Everything that Germany wants, happens.
In other words: in order to please the financial markets, only one of the structural deficiencies of the eurozone is being addressed: the disparity in budgetary policies across member states. The other ones - the existence of separate bonds markets and the absence of a true central bank, which leads to Europe’s heightened exposure to the judgment of financial markets and credit rating agencies - are not addressed at all. All this because of Germany’s fear of inflation.
The European debt crisis is now starting to become a democratic crisis as well. This is happening on two levels. First, in order to please the financial markets, “reforms” and budget cuts are being imposed on southern European countries at huge social and economic costs without the population having any say in it. Elected politicians are removed not by elections or the people on the street, but replaced by so-called “technocrats” under pressure of the financial markets. Moreover, across the entire eurozone radically tightened fiscal discipline, which will have a huge bearing on social and economic policies, is being imposed without the population having any say in it; once again, to please the markets. The German, i.e. the conservative/(neo-) liberal policy solution for everything – fiscal discipline, budget cuts and market reforms - is imposed throughout the eurozone by Diktat.
Whether you like this particular economic policy package or not (I’m personally not against it), there’s no escaping the fact that the past months we’ve witnessed a huge shift in sovereignty from democracy to the market. Financial markets dictate what must be done; and it is reinforced by those policy-makers in charge who happen to walk in tune with those markets.
The second level at which democracy is under attack is in the transfer of powers from the national level to the European one. It is by now accepted that the only solution for the eurozone is a further federalization of fiscal, social and economic policies. The European Commission (EC) is likely the institution that will benefit the most from this. Yet, whether you are in favour of the European project or not, the EC is ultimately a technocratic institution; it is a super-regulator that issues “directives” and “regulations” to be imposed uniformly across member states without interference of national parliaments. The European Parliament (EP), the only European institution that is truly democratically legitimized (but only by a minority of voters), does not have the right of initiative; it is the barely legitimized EC that is the one policy ”motor” of the European Union. This situation will only be exacerbated by the current eurozone crisis.
In short, there’s a double crisis of democracy going on: one in the shift of decision-making power from the political sphere to the market, and a second in the transfer of powers from the national level to a barely legitimized European one. In between, the voice of the people is crushed. Particularly worrying is the talk, to be heard here and there, that “democracy” really is just one way to govern a country, that it was a nice experiment, but that it doesn’t really work in an age of globalized financial markets and much-needed technocratic European governance. Have we now really entered a 1930s-style “crisis of democracy”? Is the democratic principle itself being questioned?
To me, the need for a more unified Europe if the single currency is to be saved is clear. But the democratic deficit is getting painful. German solutions mean a half-hearted attempt to create a fully functioning economic zone, but an almost complete transfer of fiscal discretionary powers to an incompletely legitimized supra-European entity. Is that what we want? Do we have any say in that? In my view, the democratic level of the European Union is to be deepened if any of this is the result of current talks. This would mean a broadening of the powers of the EP to become a fully-fledged representative body with legislative powers, as well as finally some concerted effort on the part of European and national policy-makers to promote European democratic institutions amongst the populace. The ECB should also really be allowed to function as a central bank.
Otherwise, the result will be something we have now, but even more overbearing. A soft kind of technocratic regime, composed of an intricate byzantine web of committees, networks, councils and summits and a super-regulator, governed by one particular budgetary philosophy, all the while constricting national discretion to formulate policies, that is whipped from here to there by the financial markets. Even if this solution is, for now, accepted by those financial markets, I don’t think it will hold in the future. And there is no place for democracy in it either.
The military intervention (or war) in Libya was initially argued for and supported (including by yours truly) in terms of its circumscribed goals – implementing a no-fly zone and preventing humanitarian disaster, no regime change - its legitimization by UN mandate, and its international character.
Judging from an April 14 joint op-ed in the Telegraph by President Obama, Prime Minister Cameron and President Sarkozy, entitled ‘The bombing continues until Gaddafi goes’, however, one or more of these features is now about to change. Instead of the NATO under a UN flag keeping Ghadafi’s air force and tanks immobilized and letting the rebels fend for themselves, the goal of the mission is now apparently regime change.
Regime change! Iraq, anyone?
This is not what this mission was intended for. And not only that, the question is now also to what extent this is still in terms with UN Resolution 1973, which does not provide for regime change at all.
In my opinion, the legitimacy of this mission is now being severely challenged (which is not to say, by the way, that the picture above of Libyan rebels firing what look like Hind-24 helicopter missiles from a truck is not extremely cool).
Barack Obama, March 28, 2011, explaining America’s involvement in the war in Libya:
Of course, there is no question that Libya -– and the world –- would be better off with Qaddafi out of power. I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake
Barack Obama, David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy, joint Op-Ed, yesterday:
The bombing continues until Gaddafi goes
Our duty and our mandate under UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Gaddafi by force. . . . However, so long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds. Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders. For that transition to succeed, Colonel Gaddafi must go, and go for good.
Whatever one thinks about this war limited humanitarian intervention on the merits, this is not the mission that Obama cited when justifying America’s involvement. It’s the opposite: ”broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake” v. “so long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their operations.” To claim that “regime change” is subsumbed under the goal of ”protecting civilians” is to define that objective so broadly as to render it meaningless and, independently, is to violate Obama’s explicit decree at the start that regime change would not be the military goal. Finally, note the blithe dismissal of the very limited U.N. Resolution that initially justified all this: it does not provide for regime change in Libya by force, acknowledged the three leaders, but that, in essence, is what we’re going to do anyway (continue “operations” until he’s gone).
Meanwhile, the NYT is reporting that Colonel Ghadafi is firing cluster bombs into residential areas – which, if true, is of course a flagrant war crime. But I’m beginning to doubt whether a newspaper like the NYT can still fully be trusted on such matters. When all is said and done, after all, a paper like the NYT is a perennially establishment-supporting news outlet (up till now, they’re still refusing to call the Bush administration’s interrogation techniques ‘torture’, even though they employ that term when the same techniques are employed in other countries), and reports like this broaden the case for war (compare it to reporting about the atrocities of Saddam Hussein, for example). Embedded journalists on the ground get their information via military forces, moreover, such as the rebels.
Articles are now also being written about the possible exaggeration by Obama of the humanitarian disaster in for instance Benghazi had the coalition not intervened. I don’t know about that – to me, the prevention of an atrocity is still a legit ground for international, UN-mandated intervention – but it’s good to remain watchful.
This is pretty significant news I think. In the great tradition of revolutionary France (not to mention that of the Free French), France is the first country to recognise Libya’s oppositional National Council as the legitimate representative of the nation. An ambassador will be sent to the rebel-held town of Benghazi, and a Libyan oppositional representative will set up shop in the Libyan embassy in Paris. Chapeau Sarkozy! Who follows?
- Update: the United Kingdom joins the fray.
France has become the first major European power to recognise Libya’s opposition National Council as the country’s legitimate representative.
The move, which will see an ambassador sent to the rebel-held town of Benghazi, was announced during a meeting between envoys from the council and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, in Paris on Thursday.
Sarkozy plans to re-open the Libyan embassy in Paris and implement a reciprocal arrangement where France will open an embassy in Benghazi, Tim Friend, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in the French capital, said.
“This is a very significant statement of intent which reinforces France’s recognition that the Libyan transitional National Council is the legitimate body now representing Libya, they’re the people they want to talk to,” he said.
“I think France has gone further than anyone else so far in doing that.”
Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, has also urged partners in the European Union to follow suit and engage with Libyan opposition leaders.
The WikiLeaks cables also provide us with the following anecdote, via The Guardian:
One “rare glimpse of a relaxed Sarkozy” came when the then interior minister and presidential hopeful invited the US ambassador, Craig Stapleton, to see him in 2006, to say how “proud and honoured” he was to soon be meeting Bush. After the exchange, Sarkozy, who is renowned for introducing his son Louis to dignitaries, opened the patio windows and called the nine-year-old. “Louis appeared at the threshold with a small dog at his feet and a large rabbit in his arms,” the memo said. “To shake hands with the ambassador, Louis put down the rabbit – and the dog started chasing the rabbit through Sarkozy’s office, which led to the unforgettable sight of Sarkozy, bent over, chasing the dog through the anteroom to his office as the dog chased the rabbit, and Louis filled the room with gleeful laughter.”
Sarkozy has now, after initial enthusiasm for Barack Obama, switched back to the standard mode of French Presidents, which is: criticizing the American President in every possible way. The French press is also joining in on the bashing fun. Why? Because Obama didn’t come to his dinner party in June.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who sought during the 2008 presidential campaign to associate himself with Barack Obama, has become sharply critical of the American president, often comparing Obama unfavorably to himself, according to an article published this week in the authoritative French daily Le Monde.
The article quotes Sarkozy twice recently criticizing Obama in public, and says he’s twice gone on the record criticizing Obama in recent weeks. Asked last Monday in a television interview of his sweeping attempt to reform several sectors of French government simultaneously, Sarkozy pointed to Obama’s made health care reform his sole focus.
“I didn’t see that that made things simpler,” he said.
The new piece picks up on a theme in the French press that began when, during the June trip, the Obamas did not find time to dine with Sarkozy and his wife in Paris, and took flight last fall. One expressed worry: That Obama considers Sarkozy merely one foreign leader among many.
Read Sarko Goes Negative on Politico.