A European Commissioner to veto national budgets: We are being alienated from our own institutions

Posted by Protesilaos Stavrou on 05/11/12
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In an interview for the esteemed German newspaper Der Spiegel, Mr Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank discussed among others the following (full interview here):

SPIEGEL: Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has proposed giving the EU Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs a direct say in national budgets. What do you think of that proposal?

Draghi: I am fully in favour of it. Governments would be wise to seriously consider it. I firmly believe that, in order to restore confidence in the euro area, countries need to transfer part of their sovereignty to the European level.

It is no surprise that Mr. Draghi has wholeheartedly offered his consent for such a preposterous proposal to grant such awesome power to an unaccountable, democratically illegitimate EU Commissioner. The politico-technocratic elite of Europe has long now been enamoured with the idea of concentrating ever more power, always under the pretence of solving the financial crisis, of improving the existing mechanisms and of serving this widely abused notion of the ‘public interest’. What they have never endorsed with equal alacrity is the accountability any authority must have, for it to be prevented from becoming tyrannical.

By ‘accountability’ I am not speaking of this moronic and totally hypocritical devotion to ‘transparency’, as important as genuine transparency may be. I am referring to a powerful democratic check on all levels of authority which may only be achieved by a participative democratic system or at least by a much more expanded representative one. Transparency alone means nothing in a system so complex as the EU superstructure; a system which is to the uninitiated quite unfathomable and incomprehensible – and rightly so, given that even experts have hard time wrapping their minds around it. We need much more participation of citizens in the decisions that influence their lives and we need it at the lowest level of governance that may be possible, which certainly is not to be found in some ivory tower situated in Brussels or Frankfurt or wherever else.

Coming back to this idea of a Commissioner effectively vetoing national budgets, it must be understood that such an intrusive and potentially abusive power must not be taken lightly and with a sense of cavalier smugness. A budget is the highest manifestation of an elected government’s political agenda in all affairs concerning the polity, be it economic policy, social welfare, education etc. It is the most important element of any governmental plan as it is what determines the allocation of the public funds, what sets the priorities and what dictates the pace of progress in society. To allow an unelected bureaucrat to approve or disprove the budget of an elected government is in effect a sacrifice of any democratic norm or rule of conduct to the altars of some arbitrary and chimerical macroeconomic targets. It also is a tacit acceptance of the Commissioner’s discretion to shape the particular policies concomitant with the budget, always for the sake of meeting the fiscal criteria.

It is in other words the supreme authority to determine a government’s entire agenda and most probably to introduce an ideological element to every internal policy, similar to what the troika is systematically doing in the bailed out countries. Put bluntly, such a commissioner will have the power in his/her hands to cancel out the democratic mandate of any government as per his/her caprice if the loopholes in the legislation or some broad interpretation of the letter or the spirit of the law allows him/her to do so – and this will always be done with impunity given the undemocratic nature of the European Commission, which will most probably persist for years to come.

If this proposal is ever realized it will render obsolete any decision an electorate may have made, as the democratic rule will first need to receive the rubber stamp of approval from this omniscient and omnipotent Commissioner.

Consequently I am wondering whether the term ‘commissioner’ is actually the most semantically appropriate word to denote the true character of this role. I believe a more precise and descriptive term, perhaps one that does not fit well with the euphemisms and obscurantist apologia that characterize EU palaver, is that of an economic tsar who will effectively rule over all of us with an iron fist; and who will be restrained only by some fig leaf of ‘transparency’.

The discussion over the exact content of this proposal notwithstanding, it is blazingly clear, to me at least, that this eurocrisis has proven that we as European citizens are gradually but steadily becoming ever more alienated from our very own institutions. We certainly never had any substantial or real power over the EU architecture, thus we always lived in a milieu ofheteronomy (for more see There is no such thing as deregulation). Instead of making steps towards radically redesigning this political entity, so as to replace heteronomy with autonomy –with our own self-rule–, we are losing whatever semblance of democratic control we had on the EU, as the latter has lately been asserting a role of its own, which is increasingly independent of the will and scrutiny of us citizens, despite any litany to the contrary and regardless of all those much-touted schemes which will supposedly grant more power to citizens.

The eurocrisis has enabled a technocratic and profoundly ideological elite to usurp a political architecture which ought to become more democratic, more simple and more pro-liberty. What we are now receiving passively, or what we are living through, is the pinnacle of heteronomy in an otherwise democratic part of the world. It is made manifest in many different shapes and types, such as:

  • troika directives to cash-strapped governments who impose self-defeating and unsocial tax-hikes on the lower and middle parts of the income distribution for the sake of bailing out losers such as reckless, over-greedy bankers,
  • the symbiosis of the ECB with the financial establishment through the ad hocexpansions of the monetary media which have repeatedly favored a selective financial elite and have engendered unprecedented ECB-sponsored speculation,
  • EU red tape to cartelize big business and insulate it from the powerfully regulative forces of genuine competition,
  • Council decisions that are taken behind closed doors, and which are often predetermined in the bowels of some opaque building between a selective few of officials, to avoid social unrest at the revelation of the truth.

This has to stop!

Bureaucrats with excessive powers who control elected governments by some inane pretense, within the environment of an ever-expanding and largely indecipherable complexity of the EU structure, can never be part of a genuinely autonomous, free society.

Where are we heading to? Will we also get a Commissioner with an army of his/her flunkies to instruct us on what to eat, whom to love, which business choices to make etc. in the name of protecting us from our selves and in restoring some kind of “confidence” in the capacity of the system to force us into servitude? When will this tsarist mentality, this emerging neo-Colbertism be brought to an end?

We are being alienated from our own institutions at a worrying pace. As for me, I who consider myself a Europeanist (a cosmopolite to be precise), who am in favor of a border-less world, am becoming ever more unsettled by this hypertrophied EU apparatus, to the extent where I am beginning to lose my faith in any possible reformation of this system for the sake of achieving the lofty ideals of liberty and of a better standard of living for the people —all people— residing on this rugged patch of earth named ‘Europe’.

Europe is not the EU and its “Commissioners”.

A European Commissioner to veto national budgets: We are being alienated from our own institutions | Protesilaos Stavrou.

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