Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
If there is anyone left doubting that the struggle against austerity is fundamentally a struggle for democracy, the chilling proposal of former European Central Bank chief Jean-Claude Trichet on how to solve the eurocrisis unveiled on Thursday, should quickly put paid to such overly microscopic focus.
Trichet has proposed what he calls ‘federation by exception,’ whereby if a country’s leaders or parliament ‘cannot implement sound budgetary policies,’ that country will be ‘taken into receivership’.
Recognising that it would not be possible in the timescale necessary to respond to the crisis to deliver a fully-fledged United States of Europe with the associated political and fiscal union, including fiscal transfers and common debt issuance, the former ECB president, who left office last November, said this ‘next step’ can at least be taken.
‘Federation by exception seems to me not only necessary to make sure we have a solid Economic and Monetary Union, but it might also fit with the very nature of Europe in the long run. I don’t think we will have a big [centralised] EU budget,’ he told the Peterson Institute of International Economics in Washington ahead of the G8 meeting this weekend and ahead of a make-or-break European Council meeting 23 May where EU leaders will discuss the fiscal, banking and political earthquake that is rumbling across southern Europe.
‘It is a quantum leap of governance, which I trust is necessary for the next step of European integration,’ he added.
Domestic fiscal policy has already been shunted off to unelected technocrats for vetting prior to assessment by elected parliaments as a result of the European Semester system, so in some ways, he is right to say that this is just ‘the next step’ beyond the still to be approved Fiscal Pact.
Of course, Trichet is now out of office, but he remains a policy heavyweight in European circles, and if the eurocrisis has shown us anything, it is that having a popularly sanctioned pulpit from which to speak is immaterial when it comes to whose voices are important. If anything, in being freed from office, Trichet is also now freed from the pretense that active ECB officials have to at least publicly maintain that the central bank only focusses on monetary policy and does not concern itself with the political governance of the provinces that lie within its territory. He can come out publicly with his proposals and not make them via secret letters to Italian prime ministers or orders to Portuguese elites.
At the same time, it should be underscored that this is not an official proposal from any EU institutions, and it remains to be seen what sort of hearing it will get, although reports from Washington suggest that his proposal was warmly received by economists and EU officials in attendance.
Nevertheless, let’s not be under any illusion that this proposal from a leading European ‘deep thinker’ is not a direct response to the elections in Greece this month that decimated the centre-left/centre-right austerity consensus in that country.
Trichet is in essence saying here that when the people elect the wrong parties, they have forfeited their right to democracy.
Acutely aware of what he is proposing, he declares that such a step would indeed have democratic accountability so long as it is approved by the European Council and the European Parliament.
But the European Council is a legislative chamber that never faces a general election. Its members, the presidents and prime ministers of Europe, are not elected to that chamber, but to their domestic parliaments and assemblies. And the European Parliament is not yet the parliament of a European government; even after the Lisbon Treaty, its powers remain very limited compared to the European Commission and Council, and, crucially, it does not have the power to initiate any legislation.
Should Trichet’s proposal or anything remotely similar somehow make its way to the Strasbourg chamber for its endorsement, any MEPs who cherish democracy must loudly oppose them.
If MEPs cannot muster sufficient numbers to do so, then the chamber would instantly be exposed as a Potemkin parliament, serving only to provide a facade of democratic legitimacy to an otherwise anti-democratic regime and so very far from the seed of a genuine European democratic order that many deputies wish it to be.
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced