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.
Raphael Tsavkko Garcia recounts the wholesale government assault on civil freedoms in Catalonia, sparked by the independence campaign.
We've known about the devastating implications of climate change for decades now. Louis Mendee investigates the history of corporations in denying these urgent political realities.
Corbyn just won a prize for peace activism - so why is the Labour Party still committed to renewing trident? Lily Sheehan investigates.
Connor Devine writes that whilst Brexit might be a car crash, we can't just side with an institution responsible for enforcing austerity.
Michael Coates reviews a new film revealing the shocking state of housing inequality in the UK.
The vicious media campaign against trans people is part bigotry, part strategy, writes Roz Kaveney
Jon Trickett MP reports on 'Dickensian' levels of poverty and hardship felt across the UK.
Natasha King busts some myths around the No Borders debate
He was once a radical icon, but now he's a mouthpiece for racism and nationalism. Time to get off stage, writes Michael Calderbank
Consensus seems to have shifted, but austerity is far from over. The chancellor has committed us to yet more years of misery while the rich get richer, writes Richard Seymour.
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition