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Farewell to Democracy in Europe?



In the midst of all the media bluster about billions and bailouts, the most fundamental consequence of adopting the Fiscal Treaty into law is being ignored; namely the threat the Treaty poses to democracy.

The Fiscal treaty’s institutionalisation of austerity will mean that all future governments will be forced to pursue the current austerity policies regardless of how many people oppose them. This means that one of the most basic requirements of any democracy – that people are free to decide budgetary and economic policies and strategies – will be lost and people across Europe will be forced to endure year after year of grinding austerity.

The Fiscal Treaty is the latest in a long series of attacks by EU elites on democracy. The little remaining say we have in our country’s economy will be lost and handed over to unelected bureaucrats in Europe. In recent years we have seen more and more of the key decisions about our economy and our public services being put into the hands of powerful European Central Bank. The unelected European Commission played a central role in the removal of elected governments in Italy and Greece and their replacement by bankers’ governments. 

The first open attack on democracy can be found in Article 3 and 4 of the Treaty. Both of these articles place austerity rules into Irish law with ‘binding force’ and ‘permanent character’. Article 3 requires all member states to meet a harsh new ‘structural deficit’ target of 0.5% by 2015. For Ireland to achieve this figure it would mean an additional €5.7 billion worth of cuts and extra taxes; that is on top of the €7 billion plus the government are already committed to under the EU/IMF bailout deal.  If we were given until 2016 or 2017 to meet the target, it would still mean years of grinding austerity that will further exacerbate the crisis.

Furthermore, Article 4 of the Treaty demands that all member states reduce their debt to GDP ratio to 60%. Ireland’s debt to GDP ratio is expected to be 120% by 2015. If the economy fails to escape recession, something practically guaranteed by the savage cutbacks insisted on by Article 3 of the Treaty, this will mean paying back an additional €4.5 billion to bondholders in 2015 on top of the €9 billion in interest payments per year.  

The second open attack on democracy can be located in Article 5 and 7 of the Treaty. Article 5 allows for countries to effectively be placed in administration. Countries in an ‘excessive defect procedure’ have to put in place a ‘budgetary and economic partnership programme including a detailed description of the structural reforms which must be put in place and implemented to ensure an effective and durable correction of their excessive deficits.’ In other words, countries who do not have balanced budgets will be forced to surrender their budgetary and economic policies to bureaucrats in Brussels.

Article 7 is even more sinister. It states that “…the Contracting Parties whose currency is the euro commit to support the proposals or recommendations submitted by the European Commission where it considers that a Member State of the European Union whose currency is the euro is in breach of the deficit criterion in the framework of an excessive deficit procedure.” This means is that it will be automatically assumed that all member states agree with the sanctions or proposal of the European Commission.  The only way a decision could be overturned would be if a huge majority voted against the Commission. However, this would be almost impossible as the country in receipt of sanctions and any country facing sanctions are all denied a vote. In other words, it would be highly unlikely that any vote of would be overturned, thereby ensuring that austerity demands are always enforced.

The consequences of these rules for democracy were triumphantly expressed by German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who commented after the Treaty was agreed in January of this year, that “[t]he debt brakes [Treaty rules] will be binding and valid forever. Never will you be able to change them through a parliamentary majority.” Indeed, the current crisis has exposed just how flagrant the European elites contempt is for the people who must bear the weight of their austerity policies.

These attacks on democracy are nothing new and the Fiscal Treaty is just the latest incarnation. The European Union has, since its inception, struggled with democracy, considering it to be a problematic concept that interferes with the grand designs of elites who think they know best. When Ireland voted no to the Nice Treaty and later again to the Lisbon Treaty, it was told to come up with the right result in a second ballot. The European Central Bank wields immense power, yet no one knows how the unelected members of its governing council vote because no minutes of meetings are ever published.

A cabal of technocrats who everyday make decisions that result in the immiseration of millions of people across Europe now runs Europe. They include: the head of the IMF and former French Finance Minister, Christian Lagarde; the President of the European Central Bank (ECB) and former vice-President of Goldman Sachs, Mario Draghi; the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso; the chairman of the Eurogroup, Jean-Claude Juncker; president of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy; and Olli Rehn, Europe's economic and monetary affairs commissioner.

These are the individuals who are unelected and therefore unaccountable, increasing make all of the most important decisions in Europe. They decide if and when Greece or Italy can hold elections. They decide when Ireland, Greece or Portugal get the next tranche of bailout cash and, crucially, at what cost.  The only thing that matters to these individuals is what the markets think.

But things are beginning to change and fast. The recent elections in France and Greece are indicative of the emergence of a popular consciousness against austerity that is emerging across Europe. In France the radical left got 12.5% of the vote. Social democrat and new French President has forced to tack left and campaign on an anti-austerity platform. More significant, however is the election results in Greece. Greek voters have overwhelmingly voted against austerity. Parties that supported the ‘bailout’- both the conservative New Democracy and the social democratic PASOK - were destroyed. The radical left alliance SYRIZA has now become the second largest party in the Greek parliament.

For us here Ireland, this groundswell of popular outrage against the cuts is hugely significant and gives us the ability to argue that we are campaigning for a No vote as part of the European wide movement against that is emerging ashes of EU democracy.

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