Sunday 1 September 2013

The euro, the Syria vote and the rise of the technocrats

"The government will ensure that the legislation [for cuts in education, pensions etc] is presented to Parliament in Quarter 3 and agreed by Parliament in Quarter 4... The government will present a Privatisation Plan to Parliament and ensure it is speedily passed."

No, not the instructions of a monarch to a client state, or of a foreign power to a conquered vassal, but the instructions of the Troika - the EU's economic directorate - that now governs indebted states like Greece, Portugal and Ireland, as explained in an absolutely revelatory article about the state of Europe in the London Review of Books by Susan Watkins, the editor of New Left Review.

The Troika is led by the Directorate of Economic and Financial Affairs, in turn directed by the Finnish Olli Rehn, as Susan Watkins says, a man who has been "soundly rejected by his own electorate".

The present nervous lull in the story of the euro-zone is described in the article as the result of the combined willpower of the US Treasury and the German government.  The critical voice of France has been silent; Britain seems only concerned to protect the bonuses of the American banks based in the City of London.

While this wholly undemocratic regime continues to limit itself to southern Europe, it may well continue - though the political monsters it is creating there will have to be faced sooner or later.  It is a triumph for technocratic rule - the very reverse of what the European Union was supposed to mean.

And the crosser the electorates get, the more difficult it will be to reform it.

I was thinking about this, and the UK Parliament's vote on Syria off and on this weekend.  On the one hand, we have a terrifying democratic over-ride in southern Europe, justified because somehow you can't trust the venal local politicians not to overspend (I paraphrase of course).  On the other hand, a technocratic decision like starting a war is properly debated and people throw up their hands in horror at the result.

The combination seems to me to add up to a real scepticism about democracy - perhaps more so than at any time since the 1930s.

The technocrats must now be promising themselves never to let Parliament decide such things again.  They must also have realised what would have happened at the vote had gone the other way - saddling Cameron with a wafer-thin victory which hardly justified the use of force either.

Yet the UK electorate very sensibly voted no one party into office, allowing unprecedented powers to MPs to exercise their conscience, rightly or wrongly.

Similarly, at European level, it is the peculiar withdrawal of the French that has allowed the Troika to assume control of government south of the Alps.

Let's leave Syria on one side for a moment (we can only solve one problem at a time in this blog).  Is there any way we can rescue democracy in Europe before the inevitable monsters emerge?

The basic problem seems to be the capitulation to technocrats - accepting a technocratic plan: a single European currency, which has pushed the national economies apart rather than brought them together (a predictable and predicted outcome).

There is nothing wrong with the euro itself, but it urgently needs to be supplemented by a raft of new regional, national and local currencies, capable of recognising economic differences, and capable of keeping populations alive while the vast euro loans are paid off.

Remember what Keynes said about economic downturns which are kept artificially long by a technocratic commitment to long-term austerity: "A perigrination in the catacombs, with a guttering candle."

People need a means of exchange to live, and - if they can't have euros - they will need something else.

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