Some say it is democracy – but not as we know it. It is true the Euro is a great device for bringing down EU member states governments. Recent victims include Ireland and Portugal, with the Greek government hanging by a thread. Electors can still change the people who are in a government, and sometimes get more opportunities to do so thanks to the rolling economic and political crises the Euro causes. The difference is they do not get to change the policies.
Electors swept aside the governments of Portugal and Ireland. They might be about to do the same to the Spanish government. The French President now has a big fight on his hands to survive. The Euro is devouring the governments which support it, only to see them replaced by more governments who support it, wanting their share of the common economic punishment.
The officials, Central Banks, IMF, EU Commission and other unelected bodies now have more power and elected governments much less. When a Euro area government falls in a member state in economic trouble, the incoming new government has to subscribe to the terms of the “recovery” plan already in place. Ireland, Portugal and Greece are on financial support schemes from the EU, Euroland and the IMF. Their governments believe they have no choice, and meekly follow the policy arranged by the government which they displaced. Italy is moving towards that position, accepting IMF surveillance of its economic policy and agreeing to cuts and tax rises which Euroland requires.
Democracy relies on the consent of the governed. The majority who support the government are broadly happy, because their team is in power. The minority who want a different government are usually happy with the system, because they know they will have a future opportunity to change government if the government in power disappoints more people . Coalitions complicate this position, because electors often get no chance to vote on the Coalition programme. As a result they need to work harder to gain and keep consent to their programme.
A healthy democracy needs a strong opposition with a different policy approach. The Opposition can lobby and campaign for the government to adopt more of its views and ideas. The government may do so if they prove to be popular, or if the government’s chosen course is not working. They can put it all to the people in a General Election, and if they win they can then have opportunity to implement it.
Strong opposition with an alternative programme is important to national hope. Those who don’t like the government can live in hope of change. Those who don’t like individual policies of their current government live in hope that Parliamentary action by the Opposition will force a change of policy anyway.
In crucial areas of government policy that help determine prosperity, living standards, inflation rates, returns on savings, jobs, and business success, the level of public sector spending and borrowing, the Euro scheme takes most of the decisions away from democratic debate. The individual Euro member state can no longer call the shots and make changes in these crucial areas. The Opposition in Greece cannot offer a different view on interest rates, borrowing, public spending and the rest because they have had to buy into the terms of the EU/IMF control of the economy.
The Euro destroys a big part of national democracy. The issue then is how do people change the policy if it is not working or they do not like it? Democratic consent relies on the ability to change policy as well as personnel and on the hope of a better tomorrow. Euroland politicians have a big task in maintaining that consent. Blocking the Greek referendum was a political mistake.
Euroland politicians also have a big challenge to set out a compelling vision of how this can work and why it might be better. If they do not allow sensible democratic opposition and proper consultation of the people affected by their one size fits all policy, people will find other ways of dissenting. That is how we have reached the point in Greece where many do not see the need to pay their taxes.