By Marshall Auerback
It is said that the EuropeanUnion is a remarkably inefficient organization in terms of organizing economicrescue packages, but when it comes to subverting democracy, they are asruthless and efficient as a well-oiled crime syndicate.
Considerthe following: in the space of less than2 weeks, the eurocrats have managed to eliminate two troublesome electedleaders, whose actions dared to interfere with their broader objectives offinalizing the “European Project” – a project which, to put it bluntly, islooking more and more like a financial coup d’etat.
First,Greece, which has in a sense provided the template: Prime Minister George Papandreou, had theaudacity toseek the consent of his own people to decisions that would shape their livesvia referendum. Well, judging from thepetulant reactions of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French PresidentNicolas Sarkozy, this clearly wouldn’t do. Blatantly interfering with the internal affairs of a fellow democracy(and an ostensible ally), both lobbied (andthreatened) the Greek government, the end result being that Mr. Papandreou wasduly shoved aside after backtracking.
And look who’s the new PM in Greece: LucasPapademos, a former ECB official, (naturally, with the requisite Goldman Sachspedigree), in order to implement the latest set of “structural reforms”, whichwill almost certainly have the effect of deflating the Greek economy evenfurther into the ground. Of course, theprivatizations will go ahead and Greece’s rapacious tax evading oligarchs willscoop them up at distressed values (presumably with the cash they’ve alreadystashed offshore in the London property market, or Swiss banks), therebyconsolidating their control of an increasingly dysfunctional Greek economy. The vast majority of Greeks will sufferhorribly. They have no say, in a sensebeing left with the choice of shooting themselves or a firing squad. Still, it’s not a total loss: no doubt Goldman Sachs will reap substantial feesas it helps to auction off these very same state assets.
Across, the Adriatic, itappears as if the “Merkozy” tandem has also played its cards successfully forRound 2, this time successfully eliminating its troublesome nemesis, Italy PM SilvioBerlusconi. Say what you will about MrBerlusconi, but in this instance he was right to object to a crude political ploy being foisted on him by theECB, the French and Germans to accept an irrational and economicallycounterproductive program fiscal austerity program in exchange for “support”from the likes of the IMF. Ask any Argentinean what IMF “support”entails.
AllBerlusconi had to do was cast his eyes toward Athens to see the likely effectof a renewed assault on the Italian welfare state. But the markets’ euphoric reactionto his resignation was surreal: akin to turkeys voting for Thanksgiving.
InRome, this Franco-German powerplay is being overseen by a canny ex-Communist,President Giorgio Napolitano, who is in the process of engineering life-longeurocrat, Mario Monti, as the next PM in Italy. Look at Monti’sbackground: Impeccable credentials: a virtual “lifer” within the European Union’stechnocratic governing structures, mingled with some private sector“experience” as a director of entities such as Coca Cola and, of course, an “internationaladvisor” to Goldman Sachs.
What is taking place isnothing less than a financial coup d’etat by the Eurozone’s rentier class. And it is one of history’s sad ironies that,at least in the case of Italy, this is all being engineered by an ex-Communist,who likely would have been chased out of the Italian Government (a la JuanBerlinguer) by a Cold War-driven CIA hadthis taken place but 30 years earlier.
How have we come to this passwithin the EU? It is hard to point toone person. We have seen this vastproject moved along by a handful of unelected bureaucrats for several decadesor more. Jacques Delors was a truly seminal figure, but he did not actalone. The whole of the Europeanproject has been increasingly driven by these unelected tenured eurocrats, who have rotated in and out of various positions withinthe EU’s governing structures and spent a few years’ getting the requisiteprivate sector training at a place like GS or JP Morgan.
You could make the case thatthis started when then French President Francois Mitterrand came to power inthe early 1980s, and tried to implement a genuinely fresh progressive economicdirection for France. He was promptly undermined until he learned to “playball” with the powers behind the throne. Since then, the game planhas largely remained the same: EuropeanCommissioners set up multiple diktats, rules, regulations, minus, of course, anyreal kind of democratic recourse when they encounter popular resistance. You start small and build up gradually and create fait accomplis everywhere.
Whenthere is democratic backlash via a referendum, the setback is onlytemporary. Countries, such as Ireland,which dare to vote the “wrong” way in a national referendum, do not have theresults respected. EU officialdom hasgenerally responded, not by reflecting on a popular expression of democraticwill, but ignoring the results until the silly peasants realize the egregiouserrors of their ways and re-vote the right way.
Ifit takes two, or even three, referenda, so be it. Politically, theinterpretation of any aspect of the Treaties relating to European governancehave always been largely left in the hands of unelected bureaucrats, operatingout of institutions which are devoid of any kind of democraticlegitimacy. This, in turn, has led to an increasing sense of politicalalienation and a corresponding move toward extremist parties hostile to anykind of political and monetary union in other parts of Europe. Underpolitically charged circumstances, these extremist parties might become themainstream.
The one figure who emerges as a tragic figure here isGeorge Papandreaou. However ineffectually, Papandreou had been deeply committedto making the October deal work. But asHarvard economist (and Greek government advisor) Richard Parker has noted,Papandreou faced a firestorm on multiple fronts: competitors in his own partywho wanted his job; parliamentarians in his party who threatened to bolt overnew austerity measures; the wholesale intransigence of Samaras and NewDemocracy; to say nothing of economy that was deflating into the ground beforeany real help had arrived. Calling for a referendum became his onlyinstrument to put out multiple fires at once—by forcing Greek politicians andtheir powerful backers to back down and by forcing European leaders back to thetable immediately to finalize a workable rescue plan in final form.
Of course, he was bound tofail, given the powerful opposition behind him. The Greek PM was being punished on the one hand by his”allies” in the EU, who have imposed collective punishment on theGreek people because of decades of embedded corruption in the system, in spiteof the fact that this Prime Minister had come clean. Making Greece a properfunctioning democracy was Papandreou’s raison d’etre for in getting into Greekpolitics.
And, on the otherside, the parasite Greek oligarchs themselves, who saw his actions asfrontal attack on their control of the Greek economy, fought to destroy himpolitically and in effect moving Greece one step closer to a failed state.
And now Greece has provided aconvenient model. You’ve now manufactured a crisis (that EASILY could have been solved by the ECB years ago – Greece is around 2.5% ofEurope’s GDP), which is now spreading, but providing ample opportunity to getrid of troublesome politicians who don’t do what they are told (effectivelyembrace this “stability culture” that the Germans bleat on about, butwhich in reality is nothing more than consolidation of the rentiers’ control ofthe various governments).
Similarly in Italy, theEuropean Central Bank has been buying Italian bonds, but in very half-heartedfashion and certainly not enough to stem the relentless rise in rates. The ECB’s new chief, Mario Draghi (also anex-Goldman man), kicked off his term with a blunt warning that Europe’s centralbank would not act as a “lender of last resort” (hiding behind dubious legaltechnicalities) and thereby put his fellow countryman in a position where hisresignation was the only course of action to salvage the country from animmediate financial crisis.
Berlusconi was also an easy target, given his colorfuland dubious private history. And hislikely replacement, Mario Monti, is a perfect bagman for the financialoligarchs of Europe. He is, indeed, part of what one can rightly refer toas a “financial mafia” that has wrecked the world economy since 2008. Thesehatchet men of this murky and opaque financial world are now being appointed toimplement austerity on poor working households to save the financial sectorfrom a debt deflation — an artificial crisis created because of thearchitecture of the Euro system, which as we know these same financial“markets” so much celebrated when the euro was launched in 1999. Sadly, a largenumber of Italians still see the euro as their saviour from a corrupt past,which many associate with the Italian lire and high interest rates, even if thecorrupt Berlusconi has been himself intimately linked to the same Euro elite.
And Draghi himself has a dubious past: as wenoted in a recent post,historically, Italyactively exploited ambiguity in accounting rules for swap transactions in orderto mislead EU institutions, other EU national governments, and its own publicas to the true size of its budget deficit.
Itseems indeed fitting that Draghi is now the man forced to deal with theconsequences of this national accounting fraud. But it’s hardly just for the people of Europe, all of whom will continueto get crushed under the boot of yet more fiscal austerity, by an increasinglydetached and democratically unaccountable elite. No wonder the streets of Madrid, Athens, Romeand elsewhere are beginning to burn.