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Democracy and the Eurozone

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I have recently been reading Paul De Grauwe’s Economics of Monetary Union. As its title suggests, De Grauwe’s book examines the economic conditions for successful monetary unions, while also paying special attention (at least in the ninth edition, published in 2012) to how the economic models it discusses can be used to explain the ongoing crisis in the Eurozone.

While the economic analysis in the book is enlightening, especially for interested laypeople who have some training in economics, what stood out for me were the implications of De Grauwe’s discussion for the quality of democracy in contemporary capitalist societies.

On the one hand, De Grauwe shows that the debate among economists regarding the conditions for a successful monetary union has to some extent mirrored recent debates within the discipline of Economics more generally. Just as in Economics as a whole the neoliberal era of the last thirty-odd years has seen a rise of free market approaches at the expense of Keynesianism, the literature on the economics of monetary unions has been characterized by a debate between monetarist and Keynesian approaches. As monetarist approaches became more popular, the warnings of Keynesian economists regarding the significant risks monetary unions involve for participant countries were minimized.

On the other hand, De Grauwe also points out that, monetarism’s optimism regarding the benefits of monetary unions for participating countries notwithstanding, economists studying monetary unions did a much better job warning about the likelihood of a Eurozone crisis like the one we are currently witnessing than their colleagues who completely failed to see the coming of the global financial crisis that preceded it.

In fact, other accounts suggest that the risks inherent in the architecture underlying the eurozone (for example, the absence of a budgetary union or the absence of a central bank that would be authorized to truly function as a lender of last resort) were known not just to economists but to the European political leaders that pushed for European monetary integration. The thinking of political leaders in France and Germany who have historically driven European unification forward apparently was that even if the imperfections of the eurozone architecture led down the road to a crisis, this crisis could be used to convince a skeptical European public about the need of even closer political and economic integration.

How does all this relate to the question of democracy? Well, at no point were citizens in countries like Greece informed that participation in the eurozone created the very real possibility of an economic and humanitarian catastrophe that sent unemployment levels to 30 percent and pushed millions of formerly middle-class citizens into destitution and despair. Instead, citizens in the European periphery were told that participation in the eurozone was unambiguously beneficial and a means to catch up with the levels of economic development and living standards prevailing in the affluent European North.

De Grauwe does not really discuss the implications of his analysis for capitalist democracy. This is because he adopts the functionalist assumptions of mainstream economics, which see economic institutions as the means through which countries pursue their interests. In other words, there is no recognition in mainstream economics of class divisions within national societies and of the ways in which the interests of capitalist elites may clash with those of working people and ordinary citizens. In this respect, an unsuspecting reader could very well conclude from De Grauwe’s analysis that the current eurozone crisis is the product of a mistake.

In reality, of course, the current mess, as well as the immense suffering it continues to impose on millions of people around Europe, was the predictable and predicted consequence of a project tailored to the needs of European financial and capitalist elites. This project was pushed forward with the help of political elites and media controlled by and accountable to these financial and capitalist elites and without the kind of democratic debate that would be necessary given the stakes involved. Even when citizens in different European countries were on occasion given the opportunity to weigh in on these questions through referenda, their often negative votes were ignored and the European unification process proceeded with minor modifications. In the case of Greece, the government of George Papandreou was unceremoniously overthrown when, faced with growing popular resistance to the austerity program imposed by the European Union and the IMF, it sought a referendum that could have endangered the prolongation of that program.

There has been a tendency among scholars to treat the European project as a positive and innovative model of pooling sovereignty and reinventing democracy in this global age. The disastrous consequences of the eurozone crisis and the way this crisis has been handled by European elites illustrates, however, that the European project may not so much renovate democracy as reproduce the long-standing subordination of the democratic ideal to the interests of capitalist elites and their compulsive pursuit of profit.

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Πιο συγκεκριμένα, ο Πρόεδρος του ΠΑΣΟΚ έχει ενημερωθεί για επαφές του πρώην Πρωθυπουργού με στελέχη του κόμματος που ανήκουν στη σφαίρα επιρροής του, ενώ η σεναριολογία κάνει λόγο για πολλά ενδεχόμενα, ορισμένα από τα οποία δε θα ήθελε να ακούει ο Βενιζέλος.

Σύμφωνα με το πιο ανατρεπτικό από αυτά, ο Γιώργος Παπανδρέου ετοιμάζει δική του πολιτική κίνηση με στόχο να μπει στη Βουλή και να αποτελέσει την πολιτική ομάδα που θα «παίξει» ρυθμιστικό ρόλο στη Βουλή, με όποιο κόμμα κατορθώσει να κερδίσει την κοινοβουλευτική πλειοψηφία.

Το μεγάλο ερωτηματικό στο σενάριο αυτό, είναι το πότε θα δοθεί το σάλπισμα της γενικής ανταρσίας εναντίον του Βενιζέλου, κάτι που σημαίνει και ταυτόχρονη αποχώρηση των «παπανδρεϊκών» από κυβέρνηση και ΠΑΣΟΚ. Μία τέτοια περίπτωση θα σημάνει επίσης και πτώση της κυβέρνησης καθώς ΝΔ και ΠΑΣΟΚ δε θα έχουν μαζί πάνω από 150 βουλευτές, κάτι που σημαίνει ότι η χώρα θα οδηγηθεί σε πρόωρες εκλογές.

Εκείνο πάντως που δε μπορούν με τίποτα να προβλέψουν στη Χαριλάου Τρικούπη, είναι αν ο Γιώργος Παπανδρέου θα κάνει την κίνηση του πριν ή μετά τη διαδικασία εκλογής Προέδρου της Δημοκρατίας. Ίσως γιατί και ο ίδιος, ακόμα περιμένει να δει τις εξελίξεις…

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