Why technocrats have taken over national governments in policy making proccedure
National Governments have a dual role to play in the EU: as founding member states separately and as member states jointly. As member states separately, national Governments represent – and are accountable to – their respective national publics, with their main objective being the defence of national interests. As member states jointly, they have the responsibility to bring to the joint table (the European Council) the acquiescence of their respective national populations or parliaments to joint decisions. In other words, EU national Governments wear two hats, one on behalf of their respective states and one on behalf of Europe.
However, GIIPS Governments are often tempted to show only one hat, that of the nation-state, thereby avoiding assuming responsibility for what they do when they wear their other – European – hat. They declare themselves impotent, economic policy being imposed on them by Brussels and their EU partners, failing to acknowledge the part they have played in such results. GIIPS national governments have autonomy to decide, if only because they retain the utmost expression of sovereign power, their ability to abandon the club. If GIIPS national governments do not do so, it is because they need to assume responsibility for decisions taken jointly by the European Council, or else they run the risk of being left out of the negotiating table. During the Eurozone crisis, GIIPS national Governments saw the need to be part of the European Council negotiating table, but they did not take full responsibility for it. Back home, they neither said why they needed to be there, nor did they ask their populations whether they still wanted to be there. The problem with the view from the core countries is, again, not so much what it says, but what remains untold. As in the case of GIIPS countries, core countries do not show their populations what they do when they wear their European hat and, therefore, do not assume responsibility for their joint actions with GIIPS at the EU level. There is no discussion in the core Eurozone countries, for instance, over whether GIIPS countries were encouraged to spend excessively by a faulty design of the single currency, which was jointly decided by all member states, with core countries’ acquiescence. The decision to only frame moral hazard as a fundamental problem in 2010, after ten full years of collective free-riding over EMU rules, was a political one, driven by domestic, not European, interests.
The unfolding of ‘democracy without choices’ in Europe is widely interpreted as the victory of economics over politics, of technocrats over elected politicians. Herein, however, lays a paradox: how can we explain the heterogeneous effects of the same economic crisis across Eurozone national democracies if not as the result of political – not just technocratic – decisions? It is not economics that has produced the present situation but politics, and not just European politics but national – and nationalist – politics pursued by EU member states in defence of their exclusive national interests. Admittedly, at present there is little discretion in economic policy for those national governments which have been very badly hit by the economic crisis, and this poses a major problem for the legitimacy of their democratic regimes. However, political autonomy at the national level is not completely absent. The EU is governed by its member states through inter-governmental negotiations and through membership of the European Council, not by the Commission or by the European Parliament. This means that a door is opened to nationalist responses to the economic crisis.
In fact, EU member states have been acting with complete disregard to the level of interdependence among Eurozone economies and the fragility that comes with it. Disregard has also extended to the level of interdependence of individual national responsibilities. National governments from all EU member states would do well to listen to citizens across the EU as a whole, and not just to their own electorate, if there is to be hope for a responsive and responsible EU. The view from Eurozone rich countries, especially Germany, reflects the other side of the coin of the crisis. According to this view, all EU member-states have been subject to the same rules of the game, democratically legitimised at the national level by either referendum or parliamentary ratification, and have been hit by the same financial crisis. Although this view is under consideration, we have to think that some countries, such as Germany are making profit – in political and even in financial gains – from the economic austerity of other member states, such as Greece.
The difference between countries is that some had done their homework (in terms of structural and economic reforms) prior to the outbreak of the crisis, while others had used the early years of the euro to spend beyond their means by way of unsustainable levels of public and private debt.
Kostas Asimakopoulos is a Political Communications expert, with experience on EU Affairs and UK Public Affairs, former Special Adviser of the Greek Government.