Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Frankfurt School: Jürgen Habermas on the crisis of the EU

Jürgen Habermas is one left thinker who has been urging a democratic solution for the euro crisis for some time. He discussed the current crisis of the European Union (UN) that occurred in early April 2011 (there have been so many now!) in Europapolitik: Merkels von Demoskopie geleiteter Opportunismus Süddeutsche Zeitung 07.04.2011.

Habermas is a supporter of the EU. However, he believes the "democratic deficit" in the EU needs to be addressed urgently. And to do so will require the development of an active popular movement in favor of a democratic EU. Paul Krugman defined the basic problem of the role of elites in the current EU crisis in The Unwidsom of Elites New York Times 05/08/2011. (It's still not considered polite to refer to "elites" by such old-fashioned terms as "ruling classes" or the like.)

So it was the bad judgment of the elite, not the greediness of the common man, that caused America’s deficit. And much the same is true of the European crisis.

Needless to say, that’s not what you hear from European policy makers. The official story in Europe these days is that governments of troubled nations catered too much to the masses, promising too much to voters while collecting too little in taxes. And that is, to be fair, a reasonably accurate story for Greece. But it's not at all what happened in Ireland and Spain, both of which had low debt and budget surpluses on the eve of the crisis.

The real story of Europe’s crisis is that leaders created a single currency, the euro, without creating the institutions that were needed to cope with booms and busts within the euro zone. And the drive for a single European currency was the ultimate top-down project, an elite vision imposed on highly reluctant voters. [my emphasis]
Habermas articulates the democracy-deficit problem this way:

Die schnelle Aufeinanderfolge von Finanz-, Schulden- und Eurokrise hat die falsche Konstruktion eines riesigen Wirtschafts- und Währungsraums, dem aber die Instrumente für eine gemeinsame Wirtschaftspolitik fehlen, sichtbar gemacht. Europaskeptiker wie Angela Merkel sind unter diesen systemischen Zwängen widerstrebend zu einem Schritt in Richtung Integration gedrängt worden. Nun soll der Fehler auf dem informellen Wege der "offenen Koordinierung" beseitigt werden. Diese Notlösung hat aus Sicht der Akteure den Vorzug, keine schlafenden Hunde zu wecken. Andererseits ist sie, sofern sie überhaupt funktioniert, in der Auswirkung undemokratisch und dazu angetan, in den Bevölkerungen der verschiedenen Mitgliedstaaten gegenseitig Ressentiments zu schüren.

[The rapid succession of financial, debt and euro crises has made visible the erroneous construction of a giant economic and currency Union, which nevertheless lacks the instruments for a common economic policy. Europe-skeptics like Angela Merkel have been forced by these systemic pressure to making a step in the direction of integration against their will. Now the mistakes are supposed to be corrected through the informal route of "open coordination." This emergency solution has the advantage in the view of the actors that it lets sleeping dogs lie. On the other hand, assuming it works at all, it is undemocratic in its implications and therefore likely to fuel mutual resentments among the populations of the various members states.]
Joining the European Union originally was done by popular votes in the various countries. And though some countries like Norway rejected membership, those countries who joined generally voted for adhesion to the EU by substantial majorities. So there has been up until fairly recently widespread popular support for the EU among the populations of the member states.

The monetary union (adoption of the euro) was done by approval of the parliaments. Most EU countries didn't even have the option of having popular referenda on the euro. Britain notably declined to join the monetary union. Tony Blair had made adoption of the euro one of the goals of his Labour Government but he never did it. Not surprising, given his subservience to the policies of the Cheney-Bush Administration which aimed at splitting the EU member state's foreign policies from each other.

A couple of things are worth remembering here. The euro was adopted by elected parliaments, not by simple executive decisions.

Several problems have converged in the current crisis. One is that major decisions require a unanimous vote of all the member states. Especially with the expansion of the EU to countries of central and eastern Europe, attaining such a vote is a difficult task. The 2009 Treaty of Lisbon was designed to make decision-making more efficient. But it kept the unanimity requirement for major decisions intact.

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