So. Two European leaders have fallen in the space of a week. George Papandreou of Greece. And Silvio Berlusconi of Italy. It was probably inevitable.
Well, Silvio Berlusconi probably won’t be too missed. Sure, he had a core base of support – that was, after all, why he kept getting elected. But this core base was weakening all the time. The rest of the free world tended to regard him as rather a joke. I never ever met an Italian abroad that had any time for the guy. Either these Italians were terrific actors or they really were running away from their country because of the man in charge.
And George Papandreou? Well, the world probably wouldn’t have known who the fellow was if Greece hadn’t been thrown centre stage by appalling economic misfortune. He’s gone. Few will shed a tear.
And in their place?
Well, here come the technocrats…
The question is: is this a good thing?
The elected politicians have so effectively buggered things up that one is tempted to think that, yes, appointing unelected officials to the countries of Greece and Italy might actually not be a bad idea. Perhaps Spain, Portugal and Ireland could do with a dose of this too. Hell, how about my own country, the UK, how about having unelected officials telling us how to run our lives? That would be neat. Especially if they stick two fingers up to the Conservatives and Lib Dems and tell people that, actually, as a matter of fact, education is important and screw all you hypocritical suits who want to deny a free choice of education to the masses.
It looks as though Mario Monti, a former European Commissioner, might form one of the central planks of Italy’s technocratic government. I’m finding it hard to resist clapping my hands together and exclaiming “yay!”, which would be highly unprofessional.
Having covered competition policy in Brussels for a couple of years, I know Mario Monti reasonably well. I know how he works. I interviewed him on countless occasions. Out of all the commissioners I ever saw whilst in Brussels, it is Sig. Monti that I hold in highest regard. Throughout his five year tenure, not once did I see him falter. Not once did he waver in the face of unfavourable press coverage. He simply kept his head down and got on with the job that had to be done, which is namely to make sure there is a favourable and open playing field for everyone in Europe. Never once did I see him try to glorify his position. He did what had to be done. Yes, I have tremendous respect for Sr Monti.
I might point out here that, within the European Union, the competition policy is the most powerful dossier to have. In actual fact, the Competition Commissioner could even be considered more powerful than the President of the Commission. This is because most decisions within the Competition Directorate are not subject to codecision procedure. They do not need to be approved by the European Parliament or the Council. Whatever the Competition Commissioner says – subject to approval by fellow Commissioners, who usually wave things through – goes.
This makes perfect sense. It removes politics from the whole process. Imagine if approval for state aid was subjected to the same political wrangling that we usually see within the European Parliament and Council. Or if cartels were built and destroyed on the whims of member states. Europe just wouldn’t function at all. This is why carte blanche is given to the EU’s Competition Commissioner. And Sig. Monti performed the job admirably.
Is this what we need in those EU member states, like Greece and Italy, that have squandered the wealth of their citizens? Some level-headed technocrat, appointed at the whim of Germany, and who can sort are sorry mess out.
I would say that this is an extremely dangerous precedent and points to all that is wrong with the EU.
For all it’s obvious shortcomings, democracy is one of the greatest strengths that Europe has. If we don’t like what a politician is doing, then all we have to do is turn up at the ballot box and vote him (or her) out of office. The entire world might criticise Berlusconi for being such a womanising clown, but the point is that he was voted into office in a free-and-fair election. Of course, as my Italian wife might point out, democracy only works so far. Berlusconi is no doubt able to dazzle the public through his wealth and glamour. His media empire helps a great deal, too.
But, at the end of the day, European voters aren’t stupid. Politicians might think they are, but they aren’t. Just because me and my wife (and just about every Italian I meet) think Berlusconi a clown, doesn’t mean that this is representative of what the Italian population as a whole thinks. It just, unfortunately, reflects the circles that we move in. People are voting for Berlusconi in large numbers. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been in office.
I don’t read the Sun. That doesn’t mean that the Sun, the bestselling newspaper in the UK, is inherently wrong. It just means that I am out of touch with the way that most people in Britain think.
Are you seeing where I am going with this blog entry yet?
Is it really right for a small break-away community of European countries, led by Germany, to force an unelected government on Italy? Even if one of the Italians that I admire the most in the whole world would play a key role?
Democracy may not be great. It may have more gaping holes than a wedge of Swiss Cheese.
But right now it is all we have. So please don’t take it away from us.