Inside the mind of Monti

by niamh on September 20, 2012

Would you be surprised to hear that Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti recently said this:

political scientists need to re-think the type of democratic structures that are required to govern in a post-Eurozone crisis world. The EU needs institutional renewal.

Monti also provides tips on how best to influence Angela Merkel’s thinking (go silent on a topic. It spooks her). This and more, from a fascinating blog by Aidan Regan, a Max Weber Fellow at the EUI in Florence. But don’t get too excited about democratizing Europe just yet. What Monti actually meant was this:
The European parliament, he argued, needs to be empowered to take collectively sanctioned decisions for Europe as a whole. Furthermore, the technical decisions required to solve the crisis (in his opinion) have to be somewhat removed from the immediate interest of national electorates. In fact he went as far as saying that citizens (and their respective governments) need to be faced with the threat of an exit from the European Union so as to empower European policymakers to take new and bold decisions.

In other words, democratic accountability as normally understood is expendable in the interests of administrative efficiency. Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he; and understandably, perhaps, in the Italian context, since Monti is certainly a contrast gainer relative to Berlusconi. But it’s an unusually candid and ‘realist’ statement of the default trend in European integration. It is precisely this that makes many people wary of deeper integration, that drives up Euroscepticism in defence of national prerogatives, and indeed that tends to fuel right-wing populism. It is equally a world removed from, for example, Habermas’s vision of the EU as a radically democratized, market-restraining constitutional order, trans-national and cosmopolitan in character, and governed by humane values.

 

{ 28 comments }

1

Pascal Leduc 09.20.12 at 7:34 pm

After the uprising of the 17th of June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

2

SamChevre 09.20.12 at 8:16 pm

democratic accountability as normally understood is expendable in the interests of administrative efficiency.

Is this not the case in all the modern democracies? The bureacracies are not in any useful sense democratically accountable–by design; in most states, neither are the courts or the police.

3

Chaz 09.20.12 at 8:58 pm

By my reading, “The European parliament, he argued, needs to be empowered to take collectively sanctioned decisions for Europe as a whole.” is the only sentence with any actual practical meaning. It means:

The European Parliament needs the power to pass laws unilaterally. I would presume he means that this authority should be limited to certain areas in a federal arrangement, although he doesn’t say it.

So this means: legislative power gets taken away from the Council of Ministers and given to the Parliament. That means heads of state lose their veto and most laws would not need ratification by national parliaments or referendums. Instead laws are passed with one vote by the European Parliament (much like the British Parliament does), which is democratically elected.

I would have to say I strongly support this proposal. It turns Europe into a functional federation with central leadership, and ensures that that leadership is still democratically elected by voters in every country. It think it’s both more administratively efficient and more democratic than what they have now. It is arguably a little less democratic than having all legislative power reside with national parliaments (and therefore no binding European treaties and no EU), but people like the EU so that’s a fair trade. It’s just the same old states rights argument we have in the US.

Then he goes on about taking power away from national electorates because voters can’t be trusted. I don’t like that. But the practical impact of that sentiment is just that national governments lose their vetoes–well of course they do, that’s already covered when you give power to the European Parliament! So those sentences have no effective meaning at all.

And finally he says that if some national governments really don’t like the laws the Parliament passes, then tough luck, they can accept it or leave the Union. I guess that sounds harsh but it’s obviously essential if Parliament’s to have any power. And it’s actually a lot more freedom than states get in the U.S. If you try to secede here we’ll send Grant’s corpse after you.

As long as you take “European policymakers” to mean “the elected European Parliament”, this is a good thing.

4

Bill Benzon 09.20.12 at 9:59 pm

Forgive me, Niamh, if I diverge from the topic in that my comment isn’t about Europe. Rather, it’s about large scale political integration and it’s pitfalls, such as the EU, or the once upon a time USSR, or, wouldn’t you know, the USofA.

I only recently learned that not so long ago a bunch of Vermonters who had become disgusted with the Federal Government decided that the only thing to do was to secede from the Union and, once again, become an independent republic (Vermont had been a republic between 1777 and 1791). So they formed the Vermont Independence Party in 2003 and have now had three conferences to discuss the matter. The most recent was Friday a week ago in the Vermont Statehouse and I was there as part of a group providing musical interludes (and support for Bread and Puppets–photos here).

Now, there people are serious, and not deluded as far as I could tell. Vermont isn’t going to secede any time soon, and it may not ever do so. Except that, who can tell what will happen in the USofA when the East and West coasts are under water and the plains states have become deserts?

So, what I’m wondering is whether or not the international order 100 years from now will be organized on a very different basis from what it is now. I’m wondering whether or not the burden of order will shift to smaller units, more like ancient Greek city-states, with the current crop of nation-states becoming “hollowed out”, as it were. I haven’t even begun to think through what would have to happen for that to come about, but I do wonder whether or not some science fiction has already been written along those lines. If not, well now, there’s near future line to explore that seems rather more interesting than Blade Runner-esque dystopia.

5

Chaz 09.20.12 at 11:48 pm

Half of the Earth will be join the Romulan Empire, after they promise us lucrative farm subsidies and a law prohibiting the sale of turducken not prepared in the traditional Kentuckian manner. The other half will be conquered by the fearsome Montian Union, the successor to the EU. Speaking of the EU . . .

6

Ebenezer Scrooge 09.21.12 at 12:29 am

I’ve got to agree with Sam, @ #2. A lot of Europeans, such as many Scots and Catalonians, have been arguing that the EU will enhance democracy, by making subnational nations the basic unit of the EU, rather than the current states that are often an amalgamation of nations. I’m not sure I buy this, because many of the nations don’t quite split on neat territorial lines, and the Holy Roman Empire is not a very inspiring precedent.

I violently disagree with Chaz @5. Turducken is a Louisiana dish.

7

Ed 09.21.12 at 5:02 am

“So this means: legislative power gets taken away from the Council of Ministers and given to the Parliament. That means heads of state lose their veto and most laws would not need ratification by national parliaments or referendums. Instead laws are passed with one vote by the European Parliament (much like the British Parliament does), which is democratically elected.”

That would be what would turn the European Union from a federation of states into a federal state. The United Kingdom, or at least England, would leave, but there is a case that this would be good both for the English and the people on the continent (the case is obscured somewhat by having been caught up in right wing English dog whistle politics).

8

J. Otto Pohl 09.21.12 at 9:52 am

As a general rule the larger a political unit the less influence any non-elite individual will have on it. On the other hand small fragmented political units are even less desirable. One of Africa’s problems is the fact that the colonial powers in Europe left it divided into a bunch of small states. This creates significant obstacles to economic and other forms of cooperation. One unified market with 800 million people is more conducive to economic development than 80 distinct national markets with ten million people each and a host of legal restrictions impeding trade between them. Small states especially lose out under such conditions. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan were relatively much better off economically being part of the USSR than they are today. In the 1960s the standard of living in these two republics was considerably higher than in Turkey. Today the standard of living in Ghana is considerably higher than in these two former Soviet republics. The standard of living in Turkey is dramatically higher than in the poorer Central Asian states today.

9

Shay Begorrah 09.21.12 at 12:21 pm

Firstly Aidan Regan’s blog is indeed great.

The interesting thing about Monti’s comments is not how dismissive he is of popular democracy or his preference for a market state (he is ex Goldman Sachs, a neoliberal and was chosen as the EC’s lord lieutenant in Italy after all) but that he feels that the political tide in Europe has moved enough against national democracy to make a public push for its emasculation.

The quote (Brecht is it?) nicely captures it – the failure of the European political elite to deal with the European component of the global financial crisis after enabling it with the fatally flawed current version of EMU is that they need not more direct democratic control and accountability but less.

These are dangerous times, and dangerous people.

10

Barry 09.21.12 at 1:19 pm

Seconding J Otto, here – a city-state ,with rare exceptions, would be powerless against large forces.

11

Ed 09.21.12 at 3:12 pm

Smaller countries are vulnerable to be invaded and taken over by dictators from other countries. Larger countries are more vulnerable to being taken over by homegrown dictators and oligarchies.

Incidentally, this was true in Aristotle’s day too.

12

J. Otto Pohl 09.21.12 at 3:40 pm

Ed:

There are plenty of examples of smaller countries being taken over by homegrown dictators although a number of them have received outside support. I am not sure how one would test if larger countries were more likely to fall prey to indigenous dictatorships than small ones or not. The term dictators or oligarchies makes the question even more murky. Presumably large non-dictatorships in the US, India, and the various European nations could be classified as oligarchies. But, the only large democratic states that became dictatorships I can think of since the end of WWII are in Latin America. Before WWII I suppose we could count the end of Weimar Germany. In contrast there are lots of small states in Latin America, Asia, and Africa that had homegrown dictatorships. I suppose you could argue that CIA supported coups like in Indonesia in 1965 and Ghana in 1966 count as “invasions”, but certainly not by a foreign dictatorship. LBJ did a lot of bad things, but he did win the 1964 election against Barry Goldwater fair and square.

13

ajay 09.21.12 at 4:06 pm

But, the only large democratic states that became dictatorships I can think of since the end of WWII are in Latin America.

Greece?

14

J. Otto Pohl 09.21.12 at 4:11 pm

Greece is pretty small in terms of population. Its current population is only about 11 million people. That is a lot less than Ghana, Uzbekistan, or Chile. None of which are considered large states. I

15

ajay 09.21.12 at 4:41 pm

OK, fair enough.

16

Hermenauta 09.21.12 at 6:21 pm

“But, the only large democratic states that became dictatorships I can think of since the end of WWII are in Latin America. “

Actually, the old latin american republics before WWII were only nominally democratic. In practice, most of the time, democratic rights were assured only for an elite. In Brazil, for example, women and illiterate people were denied voting rights. Women were allowed in the electoral process only after 1934 (but only the working women); illiterates, only after 1985. The vote wasn´t secret until 1932…

17

J. Otto Pohl 09.21.12 at 6:44 pm

Hermenauta:

No democracy is perfect and women got the vote in the US and UK not too many years before they did in Brazil. The US in 1920 and the UK in 1918. In a realistic sense a lot of African-Americans were also denied the right to vote until the 1965 Voting Rights Act. But, I do not think anybody claims that the US or UK were only “nominally” democratic because the franchise was effectively limited. So if the US counts as democratic before 1920 then I can count Brazil as a large democratic state that became a military dictatorship.

18

Antoni Jaume 09.21.12 at 8:34 pm

«The European parliament, he argued, needs to be empowered to take collectively sanctioned decisions for Europe as a whole.»

After all it is the only EU wide democratically elected institution.

«Furthermore, the technical decisions required to solve the crisis (in his opinion) have to be somewhat removed from the immediate interest of national electorates. »

Well, what do you do when some of the electorates find it profitable to take decisions that are harmful to other electorates?

Look at the situation in Spain, the government has incurred in deficits to help the banks, instead of letting them fail. In retrospective it would have been better, as then the problem would have gone to the creditors, which is to say German and French banks, now these want people who did not contract the loans to pay for them. In an really independent state, the Spanish central bank would have solved the problem, with the EU the BCE is in fact harmful since other national interests oppose such measures. So now we are seeing how the government is basically looting pensions, healthcare and other services, to pay for banks debts.

19

niamh 09.22.12 at 10:42 am

I think the worrying aspect of Monti’s remarks are not about stronger coordinating competences being required to deal with economic crisis, but about the terms on which this might happen. There are two problems, one about politics, the other about markets. True, he advocates more powers for the European parliament as opposed to the Council. But the EP has already gained wider powers since the Lisbon Treaty, without palpably reducing the ‘democratic deficit’. The EU is still an association of nation-states, and what Monti appears to be proposing is not something like the US federal system, but a stronger centralized political system in the absence of a European polity. The other issue, as discussed in more detail in Aidan Regan’s post, is about the role of markets: we are still seeing a blind faith in market liberalization (especially in labour markets) as a precondition for growth, with no sense either of the variability of growth models across Europe, or of the need for effective demand-side measures if we are ever to see any growth again.

20

Chaz 09.22.12 at 4:09 pm

“a stronger centralized political system in the absence of a European polity”

I would expect that, once the Parliament has some real power, then they and many of their voters will want them to use it. And once they start actually doing important things then voters will care about them more and a European polity will develop. The U.S. did not have a national polity at the beginning either, although the states did at least speak the same language.

I do admit, I don’t have a good feel for EU politics and how things “really” get done. But if the structures change then I expect those realities could change very quickly. I would advise against assuming current realities will continue unless you are sure that the underlying causes will continue as well.

As for the extra powers given to the EU since the Lisbon Treaty, I will again admit that I don’t know what they are. But I haven’t heard of any that would make a difference. Until Parliament is able to act without approval from the nation states it will be a useless body.

21

rf 09.22.12 at 8:08 pm

“We are still seeing a blind faith in market liberalization”

Why are we seeing this blind faith in market liberalization, is it just an ideological predisposition? Is there a divide between EU technocrats and north European politicians on how to resolve the Eurozone crisis, and what type of reforms should be pushed on the periphery? (Sorry about the lack of sophistication in the questioning but it’s not something I know a great deal about – and I’m rushing out at the minute) Also I may as well second, or third, what’s been said about A Regan’s site, it’s definitely one of the most interesting perspectives on Ireland at the minute.

22

Antoni Jaume 09.22.12 at 10:40 pm

rf,

yes I think there is a conflict of interest, when the beginning of the crisis in Greece, the amount of money needed was quite affordable for Greeks, but, and that was a big but, Merkel blocked it, because the Greeks were sinners (They had bought German products, the fools). Now the debt has balloned and the solution is not on the horizon.

23

Random Lurker 09.23.12 at 7:42 am

@Niamh 19
I believe that the European nation states are already so integrated economically that we have a de facto polity, but this polity lacks the “self consciousness”.
Many eurosceptics believe that European nation states would be more democratic if left alone, but those states cannot leave alone each other; I fear that if the EU somehow crashes, we will have a lot of economically nationalist states, who would twart each other’s policies through trade wars and so on.
Today it is almost unthinkable that, say, Italy raises big tariffs vs German goods, or that France discriminates Irish companies because of Irish tax policy, but this happens exactly because of the blind faith on the free market.
In that situation there would be even less real democracy than today, since each state’s choices would be constrained by its neighbours .
In a slogan, democracy is “all together to choose” not “everyone. on his own

24

Cahokia 09.23.12 at 12:59 pm

Odd is the current rush to support any small militia against their stubborn leaders. Where are the embers of interest in any military leaders overtaking their Euro leaders?
Are they all mere kittens? Might there not be some general who has minored in the humanities and senses the long term costs to the masses of long term economic contraction. Has this been one long term project (1919) to remove the possibility of any military solution?

25

ajay 09.24.12 at 10:09 am

Odd is the current rush to support any small militia against their stubborn leaders. Where are the embers of interest in any military leaders overtaking their Euro leaders?

The joke going round after the Olympics security business was that George Osborne had been declared “not fit for purpose” and the post of chancellor would now be taken over by a warrant officer seconded from 2 Para.

26

Cahokia 09.25.12 at 1:42 pm

p.s. Found an ember:

“The reason the stakes are so high is that Catalonia is one of Spain’s economic powerhouses, and a significant net contributor to the state coffers.

But the situation poses real headaches for Rajoy, even if Catalonia ends up with neither tax autonomy nor independence any time soon. He knows that the more the central government clamps down and pushes for greater austerity in the regions, the more it boosts the secessionists.

Remarks by Colonel Francisco Alaman, a serving officer, indicate the strength of feeling on the other side:

‘Independence for Catalunya? Over my dead body. Spain is not Yugoslavia or Belgium. Even if the lion is sleeping, don’t provoke the lion, because he will show the ferocity proven over centuries.’”
http://ftalphaville.ft.com/blog/2012/09/24/1172361/viva-espagna-spains-other-crisis/

27

Lurker 09.25.12 at 2:24 pm

When congratulating the Monti proposal for the increase of the power of the European Parliament, you forget one very important thing. The European Parliament lacks two essential things: the power of the purse and the power to introduce legislation.

EU legislation can only be proposed by the Commission. The Council of Ministers and the Parliament can only amend these proposals, but they cannot originate new ones. And the Commission can withdraw a proposal that has been modified too far. In this sense, the European Parliament resembles the parliaments of many former “constitutional monarchies”, e.g. Sweden between 1789 and 1809.

On the other hand, the Parliament does not have the power of purse, either. It governs only a minor part of the EU budget (most is treaty-based and non-discretionary) and if the Parliament fails to concur on the budget with the Council of Ministers, the Council can continue the current budget unilaterally.

Thus, if you remove the rights of the Council, you essentially increase the power of the non-elected Commission, not the power of the Parliament.

28

Antoni Jaume 09.25.12 at 7:31 pm

«Thus, if you remove the rights of the Council, you essentially increase the power of the non-elected Commission, not the power of the Parliament.»

Why would that be the only change? We could raise Paliament powers at the same time.

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