EU fiscal union and the democratic process: drawing the red line

Posted by Konstandinos Diamandouros on 03/03/12

The European Union has always been considered a union of sovereign democratic nations. In fact, democracy is regarded as a sine qua non for EU membership as clearly stipulated in article 1a of the Lisbon Treaty which reads ‘The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy…..’.

Yet, never before has this core principle has been put into question so strongly, than during the euro zone crisis. Only last month, Wolfgang Schäuble suggested that Greece may have to postpone its elections and install a technocratic government, as a condition for second bailout package. The demand was raised over fears that the election may bring into power of coalition of partners which are hostile to the agreed bailout package. While the political rationale behind such a move is crystal clear, the deeper question which should be asked is whether such a request is justifiable from a moral perspective.

Utilitarian considerations have always been an important governing aspect of organised life. Belonging to something collective implies, on the one hand, benefits and, on the other, obligations. Thus, certain societal groups may be asked to sacrifice something for the collective benefit of the whole. Taking this analogy and placing it in the context of the current crisis, should Greece not postpone its elections in order to preserve the stability of the euro?

While utilitarian consideration may be useful compass for a number of practical issues pertaining to the functioning of everyday life, mankind has long established that from a moral standpoint, certain rights are inalienable and thus cannot be regarded as negotiable. In this sense, in a Union of sovereign democratic nations such as the European Union, the right of democratic process should be considered as sacred and non-negotiable.

It is for this exact reason that Mr Schäuble’s intervention is morally reprehensible. In a democratic union of nations, no one has the right to dictate to a member how and when they should exercise this fundamental democratic right, for which thousand of people has sacrificed their life over the centuries.

The dilemma ‘democracy or bankruptcy’ does not befit the European Union. It represents a dangerous precedent whereby sacrificing fundamental rights is considered to be an acceptable in order to preserve the euro. These kinds of practices not only make the idea of the EU as democratic union seem ridiculous; moreover, it plays directly into the hands of euro sceptics who have long claimed that the European project is a sinister plot to abolish democracy and nations.

The Greeks should be allowed to exercise their right without threats and outside interventions. For the stakes are clear to everyone. Should the Greek people decide to vote into power parties that refuse to honour the obligations of the second bailout package, they know very well that this will mean bankruptcy, expulsion from the euro and perhaps from the EU.

But this is their choice to make.

For in the end of the day, a democratic union of 26 nation states is still far better than an undemocratic union of 27 nation states.

2 Responses to EU fiscal union and the democratic process: drawing the red line »»

  1. Comment by Tzortzis | 2012/03/26 at 20:52:13

    Let us assume that Greece will elect a government which will refuse to honor the terms of the second bailout. If this may lead, as you mentioned, to bankruptsy, expulsion from the euro and possibly the EU, will the Greeks have the discipline to “come out of the hole”? What will be the long and short term repercussions to the Greek economy and political system?

  2. Comment by Konstandinos Diamandouros | 2012/04/01 at 08:20:51

    The consequences of such a decision will most likely be harsh for Greece and the Eurozone. Let’s start with what we know for sure: A default would mean that Greece would not be able to pay employee salaries and pensions and I fear this could lead to massive social unrest.

    In addition to this obvious outcome, other dangers that have been pointed out are: collapse of the banking system, inability to import basic products such as oil and gas (let us not forget that Greece still have a primary deficit) capital flight and a spread of the crisis to other vulnerable members such as Portugal, Italy, Spain.

    Given the risks entailed, I am convinced that the Greek people would not vote in a government that is against the bailout package.

    But again, I consider this to be a matter of principle that cannot be weighed in utilitarian terms.


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