I’ve disparaged in other posts the Greek people’s response to their economic crisis. However, the decision of their Prime Minister, Giorgios Papandreou, to put the latest EU offer of a bailout to a plebiscite—to let those Greek people speak directly and for themselves on whether they think the bailout, or its terms, are suitable—has led to an interesting set of responses from the other governments of the Union, and from within the Greek government itself.
On the one hand, there is a great deal of legitimate frustration on the part of those governments over the decision for a plebiscite of the people who would be the “beneficiaries.” Regardless of what we might think of the bailout itself, a lot of hard work and political capital, and yes, sacrifice and good faith, went into working out the parameters of this latest bailout, and filling in the details will take much more of the same. On the other hand, how those governments are expressing their frustration says a very great deal about their views of democracy.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy insists, “Giving the people a say is always legitimate, but the solidarity of all countries of the eurozone cannot work unless each one consents to the necessary efforts….” The Greeks really must have other nations’ permission to speak for themselves. It’s a cute idea, though; thank you for playing.
Rainer Brüderle, a leader of the Free Democrats Party (part of Germany’s ruling coalition), says in all seriousness, “It’s a strange thing to do [hold a plebiscite], but all you can do is take precautionary steps in case there is a state insolvency in Greece.” Indeed. How alien a concept it is, this letting citizens speak and instruct their government.
The Swedish Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, has Twittered, “I truly fail to understand what Greece intends to have a referendum about. Are there any real options?” Aside from the question of whether the Swede’s understanding is necessary to a Greek referendum, his professed inability to understand the matter says more about his understanding of the imperatives of democracy than it does about Papandreou’s decision to consult his employers.
Even from within Greece’s own government, we have a lack of clarity. “I never expected Papandreou to take such a dangerous and frivolous decision,” huffed Dora Bakoyannis, an independent member of the Greek Parliament. In the birthplace of democracy, it’s a frivolous thing to have the government’s employers speak up and tell their government what it must do.
Socialist deputy Hara Kefalidou wrote to Papandreou this, among other things: “I cannot back a referendum which is a subterfuge by a government that appears unwilling to govern.” Letting her constituents, and the constituents of the rest of the government, speak is mere subterfuge, and not democracy in action. And a government which fulfills this duty is unwilling to govern. This is interesting….
Even support for the decision to hold a plebiscite is founded, not on recognition of the fundamental tenets of democracy, but on the purely utilitarian grounds of its political practicality: a successful outcome would silence, once and for all, opposition to the bailout in Greece.
Another, ulterior, motive for the EU leadership’s crocodile tears seems apparent. “While Greece is threatening a vote, nobody will ever give Europe the resources for the enhanced [EFSF],” said Jan Poser, Bank Sarasin’s chief economist. Those uppity Greeks are going to cause an embarrassment for the EU at this week’s G-20 summit. The EU members had intended to beat the wallets of the other members, especially China and Brazil, for funding to bail out the now over-committed EFSF, so that it could bailout Greece, and then Portugal, and then Spain, and then Italy, and…. However, with those Greeks so rudely planning to speak for themselves, it seems there will be great difficulty getting anyone from outside the EU to support these efforts.
Apparently, the European view of democracy is that the citizenry very democratically vote politicians into their government, and then the citizens are to shut up, sit down, and let their government speak for them. But when governments speak for the people, with no obligation to heed those people, governments instead speak in the people’s place. And the people have ceased to have a voice in their own governance.
No. Let the Greek citizens speak through their ballot box. They’ve been speaking in the streets for months, and they’ve been studiously ignored. It isn’t government’s role to protect people from themselves (leaving aside the minor fact that it has yet to be established that a popular decision to reject the bailout is something from which protection is warranted). Especially when government does such a terrible job in the attempt. And putting off the default will only make it worse when it happens.