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<nettime> Elections, Euro-Zone Style (WSJ)
Patrice Riemens on Sun, 3 Mar 2013 21:02:26 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Elections, Euro-Zone Style (WSJ)

The Wall Street Journal's editorial take on the lessons of the Italian
elections, for what it's worth - but I find it difficult to fault.

Elections, Euro-Zone Style
There are no angels available to govern, even in Brussels.

The inconclusive result in Italy's election this week has sent bond yields
higher and equity markets tumbling, as investors try to sort out the risk
to the euro zone of Italian gridlock.

The outcome?with Pier Luigi Bersani's center-left party slightly ahead,
but lacking the votes to form a government?also has the EU doing what it
does almost any time there's an election in the euro zone these days.
European Council President Herman van Rompuy made the obligatory noises
about respecting voter choice, just before making it clear that he would
do no such thing.

"It is up to leading politicians to negotiate to form a government with a
stable situation so that reforms and consolidation of the budget can
continue. There is no way back, there is no alternative," Mr. van Rompuy

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle echoed the sentiment, insisting
that the next government continue the policies of the previous one, led by
the unelected Prime Minister Mario Monti, who raked in all of 10% of the
vote this weekend.

In other words, Italy?or Greece, or Ireland?can have all the democracy it
wants, as long as the winners take their orders not from voters, but from
Brussels or Berlin. That might seem an inflammatory way of putting it, but
it's hard to see what other interpretation is possible from these kinds of

Berlin and Brussels won't put it so baldly. But their view is essentially
this: We have decided on a course to save the euro from disintegration.
Any deviation from that course is irresponsible. And they are counting on
the political elites in Italy, Spain, Greece and elsewhere to hew to that
course, come what may.

There are at least two problems with this view. The most obvious is that
it makes a mockery of democracy. If policies can't be changed, regardless
of the outcome of elections, then the elections themselves are a farce.
They are the veneer of popular sovereignty without the substance.

But even if you accept that this moment is too treacherous for democratic
accountability?to accept that responsible leaders have no choice but to go
along with the decisions made by the enlightened leadership of Europe?this
course is already proving self-defeating.

In Spain, a center-right government that won in a landslide in late 2011
was polling in the mid-teens even before a recent scandal over alleged
illicit payments to top politicians broke out.

In Greece, the single-minded focus on sticking with the policies dictated
by the EU have helped destroy Pasok, the center-left party that until last
year was a mainstay of Greek politics. Parties of the far left and far
right have been rising in Greece as the conventional parties have been

Italy's political problems run deeper than the current crisis. But the
grand coalition that ruled for the past 15 months has fueled the
perception that the mainstream parties are offering essentially the same
unpalatable program, and that only radical action?such as voting for Beppe
Grillo's Five Star Movement?has any hope of effecting change.

Decades of consensus-driven EU politicking may have convinced Europe's
mainstream pols that they have no choice but to play the good European.
But the people of Europe don't seem to agree.

As James Madison put it, "If men were angels, no government would be
necessary." Madison continues: "If angels were to govern men, neither
external nor internal controls on government would be necessary." But we
have democracies because we know we're not governed by angels?leaders are
fallible, and sometimes venal, and everything else that human beings are.
Because we know elites are not always right, we reserve the right to
cashier them when necessary.

Voters don't always choose wisely or well, or even coherently. But no
angels are available to lead us?not even in Brussels. So we have no choice
but to persist in trying to choose as best we can.

The EU, in trying to rob that choice of meaning by insisting that its
policies be respected regardless of who wins, is playing a very dangerous
game. In insisting that "there is no alternative," Mr. van Rompuy is
inviting voters to prove him wrong. They nearly did in Italy this week.

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