Juncker’s Straitjacket

A jauntier Juncker than usual held the stage in the Strasbourg auditorium with a highly optimistic speech on the state of the Union. He wanted to go way beyond the appraisals contained in the latest ECB bulletin.

In the latter – topics raised by Mario Draghi at the August meeting of the central banks in Jackson Hole – there is much more caution in describing the economic situation. It is true that the global framework of 2017’s second quarter reveals a period of sustained growth. But, the academics at the Central Bank warn that whilst “the current positive economic situation could give way to a stronger recovery … on the other hand, risks of a decline remain a possibility”. In other words: it depends. On what? On the quality of economic policy. The deluge of liquidity is not able to kick-start the real economy mechanism. At most, it avoids, or distances itself from, new nosedives. And, since this phenomenon is unknown, we do not know how long it will last and what will happen after the inevitable, albeit postponable, quantitative easing.

But Juncker’s exultation is not just for show, rather, it is perfectly functional in taking forward new government projects that have been developed over these years of crisis. Economic recovery would help the political relaunch of the EU, says Juncker. But that’s not true, if he means it in the democratic sense of the word. The idea of an economic Europe becoming political, as per David Mitrany’s functionalism, has occurred only in an anti-democratic framework even further distanced from citizens.

From democracy to oligarchy

Juncker claimed yesterday1 that it is just the progression of the project that began with the diplomatic body document drawn up by the five presidents in 2015, and followed-up by the more recent Reflection Paper at the end of May this year by the same European Commission. Juncker has therefore embraced the German proposal to transform the European Stability Mechanism into a European Monetary Fund, equipped with more invasive and conditioning powers towards single country economies. He has not really followed Berlin’s diktat to the letter in that he has not directly allocated the role of monitoring national budgets to this body, something that would be even more appreciated by Germany as it would limit Commission discretion regarding the subject.

But he has put his best foot forwards, shared, what’s more, by the renewed French-German axis. Here, we are referring to the transformation of the Commissioner for Monetary Affairs into a eurozone Ministry of Finance. This has been explicitly called upon to monitor national budgets, promote structural (counter-)reforms, and preside over the Eurogroup (or rather the coordination of the Ministries of the Economy and Finance of the eurozone member states), equipped with its own budget line. The sharing of risks between EU member countries would therefore be averted from the outset, to Germany’s great satisfaction, as there would be a monocratic authority appointed to avoid it from the very beginning.
This would represent a new crackdown in the technocratic construction of a governance system. The reason for this is that it would have an increasingly marked anti-democratic and oligarchic institutional framework, without any roles of direction or control on behalf of the European Parliament, the only elected body. It is precisely the framework envisaged and called for by Indian economist Parag Khanna in his latest book that invites the biggest countries in the world and the European Union to abandon any semblance of democracy once and for all, and embrace “direct technocracy” as a form of government and society organisation, sanctioning a huge step backwards from democracy to oligarchy.

Coherently, Jean-Claude Juncker has called for greater speed in the EU’s decision-making, demanding the introduction of the majority vote, and no longer unanimity, on issues of major importance, such as taxation, that may potentially be extended to other areas. Knowing full well that substituting the unanimity method with that of the majority does not necessarily always favour the preservation of what exists, he immediately rushed to say that all this would not concern or require a modification of the Treaties.

“Let’s move on with the wind in our sails”

Before finishing his speech – with words that remind us of more grim times: “Now that the sun is shining … let’s throw off the bowlines and move on with the wind in our sails” – and gathering the applause of his popular, socialist and liberal public, Juncker did not miss out on thanking Italy (followed by an enthusiastic Tweet from Paolo Gentiloni) for saving Europe’s honour over migrants. We couldn’t miss out on our mark of shame.

[1] Editorial note: The article was published on 14 September in Il Manifesto with the title “La camicia di forza di Juncker”.