Blog AnalysisEuropean policy

When democracy becomes an embarrassing detail. A bonus for populism and extremes?

(BRUSSELS2) Week after week, Europe continues to tighten the screws. With clean measures that self-destruct as quickly as they were put in place. Many of the austerity measures put in place do not provide the expected resources, with the drop in consumption and therefore growth wiping out the hoped-for gains. On the other hand, they cause misunderstanding, exasperation and even hostility. Europe is slowly killing the European idea and weakening globally. The introduction of taxation on savings deposits in Cyprus is the latest avatar of a policy which has little regard for democratic and economic principles. If we wanted to scare all savers not only in Cyprus but throughout Europe, we couldn't have done it better...

Extreme populism is gaining ground

Governments are falling like flies in the face of the crisis. Greece, Italy, Bulgaria, Cyprus… the list is already long. And this should continue. On a social level, the phenomenon of immolations of the excluded continues in Bulgaria. And it would be wrong to see it as nothing more than a dross of a malaise. On a political level, the creation of large coalitions is only a stopgap that leaves room for growth for the most extreme oppositions. The danger does not seem to come from the far left today, despite all predictions (or fears). It comes from a populism, more or less tinged with extremism, even downright extreme. Golden Dawn, True Finns, Jobbik, Ukip… These movements seem to be on the rise. Whether in the south, east or north of Europe, whatever the good or bad reasons, the sign of withdrawal has sounded. The victory of Beppe Grillo's gentile populist in Italy – so often cited as an example – is only an epiphenomenon. At the rate the reforms are going, it is not obvious that its voters will cheerfully return to the traditional parties once they are disappointed in their leader.

The criterion of acceptance by the population and respect for democratic rules becomes a detail

In the same way as in 2008, the European executive was slow to appreciate the extent of the financial crisis; today he seems not to understand the extent of the political and social crisis that is emerging. It's not for lack of analysis. I remember a conversation with José-Manuel Barroso more than a year ago who anticipated political difficulties. Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier recently said he feared a succession of crises. And Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg Prime Minister, has repeatedly sounded the alarm. We cannot describe these three personalities as dangerous enlightened people. But it is as if European leaders did not dare to draw conclusions from their analysis, locked in a legal analysis of the Treaty. “We can't”, “It's not planned”, “not authorized” come back like leitmotifs. The “legal basis” dictates an iron law. And the decisions follow one another, each one as justified as the other but mind-blowing in political terms. Because they are unjustifiable for a population. The criterion of “acceptability” by the population of the measures taken is considered negligible. As for respect for democratic rules, it becomes an embarrassing “detail” in the European procedure.

A necessary paradigm shift

The situation is serious. And, this time, Europe cannot blame others. It is his own decisions, his own system of government that are in question. And the anger could turn against her... If the financial crisis had its origins in a certain financial aberration and excessive deregulation, this crisis cannot seek its origins outside. It comes, for a large part, from decisions taken by European leaders. And it sends a very bad signal to other countries. Faced with the danger, we must stop certain suicidal policies, without doubt putting aside certain criteria of the pact: setting the reduction of debt and inflation as a medium-term objective but not a short-term imperative (Bulgaria and the Romania are today model states if we look only at this indicator!). And throw all forces into the battle to restore a certain growth and lay the foundations not for a budgetary pact but for a fiscal and social pact (with minimum and maximum rates for corporate tax, for social contributions, for capital gains tax, etc.) in order to avoid the effects of social/fiscal dumping but also loss of resources for States.

If the Europeans do not act, quickly, energetically and innovatively, but also understandable for its citizens, they will have succeeded in this challenge: saving the Euro but losing Europe...

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).