In managed democracy European elites trust
SOPHIE QUINTIN ADALIThere is panic in the air, be it in the Kremlin or in the nebulous sphere of EU governance. In Moscow, Mikhail Gorbachev added his voice to mounting discontent by calling for the “fraudulent elections to be annulled.”
In the union’s southern periphery, electorates are restive, angry at Brussels-imposed austerity measures dictated by the Franco-German directoire. Is the bell tolling for “managed democracy” in all its European forms?
There has been a worrying convergence between Russian and European democratic practices since the 2008 financial crisis and the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. For all the critical differences between the two political systems, the term “managed democracy” usually associated with the Russian regime has been increasingly used with reference to the EU.
One core element of managed democracy is the control of elections. Political scientist Sheldon Wolin posits that such regimes, though following basic democratic principles, tend to deviate toward authoritarianism. This results in electorates being prevented from having a significant influence on policies adopted by the power structure.
In other words, elections are merely used by elites to legitimize their decisions as analyst Nikolay Petrov argues with reference to Russian democracy.
In the EU, political, social and economic integration is pushing the polity toward its own brand of managed democracy. As political commentator Fraser Nelson quipped, if anyone thought the democratic deficit couldn’t get any bigger, “meet the Frankfurt Group.” Operating outside the treaty framework, the group of leaders and bureaucrats masterminded the toppling of elected politicians in Greece and Italy. Both countries are now ruled by Brussels-compliant technocrats.
The question of where rescue plans are taking the EU regime in terms of its “democracitness” should be central to the debate. Unfortunately, the issue gets lost in the cacophony of disagreements between big member states and the ever-powerful call for more integration of its “democracy-averse elite” as the leader of the EU Parliament “Freedom and Democracy” group, Nigel Farage, aptly and tirelessly repeats.
Turkish envoy to the EU recently put the spotlight on this critical issue. Selim Kuneralp contends that the centralization of budgetary controls with the new fiscal union proposal would imply “such a loss of sovereignty as to make election campaigns meaningless.” Spot on.
In truth supranational-level elections in the multi-layered governance system have long been meaningless. Citizens understand that their votes do not count because the system always produces the same policy outcome: more integration. Participation at European-level elections keeps falling.
Furthermore, as revealed by the debt-mess, integrationist “common” policies have enfeebled democracy at the national level by gradually de-responsibilizing national parliaments and politicians.
Yet it is becoming painfully obvious for those who want to see that more “power vertical,” be it enforced by the union knowsbest-ocrats or Russian securocrats, may have run its course.
With French debt ominously jumping to a record high, warning bells are sounding in the Elysée Palace. Could Paris be the scene of the next putsch “to protect the Evropskii Soyuz”? In the Kremlin, there is also a growing sense of alarm. Will the authorities continue to use the (heavy) hand of law enforcement agencies to quash protest “to protect the general public”?
Amid the growing confusion, one thing is certain. Change is also in the air.
Sophie Quintin Adalı is an analyst for www.unmondelibre.org, the Francophone project of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation.