On EU troikas going nowhere faster

On EU troikas going nowhere faster

On Jan. 1, a bureaucratic cog of the EU machine clicked generating a Danish-led EU presidency. Thus, a new “troika” was set in motion with the mission of plotting a course for the union to survive its existential crisis. Paraphrasing Nikolai Gogol’s famous lines, one needs to ask what this “troika-ing” means and where it is taking Europe.

[HH] Winged troikas, tell me who invented you
Come what may, the union churns directives, policy papers and summits. Its triple-headed executive, an institutional troika of sort, is now resorting to technocratic troikas as governance tools.

The supranational polity’s “executive” is essentially a troika constituted by the unelected commission president, the council rotating presidency, and since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the unelected European Council president. The treaty formalized the trio format for the rotating presidency which has now to push and shove for influence on an array of overlapping competences with a president (H. Van Rompuy) and a foreign policy chief (C. Ashton).

To sum up, a troika of states working in a troika-ed council within the troika-esque executive dominated by the Franco-German tandem has set off to save the euro. In this thankless heroic task, trio driver Denmark is assisted by Poland, another non-eurozone member. Cyprus has joined the northern pair, although how a divided state with an unresolved conflict of its own will contribute to keeping together a disuniting union remains to be seen.

The “streamlining” of institutions is always cited to justify new treaties. Yet bureaucrats only produce more technocratic complexity.

[HH] What does this awesome motion mean?
According to leaders and pursuant to the treaty, the union is gracefully gliding toward a dawn of eternal peace and prosperity. Unfortunately, the hard facts are not so rosy.

Troikas have often been sent to resolve crises outside Fortress Europe, but they are now needed to sort out its sovereign-debt mess. In Greece, the EC-ECB-IMF troika has met with little success and mostly hostility from the people.

The Brussels-approved government is warning that without more bailout funds, it may have to exit the eurozone. IMF Chief Christine Lagarde hastened to state the common currency was not threatened. Adding German gravitas to French grandeur, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble echoed her pronouncement.

Quid these awesome words? “It’s the usual rhetoric over substance,” as Raoul Ruparel from euro-realist think-tank Open Europe aptly points out.

[HH] Europeans, whither are you speeding to?
When the sovereign-debt bubble was quietly inflating without the “guardian of the treaties” (commission) bothering to ring alarm bells, integration had been compared to riding a bicycle. What mattered was the “process.” Where the union was heading to was considered secondary.

Fearful their project would fall down, the elite promoted integration over economic reason. In any case, Jean Monnet’s functionalist approach had ensured integration would gain a momentum of its own, irrespective of political dithering. One directive led to another. The brighter future was round the next common policy.

In 2012, recession will hit people hard. Investors demand more than political incantations of “closer Europe” (fiscal policy) to address the insolvency of governments. Pre-Lisbon, a rethink of the union was necessary, but none came. Now under unprecedented strain, it is unraveling faster than politicians can stem the damage.

Contrary to the ECB storyline, the only fantasy about the overcrowded European governance troika is its federalist bell ringing in the storm, not the possible crash of the euro. On the southern periphery of the “Empire,” the thin layer of legitimacy and credibility upon which it speeds ahead is melting like snow in the spring.
*Sophie Quintin Adalı is an analyst for www.unmondelibre.org, the Francophone project of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation.