It would seem clear that there is a contradiction between the operational constitutional expectations of a democratic nation state and the requirements for a stable and perpetually growing global economic community. Most recently this divergence in expectation has been experienced by the embattled (and soon to depart) elected heads of state in the deeply financially indebted nations of Italy and Greece.
The European Union has a mandate of economic growth perpetuated through protected trading markets which are in no small part facilitated by the single currency. Once the leaders of nation choose to locate themselves within the system they have in essence made a simple choice; to lose a degree of sovereignty in order to gain increasing degrees of growth and stability. A problem occurs however, when a successive loss of sovereign rights coincide with declining standards of living, stability and growth. This leaves states and their citizens in a position where the initial sacrifices agreed to are maintained, with expected benefits met with disillusionment caused by misplaced trust in the free-market system.
In moments like these; when there are attempts to grasp back some control or sovereignty by the mechanisms usually utilised by politicians operating within the constructs of their nation state; there is a stark realisation that it is not possible. Too much sovereignty has been relinquished to achieve these democratic aims. When the global economic growth model declares the times are good; then citizens can elect who they please, on platforms of their choosing. Once times are bad; this is no longer the case.
As George Papandreou realised (when he impudently attempted to call a referendum in the country where he is Prime Minister), the swift action by the IMF and those who had offered the ‘bailout’ for their massive debts caused his almost immediate climb down and in time will cause his succession. Now, there is no doubt that the call for referendum was part of wider political strategy being pursued by Papandreou. But this is and should be what you would expect from a politician. for Papandreou however; the risky nature of the proposed referendum; that being that the Greek people may reject the motion, choosing to default on their debt and seek alternatives to the current form of global capitalism, had a negative effect on the markets. So much so that Papandreou had to withdraw from the idea of allowing the Greek citizens to decide if this process was something that they agreed with or not. This would seem to be a complete and direct contradiction of democracy. That the will of the market and unelected officials outside of your nation’s jurisdiction can obstruct a democratic construct.
Similarly in Italy; the notorious, flamboyant and increasingly controversial figure of Silvio Berlusconi was ultimately forced from myopic power over Italy, by his literal inability to buy the support of the IMF as he had so successfully been able to buy the support of those in Italian politics and powerful institutions effecting Italian society up until now.
I will not cry at the departure of Silvio Berlusconi from frontline politics; his antics have undermined and underlined deep problems in the current structure of Italian socio-political economics. But if the beast is reeling from the blows that have been most recently received, it is unfortunately because they are been delivered by a bigger and larger beast with less scruples and a greater singularity in direction. This is not a return to the clarity of the rhetoric first coined in Clinton’s presidential campaign ‘it’s the economy stupid’; it is in fact something more undermining to our civil liberties occurring at this juncture.
We; as individuals, communities’ nations, states and a global community are unable to conceive or demand realities that contradict the possibility of the free market systems ruling our democracies. The concept of alternatives has left the political sphere to such a degree that politics has become a construct which is incompatible with true ideology. Both those on the right and left of politics have elected on a global scale to homogenise in the thought that ‘the only option for these indebted nations is to sacrifice an even larger slide of their sovereignty and democratic manoeuvrability to a system which has, to this point culminated in extraordinary inequality and potential deepening of societal fragmentation.
This article was written in 2011 and as such is written in the context of the social and political conditions of the time