Chaos and confusion. That’s the situation today, as contradictory reports are coming out of Athens that, like Schrödinger’s cat, Prime Minister George Papandreou of Greece has simultaneously resigned and refused to resign. Perhaps all will be slightly clearer by the end of the day. What is clear, though, is that Europe’s leaders were kept in the dark until the last minute regarding Papandreou’s decision to hold a referendum in Greece.
Earlier, Debating Europe discussed the possibility of a referendum in the UK on EU membership. Leonardo wrote in the comments that he disagrees with the principle behind referenda, arguing that:
In most cases I see no reason for the elected not to do their work, and I more precisely cannot share this populist view that everyone can decide on everything (which is also impossible: this is Europe, not a few thousand people in a town in ancient Greece).
We may (or may not) now be seeing a referendum in Greece. Regardless, Debating Europe spoke yesterday with the Prime Minister of Malta, Lawrence Gonzi, and asked what he thought of a comment by Stanislav that “in the long term, the integration project can work only if it is built on popular, democratic grounds. Unfortunately, the EU has been a technocratic project from the start.” Is this an unsolvable contradiction? Are we now witnessing a “crisis of democracy” in Europe?
I would not describe this as a crisis of democracy. It’s an economic crisis, and not a democratic crisis. I would say the 27 [EU members], but also the 17 [Eurozone members], have gone to enormous lengths in order to address this problem. I was confident, and I remain confident, that the measures we have decided are the right way forward to a long-term solution.
Now, I am not informed as to the reasons why Prime Minister Papandreou decided to unanimously submit the bail-out decision to a referendum – I still need to understand the reasons – but the substance is that we have a concrete package prepared, and Greece needs these solutions urgently. Things may have to proceed at a faster pace, especially with regards to banks – the refinancing of the banks – and hopefully, we should get the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) [i.e. the new, permanent 'bail-out' mechanism] in working condition as quickly as possible. I think we’re targeting 2012. We should get the ESM as soon as possible.
But are these measures going to be enough? In the long term, will we need to consider some of the suggestions put forward about EU treaty change and deeper fiscal and political integration? We had a comment recently from Irish blogger Jason O’Mahoney who argued we need to see some quite drastic changes to the current institutional order – including eurobonds and a directly elected EU “President”.
Here’s Prime Minister Gonzi’s response:
Regarding treaty change, my attitude has been that if we are talking about treaty change to strengthen the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) [i.e. the current rules governing debts and deficits in the Eurozone], then I would be in favour of treaty change. If we are talking about other treaty changes, then I would have to see some of the proposals before I was able to comment. But my understanding is we’re talking about possible changes which might be limited to strengthening the SGP. I would be the first person to confirm that this is absolutely vital. This would avoid a repeat of the crisis we’re going through.
What about Jason’s suggestion that the new treaty should possibly be “outside of EU law”? Possibly applying just to Eurozone countries?
Any treaty change should involve those countries both within the Eurozone and outside the Eurozone. It’s ridiculous to divide the EU into two blocs. For heaven’s sake, we’re living in modern times! It’s no use to lock ourselves into a corner like this.
What do YOU think? Should Greece hold a referendum on membership of the euro? Or are we risking the collapse of the Single Currency? Are referenda the best way to resolve these issues? Or are we abandoning representative democracy when we need it the most? Let us know in the form below, and we’ll take your comments to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.
Lawrence Gonzi is the current Prime Minister of Malta and leader of the centre-right Nationalist Party.