It was a democratic action so swiftly suggested and rejected that its broader significance will forever be overwrought. The proposed plan, scheduling a Greek referendum on the latest Euro bailout, was destined as an opportunity for the public to air their respected opinions on the fate of their nation. It was originally pushed forth by Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, facing heat in the midst of European-wide negotiations to aid his indebted country. Political strategists across the continent forewarned of the deeper meaning such a referendum would likely represent, especially in an age of increased euroscepticism. Speaking bluntly to reporters, Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos revealed the simplicity of the action: “Citizens will have to answer the question: are we for Europe, the euro zone and the euro?”. It was enough to cause the ears of traders across the globe to perk up.
In Venizelos’ terms, it was to be the Greek referendum on the Euro Zone which the nation had never been afforded, a luxury denied to many, if not all, Euro Zone states. In fact, the only two states to hold democratic referendums on the adoption of the Euro—Denmark and Sweden—overwhelmingly voted down the motion. For the Danes and Swedes, this has provided them with their own stable currencies and monetary policies, safely out of the hands of Euro politicians and the debt-burdened behemoth of the Euro Zone. The prospect of a Greek referendum, therefore, brings to mind the numerous other failed referendums in the European policy realm, most significantly the treaties attempting to establish the parameters of the EU.
As expected, Greece’s preference popular vote on a bailout mechanism was not a move favorable to European power brokers. There were threats from European leaders, utter contempt from the prophetic economic doomsayers, and general puzzlement by the media elite. The television pundits spoke to the callousness of the Prime Minister, the traders in global markets sold stocks in record fashion so as to display their own resentment, and the professional politicians besieged the move as a hindrance to the progress made in the negotiations thus far. By all measures, the introduction of a referendum was a move considered unconventional by most, reiterated by the hyper-negative flak evoked across media green rooms and political power chambers alike.
However “unconventional” a referendum in this case may seem to these observers, one most also ponder the measure of conventionality or normalcy in this entire scenario: An entire currency spread across 17 nations is teetering on the edge, as several smaller states overspent their accounts while their bigger, more prosperous counterparts were more modest. German engineers, bankers, and newspaper salesmen are discussing the salaries and benefits of bus drivers and primary school teachers in the suburbs of Athens. Trillions of dollars, amounts inconceivable to the human imagination, are thrown about like candy to institutions and failing economies so as to cure problems by careless spending and unaccountable institutions. Dozens of individuals with no particular special knowledge of markets or finance are negotiating the fate of over 500 million of their brothren in wooden boardrooms, doing cartoonish blue and yellow flags. If ever there has been a template for convention on this Earth, Europe surely stands no hope of making the grade.
Adding to this fire is the complete disdain for democratic processes offered by the most powerful Euro leaders:
[The chance of referendum] infuriated other European leaders — particularly French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel — who felt betrayed.
Blasphemy! How could a respectable leader of a European nation-state allow the populace of their country to actually be allotted the opportunity to decide whether or not they want to commit to untold amounts of debt to generations yet born! And could it truly be summarized as a move of betrayal, to allow citizens to vote on the most important financial event to occur in their lifetime?
Though a hope for a referendum was enough to spark some initial curiosity, the ferocious nature of the critics ultimately won out, denying Greece the only short-term opportunity it had for any democratic say in the management of their financial future. Yet another example of the light of democracy being extinguished within the European Union.
Perhaps our dear friend Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party in the European Parliament, said it best when he stated that, “the European Union is truly predicated upon being anti-democratic“.