Friday, 24 February 2012

Transparency during the eurozone crises

On 22 February 2012 Attac Finland and Attac Parliament organised a seminar about the new budgetary discipline in the EU and its implications for socio-economic developments and democracy.

The discussion was kicked off by foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja, who is also the chair of Attac Parliament, and by professor Heikki Patomäki, who is one of the three chairpersons of Attac Finland. Between professor Magnus Ryner, who is a political economist, and the researcher Kenneth Haar, who represents the Corporate Europe Observatory, I made a presentation titled The New Stability Union: Implications for Transparency and Democracy, offering my views from the perspective of an EU citizen.

This blog post and a string of later ones are based on my speech, which I began by asking:

Where are we going in terms of transparency and democracy?

My short answer is: from bad to worse, at least in the short term.

However, some of you might want to know why and how.


Transparency

I'll begin by looking at transparency, or openness, in the European Union, in general, with regard to economic policy and concerning the new stability union, the so called fiscal compact.

The Treaty of Lisbon entered into force on 1 December 2009, so we have seen the new EU ground rules in action for a little more than two years.

The start is quite promising. Right at the top, in Article 1 of the Treaty on European Union, we are told:

This Treaty marks a new stage in the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the citizen.

Let us now put ourselves in the role of the trusting citizen, who takes this promise of a maximum of openness and closeness at face value.

Instead of building theoretical castles, he or she takes a closer look at economic policy making and the birth of the stability union in the light of available public information.

During these last two years, no questions have been more central to the economic wellbeing of European citizens than the ongoing multiple crises in the eurozone, the efforts to contain the effects and to return to a path towards economic growth and new jobs.

For the sake of brevity, I am going back in history only to the December 2011 summits. The heads of state or government of the euro area countries issued a statement (9 December 2011), where they announced future action in two directions:

- a new fiscal compact and strengthened economic policy coordination;
- the development of stabilisation tools to face short term challenges.

The statement itself contained main points about the common understanding, but no exact documentary references.

How about the guarantees for openness during the operations to contain and to overcome the crises?


Eurogroup

The informal Eurogroup, where finance ministers meet ”to discuss questions related to the specific responsibilities they share with the single currency”, is at least referred to in a protocol (No 14) annexed to the Treaties.


Euro Summit

The eurozone summits have just been convened without any particular legal basis. The Euro Summit has now been institutionalised, turned into a permanent feature with at least biannual meetings and a permanent president.

The Euro Summit is currently based only on the conclusions of the eurozone heads of state or government themselves (Euro Summit statement 26 October 2011, paragraphs 30-33 and Annex 1), although the so called fiscal compact tries to catch up with reality (Article 12 TSCG).


Good governance and transparency?

We are looking at economic policy making for the euro area, which consists of 17 countries, with a total population of 332 million people (Eurostat) – bigger than the home of the US dollar, with 313 million (US Census Bureau).

What do we have? Now we have not only one, but two informal conclaves preparing and agreeing on crucial issues in the dark, before they give the public a rough outline of what has been agreed (if not formally decided).



Ralf Grahn
speaker on EU affairs, especially digital policy and law

P.S. 1: For better or for worse, between the global issues and the national level, the European Union institutions and the eurozone coteries shape our future. More than 900 euroblogs are aggregated by multilingual Bloggingportal.eu. Is your blog already listed among them? Are you following the debates which matter for your future?

P.S. 2: Referring the anti-piracy treaty #ACTA to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) marks a lull in the proceedings, but not an end to the political battle. A few moments ago, the petition launched by @Avaaz for the European Parliament (and the national parliaments) to reject ACTA had already been signed by 2,422,421 netizens, but more are welcome until the official burial.

Tomorrow, Saturday 25 February 2012, European netizens join forces through more than 150 demonstrations for open and democratic legislation and Internet freedoms. In Finland Stop ACTA Helsinki convenes in front of the Central Railway Station at 14:00 hours.