'Democratic renewal' beyond parody
So what happened? Neither party has told us it has changed its basic analysis. But two other forces are at work. One is institutional inertia. As Ministers settle cosily into office, with all of their astonishing perks, the bad things about the system – such as the lack of accountability and the overcentralised decision-making – begin to look rather nice.
But the other is much more specific: the contradiction between real democratic reform and the realities of imposing the rule of the troika. There’s a simple problem: if you were to really empower citizens, they might get awkward. They might ask questions about why, for example, Ireland can’t afford home help for vulnerable people but can afford an annual splurge of €3.1 billion on dead banks.
Let’s take one concrete example. In its manifesto, Fine Gael promised to “open up the budget process to the full glare of public scrutiny”. But, under the troika regime, the “budget process” consists of secret talks between the troika’s technocrats and officials in the Department of Finance.
The outcome of these talks is then passed, as we know from last year, to the European Commission which sends it on to the finance committee of the Bundestag in Berlin for approval. Far from opening this process up to public scrutiny, the whole point is to keep it secret. Besides, public scrutiny might give citizens the ridiculous idea that they have some function beyond sucking it up, paying the bank debts and providing Europe with a fictional “success story”.
This is why democratic renewal has become such a charade: a decrepit, authoritarian, unaccountable system is much better at doing what it’s told than one in which citizens might be empowered and obstreperous. Thus, the “solution” to the economic collapse ends up copperfastening the very system that did so much to create it.
In this sense, however absurd it may be, the idea of the convention’s anonymous citizens has a ring of truth. If we blindfold them and put tape over their mouths as well, they will be truly representative.