Greece and the decline of European democracy

Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), co-chair of the Euro-sceptic Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group in the European Parliament, and perennial bane of eurocrats, gave a characteristically impassioned speech in that body this week, calling Greek Prime Minister Papademos a "puppet" and slamming the pretence that Greece remains a democratic country: 

As Athens caught fire Friday night he [Papademos] rather took my breath away. He said, "violence and destruction have no place in a democratic country."  What democratic country?  He's not even a democratically elected prime minister!  He's been appointed by you guys. Greece isn't run through democracy now; it's run through a troika: three foreign officials that [sic] fly into Athens airport and tell the Greeks what they can and can't do.

Farage went on to say that the violence and destruction are the result of rescinding Greeks' democratic rights, and he declared that were he in their position, he would join the protests, prophesying that "when it comes to chaos, you ain't seen nothing yet. These policies are driving Greece towards a revolution. If they don't get the Drachma back, you will be responsible for something truly, truly horrible."

Farage perhaps overstates the Greeks' concern with democracy over, say, entitlements -- if the Greeks had their way, they would spend themselves into oblivion, and, as long as they remain in the Eurozone, would take other states down with them. But his observation is pertinent to the European future as a whole, and is interesting for its lesson to America too.

First, the European context. It has long been clear that the fundamental choice for Europe has been either to break the Eurozone apart and to suffer the consequent financial repercussions, which would likely be enormous (at least in the short term), or to exploit the crisis and pursue deeper fiscal and political union (with all the implications), as envisioned by the founders of the European project. Farage is right to fear the repercussions of the latter: democracy will be subdued in favor of central technocracy, unelected bureaucracy, show parliaments, and implicit German imperialism. This is because greater integration means less tolerance by the fiscally sober for profligacy elsewhere.

And so, the lesson for America.  Europe is a master class in federalism gone awry, where the states are progressively disempowered in favor of an overbearing, unelected central bureaucracy. The European crisis is not simply a dilemma of economic efficiency, but a showcase for the vulnerability of federalism and democracy themselves.  Either you allow states to act as they wish and take responsibility for their own financial decisions, or you marry your fortunes and necessarily curtail the democratic rights of others to ensure economic soundness. The irony of the comparison is that whereas Europe is further down the road than the United States, at least Europe's Germanic masters have a disinclination toward excess, which unfortunately cannot be said for America's federal government.

The American Founders were aware of the dependence of democracy on federalism. The eurocrats care little for either. Both Europe and America have a similar choice ahead of them, and can heed Farage's warning: but whereas Europeans may increasingly have to make the decision in the street, Americans can still make it at the ballot box.

Jonathan Neumann is the Tikvah Fellow at Commentary Magazine.