Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Europe's Growing Deficit

For once, I'm not talking about the fiscal mess Europe finds itself in. No, the biggest deficit in Europe these days is a democratic one. What am I talking about? Well, it starts with the EU, but that really isn't new. It is a growing concern as the panicked union attempts tries to contain a fiscal crisis that threatens the Euro itself. But that may be the least of Europe's worries. In Greece and Ireland, unpopular governments push through less popular austerity measures. This is not undemocratic in and of itself. The people elected these governments. However, it seems highly unlikely that the next government of Ireland or Greece will overturn the current decisions. There doesn't some to be anyway for the people to change the course of their government. That might not be bad economic policy, it is distressing for the state of democracy. This philosophical concern may be the least of Europe's democratic worries.

For the second time in two elections, government formation in Belgium is proving virtually impossible. Proportional Representation and a deep linguistic divide has paralyzed the seat of European power. This lack of government is all the more distressing as bond markets start to turn their eyes toward Belgian debt. Canadians complain about the seeming deadlock of our legislature. At least governments get sworn in around here. The political deadlock is exacerbating the economic problem in Belgium, which in turn won't make political negotiations any easier. A vicious cycle.

In Italy, the last week has shown how thin that country's grip on democracy has become. Silvio Berlusconi's time as Italian Prime Minister are not exactly a lesson in democracy. From his media control to his massive wealth, the Italian PM governs his country at times like the leader of a banana republic, replete with parties that would be the envy of most tin-pot dictators. Berlusconi may have reached a new low last week with accusations that he literally bought the votes he needed in the Italian lower house to avoid defeat. A sad state of affairs.

Finally, in Hungary the new government has taken an ominous turn. State control over all sorts of major institutions, including the media seems to be the order of the day in Budapest. This Hungarian government was elected in a landslide to get rid of the old horrible government. The old government was doomed by a leaked tape which had government leaders callously joking about lying about the nation's books in order to win re-election. The new government seems intent on not letting another such media leak bring it down.

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