Budget or democratic deficit?

That lame third promise

What most surprised me about Spain’s last general elections was one of the three promises that the PSOE candidate for president, Alfredo Rubalcaba, made in his head-to-head debate with Mariano Rajoy, the other main candidate.

Rubalcaba said that he would ask the EU to go easy on Spain and let up on the pressure for austerity measures.

It was his third promise, and maybe he just added it on because election pledges should come in gaggles of three, but it said a lot about the current state of play in European politics.

He wasn’t revealing anything new—loss of sovereignty has been a fact of life in the EU for a long time. But it surprised me that a candidate would admit how powerless he would be as president. Such impotence didn’t seem like something you’d want to draw too much attention to in an election campaign.

And, as far promises go, you can’t much more lame than saying you’re just going to go and talk to someone.

Maybe it’s just that he had nothing else to offer. After all, it was his party that had been in power for the last two terms and during Spain’s worst economic times in democracy and, logically, any good ideas he might have had should have already been in place.

Maybe there was more to it

In hindsight, it seems that Rubalcaba was on to something. After the election, president-elect Mariano Rajoy also promised to ask the EU to cut Spain a bit of slack, and, after a bit of haggling, he did have some success. The EU ended up allowing Spain to relax its budget deficit target to 5.3% (from 4.4%), largely on the strength of last year’s actual deficit turning out to be worse than expected (8.5% instead of 6%).

And now, after a battery of budgetary and other reforms in Spain that you wouldn’t wish on your worst EU member-state mate, nearly every second day we have someone from the EU or Germany coming out in support of the Spanish government’s initiatives.

Well, at least someone’s happy with the cuts. Although it’s easy for them to be so positive; they don’t have to live here. And besides, they knew exactly what was coming, which is more than can be said for the people whom the reforms are going to affect, who are still reeling from the shock.

(Of course, there are people in Spain who support the reforms. Although voters from all sides would probably agree that it’s all getting a little depressing: new cuts seem to be announced for every news bulletin. Personally, I see as much sense in such harsh cutbacks as I did in the last government’s strategy of trying to ignore the economic crisis away: both seem to be good recipes for making it worse.)

The elections that count

What’s the big deal then? This is the EU, and EU states necessarily have their hands tied on many issues. Fair enough, but it seems that all the important decisions are still being made by the same people: the executives of the most powerful member states.

These people don’t form part of the EU institutions that we have some say in electing, but they are the ones with all the influence and power.

So, how democratic is the EU when you can’t vote directly for the people who have a big say in the laws of land you live in?

If we really are going to have a United States of Europe, let’s cut to the bit about having a true EU government as soon as possible. That or just let everyone vote in the German elections.

Photo courtesy of Gastonmag.

Written by Rob Lunn

Rob Lunn is a freelance translator based in Spain. He translates from Spanish and Catalan into English and specialises in legal translation.

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