Hail to the Technocrats

COPENHAGEN – Is the European Union’s supposed “democratic deficit” now spreading to individual European countries in the wake of the sovereign-debt crisis? The rise of unelected technocrats to political power in Greece and Italy suggests, at least superficially, that the old taboo against technocratic governments pursuing an EU-dictated agenda has been shattered.

Consider Italy. Most Italians breathed a collective sigh of relief that three-time Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is being replaced by a technocrat par excellence, former European Commissioner Mario Monti, a respected economist. Greece, too, is turning over the reigns of government to an unelected, and supposedly apolitical, technocrat, Lucas Papademos, a former vice president of the European Central Bank.

Of course, there are many things wrong with the EU nowadays, but a widening of its so-called “democratic deficit” is not one of them. Indeed, that perceived deficit is something of a politically convenient canard. Scholars such as Princeton University’s Andrew Moravcsik have long argued that the EU’s legitimacy comes not from the ballot box, but from its ability to provide concrete benefits to citizens. What the EU achieves through integrating markets – or even eliminating passport controls – underscores the benefits of its “delegated democracy.”

Indeed, it is precisely the Eurocrats’ detachment from everyday politics that has enabled the EU to deliver. Contrary to the ranting of Euroskeptic politicians in Britain and, increasingly, in eurozone member countries, the growing disenchantment of voters with politics reflects the distance that has grown between promises and results, not the distance between EU officials and member states’ citizens.