How Democratic Is the Euro?
If the European Union is to remain viable and democratic at the same time, policymakers will have to pay closer attention to the demanding requirements of delegating decisions to unelected bodies. They should promote such a delegation of sovereignty only when it truly enhances the long-term performance of their democracies.
SAN SERVOLO, ITALY – When Italy’s president recently vetoed the appointment of the Euroskeptic Paolo Savona as finance minister in the government proposed by the Five Star Movement-League party alliance, did he safeguard or undermine his country’s democracy? Beyond constitutional strictures specific to the Italian context, the question goes to the heart of democratic legitimacy. The difficult issues it raises need to be addressed in a principled and appropriate manner if our liberal democracies are to be restored to their health.
The euro represents a treaty commitment from which there is no clear exit within prevailing rules of the game. President Sergio Mattarella and his defenders point out that an exit from the euro had not been subject to debate in the election campaign that brought the populist coalition to power, and that Savona’s appointment threatened a financial market meltdown and economic chaos. Mattarella’s detractors argue that he overstepped his authority and has allowed financial markets to veto the selection of a minister by a popularly elected government.
By joining the euro, Italy surrendered monetary sovereignty to an external, independent decision-maker, the European Central Bank. It also undertook specific commitments with respect to the conduct of its fiscal policy, though these constraints are not as “hard” as those framing monetary policy. These obligations place real limits on the Italian authorities’ macroeconomic policy choices. In particular, the absence of a domestic currency means Italians cannot choose their own inflation target or devalue their currency vis-à-vis foreign currencies. They also have to keep their fiscal deficits below certain ceilings.