SOFIA – The logic behind the European Union’s drive to constitutionalize budget constraints and remove key economic decisions from electoral politics is internally sound. After all, a common currency without a shared political sphere can survive only if electing a new national government does not mean changing basic macroeconomic policies.
But the logic of the EU’s effort collapses at a crucial point. When voters are unhappy with the economic status quo, but lack the power to change the relevant policies through democratic processes, they fall for conspiracy theories, turn on the political establishment, and demand a radical transformation of existing arrangements.
Many European countries are now embroiled in such revolts, as popular backlash against tough austerity turns into protest against the functioning of representative democracy. With populist movements gaining traction across Europe, the left-right dichotomy is fading. Now, it is the people versus the political class, “us” against “them,” the 99% against the 1%.
Consider the current wave of popular protests against rising electricity bills in Bulgaria, which has already brought down the country’s center-right government. While Bulgaria has a low budget deficit, it remains the EU’s poorest member state, weighed down by slow GDP growth and high unemployment. Almost one million Bulgarians have left the country since 1989.