Hans Magnus Enzensberger: The disenfranchisement of Europe

DER HAUPTSTADTBRIEF, 12/10/2012. Translated from the German by Anton Baer.


Crisis? What crisis? The cafes, bistros, and the beer gardens are overflowing, German airports are bustling with tourists, and one hears talk of record exports and falling unemployment. The summits scaled weekly by the politicians and the confused disputes of the experts provoke yawns. It all seems to be played out in a rhetorical No Man’s Land full of incomprehensible language rules that have nothing to do with the everyday routines of the world we live in.

What’s least noted is that the countries of Europe for a long time are no longer ruled  by democratically legitimate institutions but by the horde of abbreviations that have usurped them. Where it’s going is spelled out by EFSF, ESM, ECB, EBA and IMF. Only experts can puzzle out these acronyms.

Not just that: the who, what and how of decisions in the European Commission and the Euro Group are revealed to insiders only. What all these “facilities” have in common is that they are not mentioned in any Constitution anywhere in the world, and that no voter has the slightest say in their decisions.

The equanimity with which the inhabitants of our small continent have accepted their political ouster seems a little eerie. This may be because it is a historical novelty. Unlike the revolutions, coups d’état and military putsches that European history is so rich in, this is happening to us silently and without violence. No torchlight processions, no parades, no barricades, no tanks. Everything is playing out calmly in the back room.

Abolition of the rule of law

That no heed is paid to treaties surprises no one. Existing rules such as the principle of subsidiarity in the Treaties of Rome or the no-bailout clause from Maastricht are being undermined at will. The principle of Pacta sunt servanda (“Agreements must be kept”) is reduced to an empty phrase dreamed up by some legal fussbudgets of antiquity.

The abolition of the rule of law is proclaimed openly in the ESM treaty. The decisions of the controlling members of this rescue team are effective directly under international law and are not bound to the approval of parliaments. As was customary in the old colonial regimes, they call themselves governors and they are, just like directors, not accountable to the public.

On the contrary, they are expressly sworn to secrecy. This is reminiscent of the Omerta, which is part of the code of honour of the Mafia. Our own Godfathers are beyond any judicial or legislative control. They enjoy a privilege that not even a boss of the Camorra deserves: absolute immunity from criminal prosecution.  (It is written down in Articles 32 to 35 of the ESM treaty.)

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