The European Elections: Why no political-policy debate?

I have been meaning to write extensively on the local and European elections that took place on Friday June 5th. I am writing revised research proposals and working conference papers that have restricted my time and priorities. One observation, though, struck me throughout the electoral process/campaign; the lack of any serious political debate about the European parliment, policies and party position. Almost none of the candidates discussed their respective political groupings. I dont think I heard any discussion about the policy stance of either the European Peoples Party; Christian Democrats (Fine Gael association) , The European Party of Socialists (Labour party association), the Liberal party (Fianna Fail), The European Green Party or the United Left (Sinn Fein and presumably Joe Higgins).  A European election took place with almost no exchange of information about how European parties propose to respond to our current collective problem. The entire campaign was based on national issues and personalities.

The focus on national issues was predictable, given the current economic recession. But, very few candidates discussed the importance of the connection between our current crisis and the role of the EU in mediating the outcome. Ireland exists within the European Monetary Union. We cannot devalue our currency and therefore need to ‘adjust’ through alternative policy options. This reality limits the socio-economic strategy of all actors (State, Employers and Unions). Hence the focus upon wage cuts and tax increases as the fiscal response to our crisis. But, the entire debate (and terms of reference) at national level concerning economic policy choices was almost entirely absent during the political campaign. Now, many would argue that this is a good thing as it depoliticises monetary policy. But, surely we need, now, more than ever, a discussion about the capacity of Europe  to respond to its varied and regional monetary problems?

There is no corresponding political economic institution at European level to explicitly coordinate monetary policy. Economic and fiscal policy are the responsibility of national governments. But, the strict budgetary discipline that the Irish state must follow is the result of monetary policy. Thus, its options are limited by an institution that is outside political influence, i.e. the European Central Bank. On this basis, one would assume and even predict that political dialogue (and exchange of political information via media-public sphere) will take place around these issues? But, obviously not, which begs the question – why not? Is it a problem with the structure of European parties, the mechanisms for developing policy or the legal-regulatory structure of Europe as a whole?

There is also no European ‘public sphere’ where a coordinated discussion on the future on Europe’s monetary and economic policy can take place. National candidates will base their campaigns on national issues, and the national public sphere will do likewise.  Presently, the policy choice is between an independent central bank and autonomous monetary policy or not. But, surely there is some institutional configuration that finds a middle ground between a ‘monetarist’ and ‘non-monetarist’ choice?

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