Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council and the very personification of the undemocratic and unaccountable European technocracy, was treated to an unpleasant surprise today. As he delivered a lecture on the political and economic challenges for Europe at the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence, Italy, a group of about 50 PhD researchers occupied the university and interrupted his speech, holding up banners with a straightforward reminder: ‘Democracy?’
When the banners were raised, attendants spontaneously began to applaud incessantly, silencing the President, who was visibly frustrated. But having previously been denied the chance to ask questions afterwards, the researchers felt compelled to air their opinion in another way. Van Rompuy’s speech, as a result, was interrupted several times with demands to engage in a dialogue and allow the researchers to ask questions and make a statement.
Meanwhile, outside, two large banners were unfurled with two simple demands: ‘End Austerity’ and ‘Real Democracy Now!’ Researchers then nailed their Ninety-Five Theses on the Ills of Europe to the door of the Catholic church where Van Rompuy delivered his sermon. The theses were replicated throughout the university as 500 posters were stuck to the walls and 900 leaflets were distributed and flung from the windows onto the courtyard.
Van Rompuy is in Italy for a meeting with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano to discuss measures to contain Europe’s disastrous financial crisis. As the interest rate on Italian debt has reached the levels where Greece, Portugal and Ireland previously required EU bailouts, Europe’s terrified establishment has effectively put Greece and Italy under its ‘tutelage’, installing unelected techno-cratic governments to push through deeply unpopular austerity measures.
So as the eurozone debt crisis rapidly spirals out of control, our leaders appear to have collectively decided to suspend democracy in order to calm the markets. Illegitimate governments will cut crucial social provisions in order to repay the banks that so recklessly bought up peripheral debt in the lead-up to the crisis. The installation of a former Vice-President of the ECB as Prime Minister of Greece, and a former EU Commissioner as Prime Minister of Italy, is the clearest indication so far on who really calls the shots in Europe today.
The greatest irony of all, perhaps, is that the occasion was used to inaugurate a new academic chair — the Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa Chair in ‘European Economic and Monetary Integration’ — which is meant to promote research on the eurozone and further monetary integration in Europe. Stefano Micossi, director of the Italian Association of Businesses That Promote the Market, introduced the chair saying “it was not difficult to raise funds for this chair — in fact, we didn’t even have to ask twice.” No wonder: the chair is funded by the large Italian banks, including Unicredit (Gaddafi’s bank)! How is that supposed to promote academic integrity and scholarly independence?
During Van Rompuy’s lecture, multiple researchers — some of whom were not even associated with the action – interrupted the President’s speech and demanded him to respect the protesters’ right to air their concerns. One spokesperson for the Collettivo Prezzemolo, which organized the protest, delivered a short statement (which the Institute tried to silence by playing loud music), demanding an end to Europe’s disastrous austerity policies and the democratization of Europe’s unaccountable institutions.
The location of the action was particularly remarkable as the EUI — while almost entirely unknown outside of academia — is considered by many to be the intellectual arm of Europe’s unaccountable cosmopolitan project. The President of the EUI, Josep Borrel, is a former President of the European Parliament, and the Institute hosts several neoliberal intelligentsia in its Law and Economics Departments, including a number of Professors who are expected to take up unelected positions in Italy’s ECB-dominated government.
What the occupation of the EUI demonstrated is what the protesters were shouting throughout the action: “we are everywhere!” After the heckling of ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet at Humboldt University, the occupation of the universities of California and Harvard, and the collective walk-out on an Economics 101 class at Harvard, it has become impossible to deny: popular indignation has penetrated deep into the once-impermeable walls of the politico-intellectual establishment.
It is now obvious that Europe’s unaccountable elites and their academic apologists are no longer safe from public humiliation — not even on their own turf. The cultural hegemony of neoliberal market fundamentalism has never before been under such intense pressure from global civil society. The time has come for our leaders to start listening to the people. Mr Van Rompuy, heed our call! You cannot balance the budget with a democratic deficit!
WE ARE EVERYWHERE!