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Madrid view: Letter to Zapatero

 At last there was light, and we saw the letter that the president of the European Central Bank sent to Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero on August 5, 2011. Its tardy publication in the former prime minister’s memoirs offers several lessons on the weakness of democracy, both here and in the EU. As far as contents are concerned, the ECB oversteps its mandate and, to “restore the credibility of Spain in the eyes of the capital markets” calls on the Zapatero government to reduce wages, make firing easier, weaken the unions, limit public spending by law and — taking the opportunity to slip another measure into the package — liberalize the rental market. So much for the stick; as for the carrot, starting on August 8, the ECB would purchase up to 36 billion euros in Spanish and Italian debt on the secondary markets; purchases which, indeed, many considered also

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The fact that the euro is safe from collapse now seems to be taken for granted by the markets. The speculation against the euro, which last year jeopardised its very future, has ebbed away. This is thanks to the intervention of the European Central Bank and its president, Mario Draghi, who announced his determination to use the whole arsenal at his command to save the single currency. But now that the worst of the euro crisis is over, we are entering a worrying phase of political crisis. Tensions are rising, especially regarding the role of Germany, which is the target of mounting criticism in terms both of its actions and omissions.
Many Germans have been annoyed by the darts that Merkel’s economic policy has received, first from Washington, where the Treasury Department called the country’s trade surplus a source of instability for other members of the euro zone; and then from

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Elect a president

The designation of the German Martin Schulz as the EU-wide Socialist candidate to the presidency of the European Commission is the starting gun for elections that promise to be complicated. He and other candidacies are supposed to breathe some life into elections from which the voters usually stay away in droves, and which are normally disputed more in a national than pan-EU key, and are now under the effects of the crisis and of the Europe-wide boom among xenophobic parties.

With the crisis, confidence in EU institutions has collapsed. If in 2007, 52 percent had a positive view of the EU and 57 percent trusted its institutions, in 2013, these percentages have fallen to 30 and 31. Equally worrying is the weakness of support for the European Parliament. If in 2007, 56 percent trusted the assembly and 28 percent distrusted it, now the respective percentages are 43 and 47, an almost

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Madrid view: Data addicts

If ethics and politics are two different spheres, we have to think about how best to reconcile both spheres. The worst part of doing this is, in Michael Ignatieff’s words, not the effort involved, but the scanty payback it seems to produce. All we find is a series of evils, of which we are supposed to choose the lesser.

Starting from the fact that spying is bad, but necessary, we can make some distinctions. The easiest case is that of enemies, or potentially dangerous elements. Spying on them is more than justified, because they threaten us. The problem is that the American government seems to have gone overboard, and entered some very problematical areas.

One of these is espionage on friendly governments, which, especially in the case of heads of government (Dilma Rousseff, Angela Merkel, etc.) deteriorates reciprocal trust between leaders, something that is so important for

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Madrid view: Institutional dysfunction

All of us are victims of some defective institutional design, whether it be on a global or local scale. Consider, for example, the 14 municipal representatives who had their group photo taken last week while inaugurating a traffic roundabout in a town near Granada. Or the G20, an institution that has so far been incapable of addressing issues such as climate change and the regulation of the financial markets.

Between global and local the old nation states muddle along, trapped between a territorial decentralisation that produces fragmentation, a supranational integration that presses for centralisation, and the centrifugal logic of economic globalisation. Things look no better in the supranational sphere. In this crisis, the EU has shown how much a system of governance may suffer when it comes to making decisions that are effective from a technical viewpoint and legitimate from a

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