Europe’s Big Fail: Technocrat Government Erodes Democracy

Several European nations have adopted Technocrat-run governance and none have met expectations. However, when the economy again turns south, there will be populist demand for even more Technocrats. ⁃ TN Editor

The EU’s economy has essentially been flat over the past year. The slump in manufacturing is deepening. Companies are cutting work hours and issuing profit warnings. The dominant mood in the European and international markets today is anxiety. Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, announced on 14 August that its GDP had contracted by 0.1% in the second quarter of 2019 compared with the previous three months.

This has left many analysts to conclude that Europe is heading for an outright recession.

Whenever there is an economic or political crisis on the horizon, there is one particular pattern…societies often look for a technocratic government to solve their problems. This happened in several European countries in the wake of the 2008 recession and the Eurozone crisis. Caretaker technocrat-led administrations have been historically popular in crisis-prone democracies, particularly in Southern and Eastern Europe.

There are several examples of technocratic cabinets in Italy, Greece, and Bulgaria that were appointed in times of economic difficulties to avert imminent economic disasters. Technocratic cabinets are also often appointed following a major crisis caused by a political scandal or when parties fail either to establish or to keep a partisan cabinet. In Finland, for example, several technocratic cabinets followed the break‐up of a ruling coalition. Since the establishment of the Czech Republic as an independent country in 1993, three of its cabinets were technocratic.

In today’s UK, the mother of parliamentary democracy, there are calls that the post-Brexit shake-up must include apolitical experts who should sort-out the political mess that began in 2016 when Britons voted in favour of leaving the EU. And yet, more than three years on and the Parliament still finds the EU’s terms for the exit to be unacceptable. With the EU showing little willingness to renegotiate, Boris Johnson, the UK’s new prime minister, is pulling his country closer to the cliff of a “no-deal Brexit”, which the Parliament is opposing.

In today’s Europe, traditional political parties are no longer liked or trusted by voters the way they used to be. One reason is that many politicians often cannot deliver after overpromising. Coming to power, they face difficulties in solving major problems and have no political courage to outline either difficult or unpopular choices to their base. Their partisan cabinets often fail to respond to challenges or deal with the consequences.

In the current economic and political climate in Europe, one may expect calls for technocratic cabinets to raise. There will be arguments and the accelerated expectations that apolitical experts can outperform partisan cabinets. Some will even argue that technocrat-led caretaker governments are among the most advanced forms of power-sharing between elected politicians and experts in contemporary European democracies.

I have my share of a technocratic experience. As an international attorney, I left the private sector in 2015 when I was called to join the so-called technocrat-led government of post-revolutionary Ukraine to serve as the First Deputy Minister of Economy. There were several other such technocrats in the Ukrainian government. Some, like me at the time, were expats who had been granted Ukrainian citizenship. The expectation then was, just as it is with any technocratic administration, that the non-partisan experts may set and enact policies that were independent of parties, their political decisions, and elected party representatives.

Those expectations had failed.

More often than not, politicians put unelected and unempowered experts in front to face the public only to hide the politicians’ own incompetence and lack of courage to take political responsibility for not being able to deliver. In the meantime, the politicians continue pulling the strings, not allowing the experts to govern on one hand, and on the other, they let the technocrats assume the responsibility for the politicians’ failures.

From that perspective, technocratic governments erode democracy and keep bad politicians in power. Although such governments have sometimes been long-lasting, they are illegitimate and democratically dysfunctional. They are a symptom of high levels of state exploitation by irresponsible leaders and political parties. Their occurrence in Europe is part of a broader sense of malaise in Western democracy where, instead of being bailed out, politicians need to be held responsible and accountable.  Any claims for having a successful record to defend such technocratic governments and their legitimacy disregards their unfavourable legacy and political conditions to which they are contributing.

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Complete Streets

‘Complete Streets’ Programs Are Sweeping Over American Cities

Complete Streets’ promotes bicycles, scooters, foot traffic, light rail, etc., to the detriment of private transportation. In Pittsburgh, bike and lane usage will be zero in the winter when temps hover around 20 degrees.

Complete Streets is a global program inspired by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. The Smart Growth America website states:

Complete Streets are streets for everyone. They are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work. They allow buses to run on time and make it safe for people to walk to and from train stations.

⁃ TN Editor

At the time when many of Pittsburgh’s streets were built, top travel speed was dictated by horses, and later, a trolley car at full tilt.

Now, drivers attempt to maneuver those same narrow, complicated streets at 40 or 50 miles per hour, said Karina Ricks, director of the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure.

“That really is a wildly dangerous situation. When we have very soft human bodies mixing in with these 3-ton metal objects,” she said. “We share these streets … we’re part of a larger community, and [one of the] cardinal duties of being in a community is to protect and preserve other community members.”

The city’s 2020 capital budget allocates $17.7 million to make streets safe for all users, nearly triple the available funds of previous years. Contained within the “Complete Streets,” program, listed projects include installing pedestrian signals, traffic calming, bike infrastructure, and general streetscape improvements. The intent is to “rationalize” the roadway, Ricks said.

“Our streets are very chaotic,” she said. “So the drivers are stressed, and the travelers are stressed, and we’re not really giving people good ways to get to the many job opportunities and amenities that we have.”

The city’s long-awaited bike plan will be central to resolving that chaos, said Ricks. The new 10-year plan, due to be released by the end of January for public comment, will cover both how to close gaps in the existing network and how to expand it. The plan calls for adding more than 100 miles of bike facilities over 10 years, but “we’re not trying to wait 10 years,” she said.

Over the next two years, Pittsburgh officials will partner with local nonprofits Bike Pittsburgh and Healthy Ride, who will be supported by Colorado-based nonprofit advocacy group People For Bikes, to design and build 60 miles of new and updated bike infrastructure.

A connected system will be safer and allow more people to choose cycling as a viable means of transit, said Eric Boerer, advocacy director for Bike Pittsburgh. But perhaps most importantly, it will add predictability to the road network.

“Bike infrastructure isn’t just for bicyclists, it’s also for drivers,” he said. “When you create a space for everybody it just makes the whole street less chaotic and makes it a lot more peaceful.”

Pittsburgh is part of a larger national shift in how cities approach bike infrastructure. The last two or three decades saw cities make piecemeal additions of a bike lane here or a trail segment there, said Kyle Wagenschutz, director of local innovation with People For Bikes.

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New Lebanon PM Seeks To Install 18-Member ‘Technocrat Cabinet’

Technocrat rule is not just seen in Europe, China and India: The Islamic world is also strongly attracted to Techno-populism and Technocrat governance. In Lebanon’s case, even Hezbollah approves. ⁃ TN Editor

Informed ministerial sources told Asharq Al-Awsat on Friday that Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab is about to form an 18-member cabinet, free of politicians, and capable to meet the demands of the popular movement.

On Friday, Diab held his second meeting this week with President Michel Aoun to discuss the form and content of his next government.

Observers consider the announcement as a “drawback” from the techno-political cabinet that Aoun and his two Shiite allies, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, were attached to form.

“The Aoun-Diab meeting was good. The two men discussed the distribution of ministerial portfolios and the names of some suggested figures to be appointed ministers,” the sources explained.

They denied reports saying that Diab plans to announce his cabinet in the next hours.

Earlier on Friday, Aoun hoped that with the new government, the situation will gradually start to improve and overcome the crisis, and Lebanon will return to its prosperity.

During a meeting with Commander of the Lebanese Army, General Joseph Aoun, accompanied by a delegation from the leadership, the President said, “Today, we live in a period of austerity at the individual level and on the level of the state and its institutions, but this is required at present to help overcome the current crisis.”

Meanwhile, Hezbollah also commented on the developments.

“Hezbollah supports a government comprised of competent specialist candidates who enjoy integrity and loyalty to the nation and whose concern is to save the country and its economy,” Hezbollah’s Mount Lebanon and North representative Sheikh Mohammed Amro said after visiting Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai to extend greetings on the holy season.

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