Issue of the week: The rise of the technocrats

Two U.S.-trained economists and longtime European Union bureaucrats have replaced the prime ministers of Greece and Italy.

Europe’s latest crisis plan is to ditch the politicians and bring in the “bloodless wonks,” said Brad Plumer in Washington​ This week, Italy named Mario Monti to succeed former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and in Greece, Lucas Papademos has replaced former leader George Papandreou. Monti and Papademos are both U.S.-trained economists and longtime European Union bureaucrats who have never held elected office. The idea is that these two, armed with glittering CVs and deep ties to European institutions, can push through painful reforms to curb the debt crisis where the politicians could not.

These technocrats are “Europe’s best hope,” said in an editorial. Unburdened by party loyalty, they will be free to go where their predecessors feared to tread. They also understand the economic challenges facing their countries in ways few others do, and they’ve put aside personal interests to “accept the challenge of stabilizing the continent.” Fair enough, but do Greeks and Italians actually want these men in power? asked Jonathan Freedland in the London Guardian. Who knows? Nobody asked them. Their elected leaders have been swept aside to make room for men who have been “elevated without so much as shaking a single voter’s hand.” Before the continent cheers the technocrats’ arrival, other EU countries should remember that they may soon have to accept “similar sacrifices of autonomy to save their economic skin.”

True, Monti and Papademos have never been in the muck of politics, said Stephan Faris in But that actually makes them the perfect fall guys for deeply unpopular austerity measures and economic reforms. With technocrats in charge, Italian and Greek politicians get to “disperse the cost of passing unpopular legislation.” It’s precisely because they don’t have political bases that the unelected Monti and Papademos “have a chance to pass reforms that would otherwise be impossible.” And that’s exactly what the euro—and volatile world markets—needs right now.

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Europe has another reason to “hope Monti and Papademos can work miracles,” said Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times. If the technocrats fail, “the extremists are waiting in the wings.” In Greece, the political poles “now muster more support than either of the two mainstream parties.” And while Italian politics are in momentary disarray following Berlusconi’s departure, the country has “spawned powerful communist and far-right movements in the past.” These technocrats are hardly perfect, but we should all be rooting for their success.

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