In the CityAM editorial today ("The EU has been hiding its debt for years"), the ever-brilliant Allister Heath points out that the EU has long turned a blind eye to the accounting tricks of its members so that the criteria of the Euro-zone could be ‘met’: “It was once well-known that Greece, Italy and other countries had used dodgy tricks to embellish their public finances prior to the launch of Economic and Monetary Union to meet the entry requirements”. His key point is about institutional amnesia: ”Yet now everybody is pretending to be surprised or even shocked”. I say ‘blind eye’ and ‘accounting tricks’ but what this really amounted to was condoning fraud for a higher good; and ‘amnesia’ is a nice way of saying ‘lying’. That Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan helped (respectively) Greece and Italy push debt off their balance sheets led to a row with, says Heath, “the European establishment cracking down on anybody who dared talk about this”.
Of course this all supports the transparency agenda, the call for see-through government. People inside a system usually end up believing it works best when the smarter and wiser insiders are left alone to take care of things, undisturbed by the prying eyes of outsiders who are considered unequipped to judge. This fantasy of ‘inner circle wisdom’ explodes when a part of the Euro-zone goes bankrupt. Openness would have prevented it. It would have forced populations to confront their problems while they were still fixable. If you can’t know, you can’t act responsibly.
Secrecy creates stupidity. The deliberate obscurantism of the EU means problems don’t get fixed. The system then multiplies small practical problems into systemic collapse. Because we cannot see, we cannot engage. Because we cannot engage, we cannot change things. Because we cannot change things, we are left with only two options: learn to love it dumbly, or leave it. By its culture of distance, the commission creates an impossible condition even for those who might otherwise support some ideal of union.
See-through government is the foundation of prosperity, freedom and justice. We should be radical and passionate about it. It’s time for a Freedom of Data Act, in the UK and the EU.