Elections are all Greek to him.

Photographer: Carl Court/Getty Images

EU Can't Tell Greeks How to Vote

Mark Gilbert is a Bloomberg View columnist and writes editorials on economics, finance and politics. He was London bureau chief for Bloomberg News and is the author of “Complicit: How Greed and Collusion Made the Credit Crisis Unstoppable.”
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A disturbing feature of how the European Union sometimes conducts itself is a basic lack of respect for basic tenets of democracy. Comments this week from European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker suggest yet again that the leaders of the grand unification project are tenured autocrats more concerned with their own livelihoods than the needs of the citizens they purport to represent.

Juncker, mired in controversy over the tax havens Luxembourg offered to big companies during his tenure as Prime Minister, appeared in a TV debate on Austrian television Thursday night. He was asked about current turmoil in Greek politics, where Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is fighting for his political life against Alexis Tsipras's Syriza party, which opinion polls suggest will win power if a snap election happens early next year:

 I'd prefer if known faces would show up again in Greece. I'm sure the Greeks, who don't have an easy life, know very well what a wrong election result would mean for Greece and for the euro area.

Sorry, but there's no such thing as a "wrong" election result in a modern democracy. If the Greek people choose to elect Tsipras, they'll be backing his plan to renegotiate Greece's debt burden by stiffing its creditors, and to ease back on economic austerity. And that's their prerogative, regardless of whether Juncker likes the idea or not, and regardless of whether Juncker regards Tsipras as an "extreme" force.

Back at the start of the euro crisis, the then Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou threatened to hold a referendum that would have given voters a say in whether they agreed with the country's looming economic austerity program. His democratic impulse was effectively quashed by Germany and France, who insisted that any vote focus on the Armageddon scenario of Greece leaving the euro.

In an off-the-record briefing with a very senior EU official around that time, I asked what was wrong with asking the Greek people whether they assented to austerity. "Because they might give the wrong answer,'' was the reply.

Juncker's comments on Greek politics are an outrage. More importantly, they suggest that he sees bullying and scare-mongering as legitimate tactics -- yet more evidence, if it were needed, that Juncker is the wrong person to lead the European project at this troubled juncture in its history.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Mark Gilbert at magilbert@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Cameron Abadi at cabadi2@bloomberg.net