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Leadership and democracy

Ricardo Migueis

There is a political leadership crisis and apparently is not only in Europe, in Latin America too. Even though different in nature, these crises are leading to a discredit in democracy in both sides of the Atlantic.

We have seen and often described along these pages how much Europe has been suffering from a democratic deficit. Nevertheless, this deficit is not alone if we look around the world.

Latin America’s case is of particular interest because it has been developing the so-called “sister-project” of the European Union in what concerns regional integration, the Common Market of the South, and because it can no longer, as a whole, be considered underdeveloped. As the former president of Brazil used to say, inequality is our main problem, not underdevelopment… and anyone who has recently visited any of the main capitals in the southern cone knows this is true.

Mercosul’s paradox is that it has done a fantastic job in “locking-in” Brazil and Argentina into democracy – its number one clause in its founding protocol is that only democratic regimes can be members – is now leading these same democracies into deep discredit by keeping on working behind closed doors and, as our partner Rodrigo Cintra rightly points out in today’s article, mostly suiting the interests of its political elites.

Moreover, the transition to democracy in these countries has not really been a transition, but a “transition through transaction”, meaning that power in all senses of the word (political, economic and thus, social), has passed from one elite to another elite, without major structural transformations in the political system.

The message circulating about the political class all over the region is the same and can be translated into two words: incompetence and corruption. This is illustrated by the recent crisis of the government in Brazil that was historically the one elected with a wider support base. National politicians, as in Europe, are facing an extreme discredit and the rise of populism and extremism has already started. Working towards a real political integration of the Mercosul is a solution that will probably have to be faced increasingly serious in the years to come.

In this way, the European Union is a model for political and economic integration around the world, successfully tackling the democratic deficit will immediately have two consequences:

1)     Sending a positive signal around the globe about the possibility of combining democracy with wide regional integration, avoiding the rise of populism and extremism;
2)     Create a new pattern of cooperation between blocs, accelerating multilateralism and avoiding hegemonic leaderships.
Ricardo Migueis
Lisbon (Portugal)