In both Greece and Italy, the biggest threats to the European monetary union, technocrats rather than elected political leaders have been given the daunting task of salvaging the economies, a crucial step towards saving the euro. On November 13, Mario Monti, a former European Union commissioner, was appointed Italy's new Prime Minister, after the scandal-ridden government of Silvio Berlusconi resigned. Two days earlier, in Greece, Lucas Papademos, a former senior official of the European Central Bank, took over as the head of a new coalition government, replacing George Papandreou. The two leaders preside over governments that are packed with technocrats. Both are eminently qualified to undertake tough economic reforms and push through unpalatable austerity measures. Both understand the language of the financial markets, to which they owe their appointments in the first place. Yet neither has ever contested an election or held an office before being pitchforked into the high office. To be fair, neither country had much choice. In Greece, Mr. Papandreou struggled to implement the austerity measures demanded by euro-zone lenders to keep the bailout money flowing into his empty coffers. Knowing that these measures would be hugely unpopular, he promised a referendum but soon backtracked in the face of opposition from Germany and France.
In Italy, Mr. Berlusconi's dithering over reforms was not received well by financial markets. The country's borrowing costs soared and, in a worst case scenario, it was feared that it would not be able to finance its $2.6 trillion of debt. The consequences would have been disastrous, and not just for the euro. Less than two weeks after the change of guard in Greece and Italy, it is becoming clearer by the day that an administration led by technocrats by itself cannot go far in reforming the economy or, even more basically, in winning the confidence of the bond markets. Without political constituencies of their own, the leaders may not to be able to muster support for reforms. Politicians in both countries, quite unnerved by the defeat of governments in Portugal, Ireland, and Spain — where elections were held after the debt crisis started — have threatened to withdraw support. It might well be that the task of saving the euro, which has become Europe's main goal, cannot be left exclusively to technocrats or politicians. More than its undoubted economic significance, the euro has had a deeply political message of integrating diverse nations and providing a framework for promoting peace and harmony in a continent so often ravaged by war.