When secret meetings are boring and useless

By Felix Salmon
September 27, 2010
WSJ has a great little story proving once and for all that just because something is secret doesn't mean it's interesting.

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The WSJ has a great little story proving once and for all that just because something is secret doesn’t mean it’s interesting. Apparently, for a year or so, a “secret task force” met at ungodly hours on the sidelines of various euro-events in cities like Brussels and Luxembourg. Its members were hand-picked, its task momentous: to come up with a plan should a eurozone country enter a crisis and threaten the currency union.

But it achieved, to a first approximation, exactly nothing, beyond simply keeping its own existence a secret. (If the markets had found out that the committee existed, they would probably have taken it as a sign of weakness and worry on the part of the Europeans, and increased pressure on the likes of Greece.) By the time that the Greek crisis flowered, there was no plan at all, and ultimately the European bailout had to be hammered out at summit level, mainly between Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel.

Technocrats love secrecy, especially when they work in or around the finance ministry or the central bank. But it’s impossible to negotiate something as politically momentous as a sovereign bailout in secret, or even to construct a mechanism which might help smooth the course a little. If the Europeans want to minimize the chances of a country leaving the eurozone, they’re going to have to put together something robust in public. Secret meetings at 6am might feel terribly thrilling at the time, but they’re never going to have any lasting effect.

So what’s the point of secret meetings? In the public sector they achieve nothing, and in the private sector they risk causing scandal and legal investigations. I suspect that most people who take part in them probably ultimately regret doing so.

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