Exclusive Interview with Yanis Varoufakis – SpeakGlobal
Keynote Speaker Yanis Varoufakis is the Former Minister of Finance in Greece. For the launching of our annual Magazine ‘SpeakGlobal’ we asked him several questions regarding the current political and economic situation.
Greece has somewhat faded from international news in the last year. As it stands, is the Greek economy set to continue on its wheel of perpetual, unpayable loans?
The Greek state, like any other insolvent entity that is pretending to be solvent by means of new loans, is at the mercy of its creditors. At discrete intervals the creditors must throw more good money after bad, in the form of new loan tranches, to pretend that the Greek government is honouring its debts to them. In effect, the creditors are paying themselves while piling up new unpayable debts upon the Greek state. Each time a new large sum needs to be approved by the creditors’ parliaments or boards of directors (e.g. the IMF’s) Greece returns to the news. And as long as this pretence continues, Greece will be sinking further into indignity and depression while the TV crews are periodically visiting Athens to report on the next ‘new’ crisis.
With the recent election of Trump, Brexit and the current political scene across much of Europe, right-wing populism appears to be on the rise. How can the left react?
By understanding, at long last, that history is not on its side and that the only real beneficiaries of this phase of capitalism’s crisis are the xenophobic, nationalist Right – just like in the 1930s. If I am right, the Left must rise to the occasion by attempting to forge an alliance with progressives, liberals, greens, etc., who share a common critical stance towards both (a) the so-called liberal establishment (whose reckless stewardship of global and European capitalism has been resulted in the crisis and inequality that has turned so many people to the Right) and (b) the Nationalist-International that is triumphing everywhere.
Given the potential rise of far-right governments in countries such as France and Austria, if there is a Frexit, will the European Union collapse?
Undoubtedly, the economic and monetary union that we created in Europe over many decades was never designed to sustain the shockwave of the 2008 global financial collapse and its aftermath. The inane handling of the ensuing crisis by Europe’s establishment is deconstructing the EU. How this deconstruction will unfold is impossible to predict. Suffice to say that there are many ways in which the EU can disintegrate. One is Brexit-style, i.e. with countries holding referenda and exiting. Another is through a death by a thousand cuts, i.e. countries refusing to honour collective agreements (e.g. Hungary’s recalcitrance viz. the refugee policy of the European Commission) until the EU is nothing more than an empty shirt.
Your petition is to democratise the EU, how is it currently undemocratic?
The great paradox of the EU is that it is a wholly anti-democratic union of democratic member-states. Germany, France, Greece, all our member-states have functioning democratic institutions – elections, Parliaments, local and national governments that are accountable to the electorate. However, especially after the formation of the Eurozone, most of the important decisions are made elsewhere – in Brussels and Frankfurt. There, decision-making takes place behind closed doors, largely by shadowy cabinets that European citizens are not even aware off, without any mechanism for accountability and transparency. After a Eurogroup or EU Council meeting, democratically elected leaders return home and, hiding behind their relative unimportance, tell their Parliament or people: It was the best I could achieve. In short, European democracy has died the moment decision-making was taken out of realms in which democracy lives (e.g. national parliaments) and pushed into the democracy-free zones of EU institutions. This situation is, in reality, what lies at the heart of Europe’s disintegration. The conclusion is simple: Either the EU must be dismantled or its institutions must be radically democratised. DiEM25 is the movement that strives for the latter.
How does DiEM25 aim to change the EU and its decision making process specifically?
Saving the EU is not an easy project. We are facing a terrible contradiction: On the one hand, the EU will only be saved in the long run if it develops into a fully democratic federation with a large (and thus macro-economically significant) federal budget, a fully fledged banking union and a new democratic constitution that will replace all existing Treaties. On the other hand, the euro crisis has unleashed centrifugal forces that have turned Europeans off the idea of ‘more Europe’, of more power to Brussels, of greater centralisation. This is why DiEM25 is arguing against ‘more Europe’ and steps towards the centralisation of our present misery. Instead, DiEM25 has just published its European New Deal policy paper that proposes crucial changes that can be implemented tomorrow morning to stabilise and civilise Europe without further centralisation, without new Treaties and by means of existing institutions. Once stabilisation has been achieved in this manner, hope will return for a Europe worth fighting for. Then and only then will we be able, as European peoples, to have the discussion we have not had: what kind of democratic federation we want, if we want it.
What hopes do you hold for 2017?
I hope that the Nationalist International will be stopped in its tracks in 2017. But for this to happen a Progressive Europeanism must rise up to challenge the current Establishment by means of what, at DiEM25, we call constructive disobedience: of putting forward moderate, common sense but at once radical proposals for stabilising Europe and bringing its people closer together while determined to disobey the current directives of Brussels and Frankfurt which are based on the failed analyses and policies that are causing the disintegration of Europe and are feeding the Nationalist International.