Thursday

18th Jan 2018

Feature

The second coming of Varoufakis

  • Varoufakis is back in the limelight (Photo: Aleksandra Eriksson)

Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s former minister of finance, has re-emerged into the limelight. On Tuesday evening (9 February) he took the stage of Volksbuehne, a workers' theatre overlooking east Berlin’s Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz.

The show: his new endeavour, the Democracy in Europe Movement (DiEM25). Tickets sold out weeks ago. An hour to the opening, a long line of late-comers gathered by the box office, trying their luck. Journalists who had received accreditation were bumped to host more participants.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Sierakowski: 'Varoufakis must know that people won’t gather around a discussion of economics' (Photo: Aleksandra Eriksson)

In a 20-minute long opening speech, Varoufakis painted out his movement’s vision for how to save the EU.

“EU disintegration is happening. Divisions, walls are springing up along the borders of our nations, in people’s minds and hearts… If we do nothing, the EU’s deconstruction will lead to a version of the 1930s. This is my appeal to prevent this,” he told the audience.

The former Eurogroup troublemaker blamed “a highly political, top-down, opaque [EU] decision-making process that is presented as apolitical, technical, procedural and neutral” for draining Europe both democratically and economically.

“The price of this deceit was not merely the end of democracy but also a vicious circle between authoritarianism and economic crisis,” Varoufakis told the audience.

“The more they asphyxiated democracy, the less legitimate their political authority became, the stronger the recession - the greater the need for authoritarianism.”

“Allow me to define fanaticism. It consists of doubling the efforts when the project has failed,” he said.

Several dozen sympathisers joined DiEM25's leader on stage to convey their hopes and support for the movement.

'Minority of one'

Among them were German MP Katja Kipping from the leftist Die Linke party; UK Green MP Caroline Lucas; Miguel Urban Crespo, an MEP from Spain's Podemos party; Irish MEP Nessa Childers; and former Portuguese MEP Rui Tavares.

"When parliaments become theaters, we have to turn theaters into parliaments," said Miguel Urban Crespo.

A representative of the anti-austerity Blocupy movement used her time on stage to give Varoufakis a rainbow-coloured balaclava.

Trade unions were also there, as well as musician Brian Eno and Croatia's Srecko Horvat, who describes himself as a philosopher of revolution, love and masturdating (going out alone to restaurants, cinemas or other venues) .

Barcelona mayor Ada Colau, French former minister of environment Cecile Duflot, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and the philosopher Slavoj Zizek sent video and web-stream messages. The meeting lasted well over four hours.

The choice to launch DiEM in Berlin was a symbolic one.

“Nothing can change without Germany’s participation,” Varoufakis politely told German journalists at a press conference earlier. He has been more blunt in the past, accusing Germany of pulling the strings in Europe, imposing fiscal austerity and crushing left-wing alternatives.

“Germany is looking for economic dominance in Europe. [German finance minister] Schaeuble wants to take control over the French state budget,” Varoufakis told the Swedish daily ETC in an interview published on Tuesday.

Seven months in the Eurogroup taught him that it is not possible to conduct radical left-wing politics in a single country.

”I was in a minority of one,” he said.

That is why DiEM aims to “unite people of different cultures, languages, accents, political parties, ideologies, skin colours, gender identities, faiths and conceptions of the good society” and push together, in all ways possible, for a democratisation of the EU.

Re-politicise politics

There are several proposals for how to do this.

”Already tomorrow we will submit a proposal to the presidents of the European Council, Ecofin [the council of EU finance ministers] and the ECB [the European Central Bank] to stream their meetings and publish their minutes as well as publish trade negotiations documents,” Varoufakis said.

He also called for a recalibration of EU policies to address the five crises of debt, banking, inadequate investment, migration and rising poverty.

In a longer perspective, he wants to convene a constitutional assembly where Europeans will deliberate on how to create by 2025 a “fully-fledged European democracy, featuring a sovereign parliament that respects national self-determination and sharing power with national parliaments, regional assemblies and municipal councils”.

Varoufakis hopes to gather a large coalition behind his proposals, including Tories with the same democratic interests.

“Some of my greatest political friends can be described as neoliberals,” he said. ”If we can be friends, then DiEM can surely embrace all those who agree on the necessity to re-politicise politics so as to address the economic crisis.”

Mixed reception

But some were reluctant to back the movement.

“I like the idea,” Sławomir Sierakowski, a Polish intellectual, told EUobserver.

“Especially the part about a social movement rather than a political party – the latter is just too inefficient. More and more often, legislation is negotiated between a ministry and pushers, e.g. coalitions of NGOs. Parties are just not rooted in the society any more. When economics is globalised and politics is not, a social movement aimed at European integration is the only chance for rebalancing global economy,” he said.

But he added that Varoufakis' proposal was “too economy-focused”.

“My experience tells me that a political solution can be good for 80 percent of the people, and they will still not vote for it,” he said.

Sierakowski is the founder of Krytyka Polityczna, a publishing house and journal which also runs cultural centres and activist clubs in Poland, Kiev and Berlin.

“Class struggle is simply less important than cultural wars. What most people care about today is fighting with refugees, gays, pro-choice feminists,” he said.

“Varoufakis must know that people won’t gather around a discussion of economics.”

Sierakowski was also annoyed by the lack of references to Ukraine in DiEM’s manifesto.

"There’s just a short sentence about ’tensions in the East’. Russia invaded Ukraine. If Greece wants Europe to help it with the refugees, it must understand that Poland, and Ukraine, want help with dealing with Russia," he said.

His reasoning was partially echoed by Ulrike Guerot, a German political thinker and founder of European Democracy Lab.

“It’s a very interesting initiative, and we need a democratic and social Europe," she told EUobserver.

"But I tend to act rebelliously when democracy comes up as a big slogan, because it’s hollow, it can go either way. You can easily argue that the best people’s democracy that Germany ever had was the Nazis. They had the majority of the street. There was never a progressive revolution, and it would not happen today either. Dresden, Pegida, Marine Le Pen have the streets."

Nations are the real problem

Guerot would rather promote the idea of a European republic, on the topic of which she has authored a book that will be published later this year.

“If we want a political union in Europe - and I think that is the goal that unites us - then it should take the form of a republic," she said.

"Res publica is the oldest and most respectable term to defend democracy. It’s government through the law and protection against arbitrary law that would have spared Socrates from the plebs.

“These are elements which the EU cannot claim for itself today, which makes the EU legal but not democratic. In order to become so, it would need to have equal law for all citizens, install right of initiative for the parliament, a commission that is executive while it should be up to a court to guard the treaty. Transparency for Ecofin council is fine, but it’s not how to get democracy.”

Guerot says it is wrong to put the whole blame on Brussels for the EU’s democratic deficit.

“It’s not the poor civil servants sitting there and basically doing their job who are the real problem of the EU not functioning, but the nation states," she said.

"We have a German, Polish, British problem in Europe, who say they want to be sovereign rather than abide by common EU rules. Varoufakis promises that both EU and the nation states will increase their sovereignty through his proposals, but that’s impossible.”

Guerot says the concept of a sovereign assembly is the best point of the manifesto, but how it would come around is very vague.

Alienating women

She doesn't think DiEM will manage to attract many supporters on the right because he is “tagged as radical left”.

At the same time DiEM seems to have its fair share of work to do before its movement becomes representative of the broader left.

Many of the participants were concerned about the refugees - but all of the day's participants were stark white. Ulrike Guerot compared DiEM25's ​​gender representation to Pegida’s. The calls to free Assange, who locked himself up in Ecuador's London embassy to avoid questioning over sex assault allegations in Sweden, ​​risk alienating women further.

The geographical representation focused on Spain and some from Germany, as well as individual participants from other countries. Surprisingly, no Greeks were invited to take the floor, making it difficult to assess the movement's support in Varoufakis homeland.

DiEM is not the only ongoing attempt to rouse the EU's left. On 19-21 February, Podemos will organise a workshop in Madrid to prepare a "plan B for Europe", described as a holistic approach to EU's crisis.

Schaeuble and Varoufakis: worlds apart

Washington got a snapshot of eurozone politics when the two protagonists in the Greek impasse voiced opposing world views at a think tank event on Thursday.

Varoufakis back in push for ECB transparency

The former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis and German left-wing MEP Fabio De Masi want to know whether the European Central Bank overstepped its powers when putting capital controls on Greek banks in 2015.

Hungary to tax NGOs that 'help' migration

Ahead of elections in April, Hungary's government swings into campaign mode by proposing a new set of rules to stop illegal migration and NGOs that assist in it.

Bulgaria's corruption problem mars EU presidency start

A dispute between the government and the president over an anti-corruption law has put the spotlight on one of the Bulgaria's main problems - just as it is trying to showcase its economic and social progress.

SPD wants EU at heart of German coalition talks

Germany's three mainstream parties have begun their discussions for a new grand coalition, more than three months after the September election which saw them all lose seats.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  2. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other EU Border Regions to Work Together to Generate Growth
  4. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  5. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  6. Dialogue PlatformRoundtable on "Political Islam, Civil Islam and The West" 31 January
  7. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  8. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  9. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society
  10. ACCAWelcomes the Start of the New Bulgarian Presidency
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li and President Tusk Stress Importance of Ties at ASEM Summit
  12. EU2017EEVAT on Electronic Commerce: New Rules Adopted

Latest News

  1. Nato prepares to take in Macedonia
  2. Taking full benefit of supercomputers in Europe
  3. Spitzenkandidat system 'difficult to get rid of', hopes lead MEP
  4. Rights NGOs face fresh threats across the EU, agency says
  5. EIB 'more sensitive' to fraud after Dieselgate, chief insists
  6. EU 'hypocrisy' condemns people to Libya, says NGO
  7. Next year's EU election at risk of Russian meddling
  8. Hungary to tax NGOs that 'help' migration

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressChair of EU Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism Condemns Wave of Attacks
  2. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda
  3. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  4. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% Plastics Recycling Rate Attainable by 2025 New Study Shows
  5. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  6. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  7. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  8. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  10. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  12. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  2. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties
  3. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  4. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  5. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  7. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  8. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  9. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  10. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives