Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister and current candidate for the Presidency of the European Commission, delivered a ferocious attack on the European Union yesterday in Brussels.
Speaking at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), Varoufakis labelled the EU an “authoritarian” and “opaque” institution, whose imposition of austerity measures on Greece over the last ten years has been “about as effective as a nuclear bomb”.
“The architecture of the monetary, financial, and political European system simply could not sustain the shockwave of the financial crisis of 2008,” Varoufakis explained. “Subsequently, the largest loan in history was paid to a bankrupt state, Greece, with conditions attached to it that were guaranteed to shrink incomes by one quarter. A nuclear bomb would have been about as effective as the policies pursued by the EU.”
Varoufakis went on to deny that Greece is a sovereign country. “Alexis Tsipras [the Greek Prime Minister] is in government, but not in power,” he said. “All legislation is written in Brussels. We don’t have democracy in Europe. We have a ruthless, brutal, cowardly fig-leaf of democracy – we have an oligarchy.”
Varoufakis also claimed that, by failing to address the legitimate grievances of European citizens, particularly those in Southern Europe, “the EU has treated the citizens of Europe the way the British Empire used to treat India.” He then suggested that the EU bears significant responsibility for the rise of right-wing populism across Europe.
“We have an inane political and economic system. On top of that, we are constantly postponing re-designing the system so that it will work. Then we wonder why European monsters – Salvini, Le Pen, Orban – appear.”
In spite of his harsh criticism of the EU, Varoufakis rejected the notion that he was a “Eurosceptic”.
“There is a popular view today that you must either be a Europhile or a Eurosceptic,” he said. “I reject this dichotomy. You must be sceptical – you must criticise – in order to save; to make the EU worth saving.”
Varoufakis was also at pains to stress the “collective” nature of Europe’s current problems – which include low growth, high unemployment, and rising inequality – and that the answer to them is “more Europe, not less”.
“There is no such thing as the ‘Greek Crisis’”, he said. “There is only the European Crisis. We are all in this together. We are all experiencing the crisis differently.”
“We need to move beyond the nation-state conception of European politics,” he continued. “We need a transnational movement.”
To highlight this fact, Varoufakis, a Greek, is running as a representative of Germany in the upcoming European Parliament elections. He will be a candidate for DiEM-25: the “Democracy in Europe Movement 2025”, which Varoufakis co-founded in 2015.
The central component of DiEM-25’s platform – other than to democratise the EU institutions – is to fund a “Green Transition”. This would involve the utilisation of the resources of the European Investment Bank and the ECB to invest in green jobs, green infrastructure, and green research and development, as well as to provide poverty relief for Europe’s most vulnerable citizens.
“The only alternative to transnationalism,” Varoufakis warned, “is to recoil to the level of the nation-state. This would be a victory for racism and fascism. We need a truly European demos, which is a prerequisite for having a truly European democracy.”
Varoufakis also touched on other issues during the event, including French President Emmanuel Macron’s call for the creation of a European army.
“Before we create an army, we need to look after our poor, we need to look after the environment,” he said. “And let’s not forget that Europe has committed one crime after another over the last few centuries. We had colonialism. More recently, we’ve destroyed Libya, Iraq and Syria. We need real democratic sovereignty before we have an army. Otherwise, who would be responsible for sending people to kill on our behalf?”
On the migrant crisis, Varoufakis said: “We at DiEM-25 don’t recognise the difference between refugees and migrants. ‘Oh, you were shot at, so we care about you.’ ‘Oh, your child is starving, we don’t care about you.’ No. We must let them in.”
“We don’t believe in ‘Fortress Europe’. We need to move beyond that mentality. Moreover, Europe is ageing. We need migrants.”