Yanis Varoufakis: One Extreme Europe? On the Parliamentary Election Results

Posted on by

By Yanis Varoufakis, professor of economics at the University of Athens. Cross posted from his blog

Europe went to the polls last weekend. Here is my take on the election results – in an interview with Thomas Farzi (author of The Battle for Europe: How an Elite Hijacked a Continent – and How We Can Take It Back).

– What’s your general take on the results of the European elections?

For four years now, European institutions are the field on which incompetence and malice compete with one another, seemingly with an eye to winning the prize for the greatest damage done to the idea of shared European prosperity. The result has been a wholesale loss of trust in the institutions of the EU and the demise of the ‘assumption’ that European integration was an unstoppable, benign force. Naturally, the recent European Parliament elections reflected this mood.

The international press has summed up the election outcome as a sign that the economic crisis plaguing Europe has caused voters to be lured by the two ‘extremes’, meaning the ultra right and the extreme left. This is a verdict that the European elites, whose shenanigans are responsible for Europe’s deconstruction, are comfortable with. They see it as evidence that, despite some errors, they are on the middle road, with some wayward voters straying off the ‘right’ path both to the left and to the right. They hope that, once growth picks up again, the ‘strays’ will return to the fold.

This is a misrepresentation of the most recent electoral result. Europeans were not lured by the two extremes. They drifted to one extreme: that of the misanthropic, racist, xenophobic, anti-European right. Extreme, anti-European, leftwing parties saw no surge in their support anywhere in Europe. To portray SYRIZA as anti-European, or as extreme, is disingenuous. SYRIZA is a party that has its roots in the eurocommunist movement of the early 1970s, consistently arguing in favour of the EU (even of the Eurozone), and committed, to this day, and in spite of the catastrophic effects of EU policies on the Greek people, to seek a solution to the crisis within the EU and within the Eurozone.

So, let’s be clear: Europe’s inane handling of the inevitable Euro crisis (due to the faulty architecture of our monetary union) has triggered an electoral result that is a clarion warning that Europe, under the present policy mix, is decomposing. Hiding behind the fabrication of the rise of the extremes (when only rightwing extremists did well) is yet another excuse that the elites are hiding behind so as to retain their failed policies.

– What scenario do you foresee for the near future? And in the longer term, if you were to speculate?

There is no sign on the horizon that the elites will respond creatively either to the economic crisis or to its political ramifications. They may ‘go easy’ on austerity, to absorb some of the shockwaves caused by public discontent, but they have neither the analytical power nor the interest in proceeding with the architectural changes necessary to reverse the decline. Nothing short of a democratic backlash against Europe’s establishment can impede the process of Europe’s fragmentation.

– What does SYRIZA’s success mean for Greece? Do you think the Greek establishment would ever allow a SYRIZA-led government, given the country’s complex history and polarized politics? What role could the EU play in this sense?

SYRIZA’s performance at the European elections is a crucial milestone along a long road. By topping the polls, SYRIZA has proved to itself that it is no bubble; that it enjoys a powerful dynamic which can, if handled well, put it in the leadership of a progressive government. One ought not underestimate the importance of this psychological turning point, particularly for a party that, until two years ago, commanded 4% of the popular vote. Undoubtedly, the local cleptocracy will fight tooth and nail against the creation of such a government. It is already laying mines and booby-traps along SYRIZA’s path to government. As for the EU, not only does the Brussels-Berlin-Frankfurt triangle consider a SYRIZA government to be a mortal enemy but, importantly, they are actively working on a sinister plan of how to bolster their local allies (i.e. the current government) and are setting up a trap for a possible SYRIZA government; a blackmailing tactic which will, they hope, force Alexis Tsipras to capitulate on the day he assumes the prime ministership.

– On a wider horizon, would does Tsipras’ rather successful pan-European campaign mean for the European left?

Tsipras’ candidacy was successful in that it seems to have added energy and to have infused hope into leftist parties outside of Greece, lending them some of SYRIZA’s oomph. Having said that, on a personal note, I am disappointed in the European Left’s performance. It has failed to capture the imagination of the victims of vicious, irrational policies imposed undemocratically by the neoliberal establishment. Time to acknowledge our failure, stiffen our lip, and reconsider our narratives and strategies.

– What chances do you think Tsipras and European Left have of influencing change at the European level?

The best chance in a generation or two. This crisis is deep, un-ending and vicious. Tsipras has shown that the Left can offer an alternative to the crisis’ perpetuation without compromising its radicalism. It is up to the Left to take this and turn it into a new hegemonic narrative that challenges the establishment’s TINA (“there is no alternative”) from Ireland to Greece and from Finland to Portugal.

– If you were to indicate 4-5 realistic policy priorities for Tsipras and the European left more in general, what would they be?

The Left wants to bring on a better world. Yet the task in hand today is to arrest human suffering as a result of a crisis that is unfolding on four fronts: First, there is the humanitarian crisis caused by austerity, with people struggling to put food on the table, to keep a roof over their heads, to heat their families, to provide for basic health care. Secondly, there is the banking malaise which is wasting an enormous part of Europe’s overall surplus, to the detriment of everyone except the bankers. Thirdly, the explosion of public debt, due exclusively to the implosion of the toxic financial sector, is fuelling the austerity that causes so much pain. And fourthly, there is the dearth of investment that condemns Europe’s periphery to depression and its core to stagnation. The Left must offer sensible, immediately implementable policies that deal with these four acute crises. They will not bring about the socialist world that the Left dreams of but they will certainly stabilise the present, stop in their tracks the marching fascists and, importantly, create the circumstances in which dreaming of a better world can, once more, become possible.

As for the specific four policies that the Left can adopt in order to deal with these four crises, Stuart Holland, James Galbraith and I have presented them in what we entitle ‘A Modest Proposal for Resolving the Euro Crisis’.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. John

    The Left sold us out. They have long sided with monied interests when we needed them to be progressive. Macho, right wingers came out on top last weekend. The problem is most of them don’t have a clear economic policy. The bottom line is there is no getting out of our economic hole for the foreseeable future.

    1. EoinW

      So very true. One need only look at New Labour in Britain. The left is finished in the UK. Plus if you look at the New Labour influence on the NDP in Canada one must conclude the Left’s political future is one of only compromise and sell out, with charismic leaders vying to become the next Tony Blair. Really all the political Left has to offer is a more gentle version of neo-liberalism. Gentle on the surface that is, with the devil in the details.

      The ones I see trying to bring back the Left in Europe are elite agent provocateurs with a divide and conquer strategy. In countries with a surging nationalist right movement, like France and the UK, it would be far better for the Left to support such movements and by doing so moderate policy. The important thing is to get the criminals out of power. Once that’s done the Left and Right can bicker to their heart’s content. Failure to recognize this common enemy and unite to defeat it will kill any hope of peaceful democratic reform. Not that I actually believe it is still possible in the West. Just in case it is still possible the 99% must unite to prevail. We can try to do it now, democratically, or wait until things are so bad that people figure out how meaningless the Left-Right nonsense is and have no choice but to unite and violently try to change things.

      1. John Yard

        It all depends what you mean by ‘left’. In the US the Democratic party’s view’s itself as the party of race, gender, and ethnicity . In 1932 the party of FDR triumphed over Al Smith. Today FDR’s party is a remnant, Al Smith’s party has been ascendant for 35 years, a new Tammany Hall. The core fixation with race , gender , and ethnicity is increasingly irrelevant for a marginalized working class and middle class. Take gay marriage, as an example. Highly relevant for a very small number of people. Highly irrelevant for the approximately 50% of American children who grow up in one parent households – literally the masses.

      2. Wat Tyler

        Agree that the Left-Right way of looking at the world is out of date. Instead there is a Top-Bottom model (0.1%-99.9%) common in Empires and America is an Empire like England in 1790. The problems faced by the founders were much the same as faced by average Joe’s today – a wealthy elite backed by a global military complex and concentrated economic power with a captured political system (the Tea Partiers only seem to grasp this last part). Now as then perhaps the solution is a nationalist revolution to rid America of it’s empire. A tall order but India managed to peaceably kick out the British Raj. Ukraine nationalists are taking a different path.

        Where to start?


        1. hunkerdown

          Like most Western bourgeois morality fables, Gandhi’s allegedly categorical dismissal of violence is based on lies of omission. In fact, while he was dedicated for his own part to performing nonviolence, unlike said Western bourgeoisie he wasn’t peddling a totalizing ideology to defend his class interests; therefore he was able to recognize that people are different in their values, in their temperaments, in their reactions to adversity and oppression and thus in what they had to contribute toward a favorable outcome. He “advised that everyone need not keep to nonviolence, especially if it were used as a cover for cowardice, saying, ‘where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence.'” (Wikipedia, quoting his autobiography)

          Not endorsing, just keeping folk history faithful to the record…

      3. Synopticist

        The present labour party leader is significantly to the left of Blair, and was the most leftwing of the leadership candidates. The new labour favourite got beaten.

        I’m not yet willing to give up on multi-party democracy.

        1. Nell

          You may want to rethink your stance on the Newer Labour Party. It is not so new. Here is a quote from Chis Leslie Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
          “We won’t be able to undo the cuts that have been felt in recent years, and I know that this will be disappointing for many people. A more limited pot of money will have to be spent on a smaller number of priorities. Lower priorities will get less.”

          Do you seriously think that the Labour Party is going to put people ahead of business and banks? They will, like the other parties, use the excuse of ‘job creation’ to continue the massive subsidies to business. And they will use the excuse ‘ of economic stability’ to continue to subsidize the banking sector. Whatsmore, they will continue the Workfare program under the guise of their Compulsory Job Guarantee Scheme.
          The statement by Chris Leslie echoes numerous statements by Balls that Tory cuts will stay and the Labour government is determined to balance the budget and bring government spending down. There is no way to square the circle – between the spending necessary to get the economy back on track and the determination by all parties to not spend a penny – the UK’s political economy is truly screwed.

  2. /L

    Somewhat ironic all this hauling about how extremism did advance in the EU election. Most of them is so far just empty blather and have done no harm on a general scale. While the real and deadly extremists are in full swing causing death on a daily basis on a pan European level. That is the EU Troika, crushing democracy if its in the way of their holy Euro and its goal creating the EU super power, implementing deadly austerity that literally kill people, and in broad daylight robbing the people of their common wealth and giving it to the ”oligarchs”. Ukraine is the hailed model, a country described in Wikipeida:

    numerous Ukrainian businesspeople have “taken over control” of political parties (examples of this are Party of Greens of Ukraine,Labour Ukraine and Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (united) [1]) or started new ones to gain seats and influence in the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament).
    The rise of the oligarchs has been connected to the processes of privatization of state-owned assets.
    The party that most resembles a popular movement party is the neo-nazi Svoboda.

    That’s the way to go; privatization and oligarchs benefiting from it control the troublesome “populistic” “democracy”.

    People protest vote this and suddenly extremism is on the rise.

  3. /L

    Here how little the grim and deadly austerity policies have achieved in its stated goal to increase competiveness:
    BIS effective exchange rate, Real (CPI-based), Broad Indices

    It’s probably to little austerity, more is needed, there must at least be 100% unemployment in Greece to make them competitive?

  4. Dan Kervick

    It seems to me that one failure of the European left has been an excessive focus on simply preserving the social safety net without sufficient emphasis on a strategy for growth, European economic development, technological transformation and full employment. As a result, the European left has become a conservative, status quo force. The safety net should be preserved, of course, but the left needs to find a way of convincing fellow Europeans they have a better strategy for escaping from stagnation and energizing the next historical phase of social, economic and technological progress. They really need to start thinking bigger.

    We often think of the left as embracing government, the public sector and state-organized solutions. But for some reason, the contemporary left has evolved into a school of thought that embraces the state only for distributional purposes, while deferring on almost all questions of long-term economic strategy, development, growth and employment to the private sector. The modern left in the developed West seems content to play a mostly passive, remedial and secondary role in economic life, rather than seeking to achieve democratic control over the commanding heights of their economies, so that they can use that control to mobilize unactualized human potential and underutilized capital resources in the pursuit of large, democratically selected, progressive goals.

    1. Benedict@Large

      The problem with the Left is that they have allowed themselves to come under the sway of the scarce money theologists, whose theology’s answer to socialism and a safety net is always, “We can’t afford it.” Until the Left learns (relearns?) the real nature of money, it is effectively dead, relegated only to shifting ever diminishing funds between increasingly underfunded public needs.

  5. /L

    the left in form of social democrats/Labour is as much as the right on the neo-liberal economic doctrine, they are on the austerity train but want little different but the same, sort of sprinkle little “Keynesianism” on top of it. But still it should be surplus or at least balanced budgets.
    Even those slightly to the left of social democrats adhere to neo-liberal ideas as some sort of nature law.
    They simply don’t have any alternative economic theory.

    A far from the 1930s social democrats.
    In a 1932 pamphlet called ‘Can we afford to work?’, Sweden’s Social Democratic Party Finance Minister Wigforss argued against the neo-liberal economics:

    “ … leads to a fantastic conclusion that work is a luxury, that jobs for all is something which rich societies can afford, but which is well beyond the means of a poor country like Sweden…In the face of growing unemployment our citizens are bidden to tell each other, with concern but also resignation: we are too poor to be able to work. And the poorer we become, the less we can afford to work. No society still in command of its common sense could satisfy itself with economic wisdom of this lunatic kind.”

    Or New Dealers in USA:
    February 1933 US Senate Committee on Finance testimony:
    “Before effective action can be taken to stop the devastating effects of the depression, it must be recognized that the breakdown of our present economic system is due to the failure of our political and financial leadership to intelligently deal with the money problem.”

    But EU with Lisbon treaty has enshrined neo-liberal economic dogmas in constitutional form, member states have to make Lisbon treaty constitutional law. Keynesianism or New Deal stuff is forbidden in law where unelected independent Central Bank and private bond market is to keep populism/democracy in check.

    1. Calgacus

      Yup. Tim Canova’s The Swedish Model Betrayed is an interesting paper on the decline of the Swedish model. The sheer volume of neoliberal nonsense chanted incessantly made even poor Olof Palme buckle before he was assassinated. Thought you might like it – I always enjoy and learn from the stuff you post and cite.

      They simply don’t have any alternative economic theory.

      Says it all.

      1. /L

        Thanks for the link, always very interesting with a foreign perspective on ones local history. Swedish is a very small speech-area and it’s rare that foreigners know the language, so very few can really get make an independent analysis by following Swedish debate and news. They have to relay on what is produced in mostly English and official “propaganda” of what image Sweden wants to give about it self.

  6. Globus Pallidus XI

    With respect, I object to your characterization of progressive political parties in Europe as ‘far right’. Since when does the liberalism of an FDR or Samuel Gompers deserve to be termed ‘far right’ or ‘xenophobic’?

    If I and 50 of my relatives break into your home and help ourselves to all your stuff, you would call the police and expect them to remove us. Does that make you a xenophobic Nazi who hates ethnic Swedes? I think not.

    In India alone, thanks to massive population growth there are about half a billion people suffering from chronic malnutrition – despite all of our technical advances the standard of living is lower than late Medieval Europe! This should be an outrage, and we should be focusing on how we can raise places like India up. But the rich like poverty (“affordable labor costs”), so we can’t do anything about that – no, the rich want to use the surplus labor of the third world to drive the rich countries down, and block any attempts at raising poor countries up.

    The average european only wants the rate of immigration to be moderated to one that does not increase crowding or lower wages. That is a totally reasonable view, which is why the rich have waged a massive propaganda war to slander it as ‘racist’ and ‘far-right’. We should think carefully before allowing our political labels to be dictated by those vile oligarchs whose only love is the easy profits that come from ever cheaper labor…

    No, the old classical/Keynesian consensus that rapid population growth pushes wages down and profits up has not been proven wrong – it has been shouted down by the rich and their proxies, but not disproven. Adding more people to a settled country no more increases general prosperity than 50 penniless Swedes will magically cause your home to turn into a 20 story-luxury high-rise condominium.

    I would not count the mainstream neoliberal parties out yet – just by continuing to slander moderate opponents as Nazis they demonstrate their power, and doubtless this alone is what it keeping the classical liberals from a majority of power. There will also be co-optation, where liberal politicians will say one thing then when elected stab their voters in the back and do their wealthy patrons’ bidding instead (think: Obama). Some political parties may be banned: after all, ‘racism’ is whatever discomfits a wealthy banker, can’t have people freely voting for that. Any progressive leaders still standing will likely be put under a microscope and their careers destroyed for any infraction (think: Elliot Spitzer). Don’t cry for the billionaires just yet.

    If Europe ever does get a true far-right fascist political movement, it will be because moderates were so slandered as racists that people eventually said “OK what the heck, I’m a racist”. If we fail to see the difference between FDR and Hitler, what kind of moral guidance are we giving?

  7. JerseyJeffersonian

    When a populace surrenders its agency into the hands of a technocratic elite, politically unaccountable to that populace in any realistic sense, how can you expect anything other than the triumph of NeoLiberalism? The EU seems to be designed to produce this outcome, and produce it it does. As an example, look no further than this item from today’s Links:


    These “proposed rules” are clearly designed to forward the dominance of Agribusiness, specifically US Agribusiness, and are designed to seamlessly interlock with the proposed Trade Agreement as a subset of its intellectual property aggression. GMOs shoved down Europeans’ throats, courtesy of Everybody’s Favorite Occupying Power.

    Unless, and until, Europe frees itself from NeoLiberalism – i.e., US-style finance/turbo-capitalism – it is doomed as a political entity with any real claim to independence.

    Here’s a poem by Robert Burns that speaks to the point of sell-out elites and the havoc they wreak on the hapless people. Mentally change the references to Scotland to the EU, and those to England to the US, and you’ve got something valid today:

    Parcel o’ Rogues
    Fareweel to a’ oor Scottish fame
    Fareweel oor ancient glory
    Fareweel even tae oor Scottish name
    Sae famed in martial story
    Noo Sark runs o’er the Solway sands
    Tweed runs tae the ocean
    Tae mark where
    England’s province stands
    Such a parcel o’ rogues in a nation
    What force or guile could not subdue
    Through many war-like ages
    Is rocked now by the coward few
    For hireling traitor’s wages
    The English steel we could disdain
    Secure in valour’s station
    But English gold has been oor bane
    Such a parcel o’ rogues in a nation
    O would or I had seen the day
    That treason thus would sell us
    My old grey heid had lain in clay
    Wi’ Bruce and loyal Wallace
    But pith and power
    Till my last hour
    I’ll mak’ this declaration
    We are bought and sold for English gold
    Such a parcel o’ rogues in a nation
    [ Written by Robert Burns as a protest against the Act of Union, 1707, which
    joined the parliaments of England and Scotland. Although initially against
    the Act, the Scottish parliament soon agreed when offered a large pension
    each by the English government. The people had no say, and thus were
    ‘bought and sold for English gold’. They are still paying the price. ]

    Read more: Burns Robert – Parcel O’ Rogues Lyrics | MetroLyrics

  8. theyenguy

    On Friday May 30, 2014, Commodities, DBC, and GSG, pivoted lower on May’s trade lower in the Major World Currencies, DBV, and Emerging Market Currencies, CEW. These are the birth pains of the new normal of destructionism replacing inflationism.

    Said another way, debt deflation, specifically currency deflation, coming at the hands of the currency traders, on fears that the world’s central banks’ monetary policies have crossed the rubicon of sound monetary policy and have made “money good” investments bad, has pivoted commodities lower in price, with the result that investors sold investments in Steel Producers, SLX, such as OSN, GSI, X, AKS, NUE, GGB, SID, MTL, PKX, Global Industrial Miners, PICK, such as VALE, RIO, BHP, Coal Miners, KOL, and Rare Earth Miners, REMX.

    Ongoing currency carry trade disinvestment is going to be highly destructive economically. The result of debasement of the world’s currencies will be economic economic destabilization and the much feared economic deflation.

    Given currency deflation in the Euro, FXE, the British Pound Sterling, FXB, the Swedish Krona, FXS, and the Swiss Franc, FXF, as well as the India Rupe, ICN, and the Brazil Real, BZF, economic growth is impossible.

    Economic growth was a largely a side benefit, that came from investment gains, flowing from the credit stimulus of Global ZIRP. Economic growth was a function of the investor pursuing investment gain in the bygone era of currencies, and the age of credit. One follow the ongoing collapse of currencies with this Finviz Screener of leading currencies.

    Austrian economist Mike Mish Shedlock writes Emerging Fed Policy If employment growth stalls, tapering will slow or halt. Long-term, hikes are longer off than most realize. Also, the Fed will never sell anything. Assets will be held to term.

    Under the power of the Bow of Economic Sovereignty, that is the Interest Rate on the US Ten Year Note, ^TNX, and its enforcing authority of The Rider on the White Horse, galloping with greater intensity over planet earth, seen in Revelation 6:1-2, the bond vigilantes, not the Fed, is in control of the interest rates, and will continue to be hiking interest rates, and that at a rather quick pace.

    The failure of credit, that is trust in the monetary policies of the world central banks’ monetary authority has commenced, and will be evidenced by by Global Financials, IXG, and Dividends Excluding Financials, DTN, Nation Investment, EFA, and World Stocks, VT, trading lower in value.

    The failure of trust in the monetary policies of the world central banks’ monetary policies, as is seen in Commodities, DBC, and GSG, pivoting lower in value on May 30, 2014, has begun to terminate the age of credit and the era of currencies, and is starting to birth the age of debt servitude and the era of diktat.

    Economics is defined as one’s life experience in sovereign money and sovereign authority. With the ongoing trade lower in Major World Currencies, DBV, and a sustained trade lower in Emerging Market Currencies, CEW, a new sovereignty, that is the sovereignty of regional economic governance will emerge; and it will provide new sovereign money, that being diktat money to replace fiat money.

    Out of a soon coming credit crisis and global financial system breakdown, foretold in Bible prophecy of Revelation 13:1-4, nation state leaders will meet in summits to renounce national sovereignty, and to announce regional pooled sovereignty, and to appoint regional fascist leaders whose mandates will establish regional security, stability, and sustainability.

Comments are closed.