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’.