Lambert here: It’s interesting to see what Varoufakis has come up with now, and I read the DiEM 25 Manifesto. I’m not getting a lot of clarity on “Who, Whom”; that is, who, exactly, is preventing Europe from being democratized?
By Mathew D. Rose, a freelance journalist in Berlin
“The wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact.” These words of former British Prime Minister Harald Macmillan in 1960 with regard to Africa are just as applicable to Europe today. It is incontrovertible that a change is not only coming, it is already here. If this is a positive development depends much upon what ensues.
On the one side we have the ultra-right nationalist parties, the most prominent being the Front National in France and UKIP in the United Kingdom, which have not yet had the political breakthrough that was feared. In Scandinavia and the Netherlands there are a number of nationalist conservative parties that are strongly influencing the policies of their nations. More salient are Fidesz in Hungary and the Law and Justice party in Poland, both of whom are in government.
On the other hand there are leftist parties, such as the newly elected government in Portugal, as well as a surging Podemos is Spain. Add to this an increasing leftist awakening in Britain’s Labour Party trying to wrest power from Tony Blair’s venal votaries. I am intentionally excluding Syriza in Greece for the time being, yet believe we have not heard the last from the Greek people.
Last but not least there are the nationalist governments of Catalonia and Scotland, representing a broad political spectrum. There are many more parties, groups and movements forming in Europe, all of which I cannot mention within the framework of this piece, who are together altering the political map of the EU — for better or for worse.
All may not bear the label “nationalist”, but they all have something in common: their resistance to the political programme of the EU, better said, pitting the welfare of their own populace against the hegemony of Germany and its brutal neo-liberal blueprint.
A case in point is the issue of the refusal of many east European EU member states, which are unwilling or not happy about accepting refugees currently fleeing to Europe. Explanations, such as a lack of contact with foreigners or racism, doubtlessly play a role. More important is the fact that most citizens of these nations have been the victims of Germany’s policy of austerity for the EU. They have not experienced the prosperity that was supposed to be part of EU membership, unlike a small corrupt elite in their nation. They have lost faith in the EU, distrustful of any new measures coming from Brussels, correctly fearing a worsening of their own plight. Why should they welcome destitute refugees, when they themselves are destitute, with little perspective except migrating to the wealthy nations of the EU often to work for pittance, leaving behind their families, communities and culture? They too have become refugees, wandering through Europe in an attempt to keep body and soul together. I do not wish to be an apologist for xenophobia, but it is a label that often conceals relevant issues. Ambivalence, scepticism and outright antagonism towards the EU have become ubiquitous through large swathes of the populations of member states.
Enter a most unexpected figure. Most politicians who suffer a crushing defeat either fade away or lead an emotional, often irrational struggle to vindicate their reputation. Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s former Finance Minister, has instead started a remarkable offensive against the institutions that are responsible not only for one of the most nefarious political and financial events in the history of the European Union, but also for a perversion of the European dream.
On 9 February Varoufakis launched the movement “Democracy in Europe Movement 25” (DiEM 25) in Berlin, the capital of his principle enemy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GkWwUG0p89Y&feature=iv&src_vid=cd4Owt05-ZM&annotation_id=annotation_767904811) . In its manifesto (http://diem25.org/) DiEM 25 discerns a rather stark alternative facing the EU: “The choice between authentic democracy and insidious disintegration.” In his speech at the launch of DiEM 25 Varoufakis went further, claiming that Europe was on the verge of a “postmodern version of the 1930’s” with the recrudescence of nationalism, extremism and racism resulting in dissolution of the European Union. Responsible for the crisis according to Varoufakis and the other speakers at Berlin’s Volksbahne is a phalanx of EU politicians and their accomplices in national governments together with financial and industrial conglomerates. The victim is the demos, the people, of Europe. Not only is democracy being sacrificed at the altar of an “opaque decision-making process” of the EU government, but also the social and material welfare, as well as the health of the EU’s populace in the name of austerity.
Probably Varoufakis knows better than the other speakers, which included leftist members of the European Parliament of various parties, activists from Spain, among others, what lies behind the forces that rule the EU. If one has followed his interviews since he resigned as Finance Minister, he has provided explicit glimpses into the abyss, be it in fragments. Things look much worse than many of us feared. The EU is not beset by chaos, or just kicking the can down the road, but has a clear plan for destruction of democracy and social gains of post-war Europe.
In its manifesto DiEM 25 sees the European Union member states confronted with only two alternatives: a “retreat into the cocoon of our nations-states or the surrender to the Brussels democracy-free zone”? DiEM 25 offers a third path: re-democratising Europe.
One wonders, if this analysis is too fatalistic with regards to nationalism. Probably one of the great surges of democratisation in the EU in this millennium was Scotland’s plebiscite. The vote may have been lost, but Scottish society has as a result been politicised, especially in those classes that had long lost their political voice. Of course the Scots could now go on and campaign for the re-democratising of the United Kingdom, whose politics make those of the EU look humane, or they can achieve independence — and it is around the corner — and serve as a tangible example of a Europe of the demos. The same process seems to be playing itself out in Catalonia.
Probably the most sanguine moments of the DiEM 25 evening in Berlin were the speakers from Spain’s recently elected anti-austerity, activist municipal governments of Barcelona and La Coruña. These victories are the result of political processes that may not be saving the rest of Europe, but are certainly providing a palpable respite for many of the cities’ denizens from the ravages of neo-liberalism.
DiEM 25’s concept is the creation of a very, very broad pan-European coalition of democrats, a political movement, not a party, to “forge a common agenda, and then find ways of connecting it with local communities and at the regional and national level.” This coalition, so Varoufakis, should contain “radical democrats, left wing democrats, social democrats, green democrats and liberal democrats”; all those who wish to put the demos back in democracy. How broad this coalition should be was demonstrated by the speakers from Germany. Most are elements of the status quo, not the forces of change.
Such an extensive coalition may well be necessary, as the 19 “aspirations” of DiEM 25’s manifesto not only entails a re-democratisation of Europe, but a political revolution. Its goal of creating a new, democratic constitution for the European Union is to be achieved by 2025, thus the 25 in the organisation’s name. The first step has already been defined: “Full transparency in decision-making.” This includes live-streaming sessions of important EU bodies, such as the EU Council and the Euro group among others; the publishing of the European Central Bank’s minutes and documents pertinent to crucial negotiations (e.g. trade-TTIP, “bailout” loans, Britain’s status); and, a comprehensive register of EU lobbyists. Following a number of intermediate steps 2025 is to see the “Enactment of the decisions of the Constitutional Assembly.”
At the conclusion of the event in Berlin members of the audience fielded questions. One of the first was how to proceed from here and now? Varoufakis’s answer was to organise assemblies for democracy in Europe’s cities, which seemed a bit vague for Germans, a nation of panglossians, where all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Varoufakis brought together many impressive intellectuals from throughout Europe to thrash out DiEM 25’s priorities. Germany’s intellectuals however are seen by many here as of doubtful integrity and being too close to power, as most of them are employed or financed by the state or have joined the predominant political parties to enhance their careers. The major German unions are considered more a force of repression, not emancipation. The wind of change in Germany is currently at best a slight breeze. In other nations that are bearing the brunt of German hegemony things are looking very different.
Yanis Varoufakis is probably not a great pragmatist and during negotiations with the EU did little to help his own people. Maybe he never had a chance. Maybe he did not know how to use the one he had. On the other hand, he may end up being one of the great European political thinkers of this decade. What Varoufakis may not comprehend is that DiEM 25 will not lead the forces of change in Europe. The Europeans have had enough of “great leaders” like Merkel, Schäuble, Juncker, Cameron and all the others. Still, DiEM 25 may well be a major influence as the demos put itself back into democracy.