Former Greek finance minister Yannis Varoufakis will be launching his Democracy in Europe Movement (#DiEM25) this evening (February 9th) in Berlin’s Volksbühne theatre. He will be accompanied by a who’s who of the European left from LINKE leader Katja Kipping to mayor of Barcelona Ada Colau and musician Brian Eno. 20,000 to 50,000 viewers are expected to watch the Live Stream.
At a press conference this morning, Varoufakis said that a new movement is necessary because of two connected crises affecting Europe. The inability of European governments to deal with the financial crisis has led to austerity and the so-called “refugee crisis”. This is producing an increased authoritarianism and a framework of disintegration reminiscent of the early 1930s. As individual nation states are unable to deal with the problem, his solution is a cross-border movement from below.
Varoufakis noted the “pivotal year” of 2015, when the EU “quite substantially” failed with an economic policy that condemned large parts of Europe’s periphery to permanent poverty. After the Greek government was forced to capitulate, it had to spend massive amounts of money bailing out banks. In contrast, European governments are squabbling about a fraction of this amount being used to help refugees.
On the refugee question, Varoufakis said “when someone knocks on our door in the middle of the night and they’re wet and hungry you don’t do a cost-benefit analysis.” He said that the Europe of our dreams and aspirations is an open Europe. This means discussing refugees as an issue that affects the whole of Europe and not turning Greece and Italy into concentration camps.
Varoufakis called for a coherent EU policy, stabilising the debt crisis and relegitimizing political power. The democratic deficit in Europe is not just something that concerns the political left. He said that for the very first time there is the possibility of a coalition of democrats including social democrats and Greens, partly reflecting his view that the left has failed to break out of its isolation – apart from for a few months in Greece.
In workshops this afternoon, people from across Europe swapped ideas and experiences. Spanish activists – including at least one mayor and the finance minister and deputy mayor of Barcelona – talked about uniting rebel cities. Others spoke of the danger of groups like Pegida and the Front National profiting if the left fails to offer a clear alternative. Many stressed the need to speak the language of ordinary people and offer solutions that people can understand.
Further issues that were stressed were the fight against climate change, attacks on wages, and the increasing danger of a surveillance society. Hans-Jürgen Ur ban of the National Executive of Germany’s IG Metall trade union emphasized the particular responsibility of Germany’s trade unionists in fighting the government which is most responsible for the European crisis.
Varoufakis’s initiative is a welcome one, although some questions remain open. Most notably there is the question of how to ensure that the movement is both broad and radical. It was great at the workshop to hear a French Green MP talking about the need to organise marches to tax havens, yet another French speaker spoke of the social democratic government basing its programme on whatever the Front National is saying. Exactly who will be part of the coalition of democrats?
After his experiences from SYRIZA, Varoufakis is currently wary of parties, although Dieter Dehm of the European Left Party stressed that DiEM is not a competitor. It remains to be seen how DiEM will be organised – answering criticisms this week-end about ticket prices being too high he said that this was partly because having a treasurer would be too bureaucratic. This is all well and good, but an international movement will require some kind of organisation.
At the moment, DiEM is emphasizing the democracy deficit. Varoufakis says that he has friends and close collaborators who could be called Thatcherites or neo-liberals but would sign up to his appeal for more democracy. Yet at some time, we need to discuss to what it is that we are fighting – just the lack of democracy, or is neo-liberalism part of the problem?
Finally, the question of the EU is currently being elided, with Varoufakis saying that the return to the national state is not an option. He is unclear, however, on how a different EU to the one that we have is possible.
None of this is a reason for abandoning DiEM before it starts, but shows that further discussion will be necessary. We must also discuss how DiEM relates to similar existing projects, like the Plan B for Europe called by Oskar Lafontaine and other left politicians. If this discussion follows the tone of solidarity which was seen today, that is only to be welcomed.