Former Greek finance minister, Greek MP, economist and academic Yanis Varoufakis announced recently that he is standing in next year’s European elections in Germany. Varoufakis, is well known for his battles with the European Commission and European Central Bank as well as then German Finance Minister Wolfang Schaeuble over the bailout loan to Greece has potentially stirred things up by standing in Germany itself given the scars of the old battles of 2015.
It is of course slightly unusual for EU citizens outside their own member state but there have been precedents such as the late James Goldsmith, (father of current Richmond Tory MP, Zac) leader of the Referendum party (who campaigned for an EU referendum at the 1997 general election) who was elected to the European Parliament in 1994 standing in France.
Varoufakis turned his back on a career in academia in order to be elected as a Syriza MP in January 2015 and following the left wing coalition’s electoral victory following years of austerity was appointed finance minister by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
Once in government Varoufakis and his colleagues sought to renegotiate Greece’s debt and end austerity measures but were faced with strong opposition from the Troika (IMF, European Commission and the European Central Bank,) who insisted on maintaining the strict conditions of the Greek bailout, which necessitated brutal austerity measures.
This cumulated in a ‘bailout referendum’ in July 2015 where 61% of Greek voters rejected a new Troika bailout. However shortly afterwards Tsprisas decided to give in and accept the demands of the bailout something that precipitated
Since his resignation Varoufakis has become a strident critic of the European Union and in February 2016 he launched the pan –European DiEM25 (Democracy in Europe Movement 2025). Supported by a host of celebrities such as Noam Chomsky, Antonio Negri, Slavoj Zizek, Julian Assange and the former Labour MP Stuart Holland it aims to create a European Union that is ‘full-fledged democracy with a sovereign Parliament respecting national self-determination and sharing power with national Parliaments, regional assemblies and municipal councils“. Indeed DiEM25 use the slogan ‘The EU will democratise or it will disintegrate’ with 2025 being set as the key date when reform needs to take place.
In their manifesto Diem25 have a litany of complaints about the contemporary EU including the large bureaucracy, extensive power of lobbyists , austerity policies that the EU forces national governments to implement as well as the close relationship the EU has with bankers and media moguls.
Although they do accept that the EU has been ‘ an exceptional achievement’ it is now threatened by Nationalism, racism and extremism. Indeed the manifesto laments that the EU ‘could have been the proverbial Beacon on the Hill, showing the world how peace and solidarity may be snatched from the jaws of centuries-long conflict and bigotry’.
Diem 25 argue that the EU is also too hierarchical with a opaque decision making process. In the words of the manifesto ‘Its purpose is to prevent Europeans from exercising democratic control over their money, finance, working conditions and environment ‘.
Diem25 have argued that in order for the EU to democratise key meetings of various bodies such as the EU Council should be live streamed and the minutes of meetings of the European Central Bank should be published. They also advocate that documents related to crucial negotiations (e.g Brexit, TTIP) should be publicly available and a register should be created for lobbyists.
While it has discussed becoming a fully fledged political party DiEM25 appears happy to be an umbrella organisation and grassroots movements there have also been discussions about forming the first pan European political party to fight for reform in the EU. However more realistically in the short term leading up to next year’s European elections along with Varoufakis’ candidacy Diem25 has also agree cooperation with particular political parties who have embraced their agenda such as The Alternative in Denmark and Ramzem in Poland.
Varoufaukis is going to be running in Germany with the support of the German Democracy in Europe and has talked about the need for a ‘European Spring’ to counter not just to counter austerity across Europe but also the far right which in Germany is manifested itself in the form of the AFD(Alternative for Germany).
Additionally he has argued that the EU needs to pay more attention to the environment through a ‘green new deal’ and that Diem25 will campaign to clamp down on tax havens. There is also speculation that Varoufakis may be tempted with a return to Greek politics when elections which are due next year in Greece are called.
However in our tumultuous era of European politics it remains to be seen if Varoufakis and Diem 25 can have an impact in a populist age where ‘hard’ rather than ‘soft’ Euroscepticism appears to be in vogue.