Yanis Varoufakis: a manifesto for democratising Europe

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who last September stepped down from his post in the radical-left Syriza government, has launched his Democracy in Europe movement, DiEM25. Its ambitious aim is a radical overhaul of Europe’s institutions and the introduction of absolute transparency in decision-making, to be completed by 2025. Mediapart publishes here the manifesto Varoufakis presented in Berlin on February 9th, a plan to “regain control over our Europe from unaccountable ‘technocrats’ and shadowy institutions”.

A Manifesto for democratising Europe.

For all their concerns with global competitiveness, migration and terrorism, only one prospect truly terrifies the Powers of Europe: Democracy! They speak in democracy’s name but only to deny, exorcise and suppress it in practice. They seek to co-opt, evade, corrupt, mystify, usurp and manipulate democracy in order to break its energy and arrest its possibilities.

For rule by Europe’s peoples, government by the demos, is the shared nightmare of:

• The Brussels bureaucracy (and its more than 10,000 lobbyists)

• Its hit–­squad inspectorates and the Troika they formed together with unelected ‘technocrats’ from other international and European institutions

• The powerful Eurogroup that has no standing in law or treaty

• Bailed-out bankers, fund managers and resurgent oligarchies perpetually contemptuous of the multitudes and their organised expression

• Political parties appealing to liberalism, democracy, freedom and solidarity to betray their most basic principles when in government

• Governments that fuel cruel inequality by implementing self-­defeating austerity

• Media moguls who have turned f ear-­mongering into an art form, and a magnificent source of power and profit

• Corporations in cahoots with secretive public agencies investing in the same fear to promote secrecy and a culture of surveillance that bend public opinion to their will .

The European Union was an exceptional achievement, bringing together in peace European peoples speaking different languages, submersed in different cultures, proving that we could create a shared framework of human righ ts acros s a continent that was, not long ago, home to murderous chauvinism, racism and barbarity. The European Union could have been the proverbial Beacon on the Hill, showing the world how peace and solidarity may be snatched from the jaws of conflict and bigotry.

Alas, today, a common bureaucracy and a common currency divide Europe an peoples that were beginning to unite despite our many different languages and cultures. A confederacy of myopic politicians, economically naïve officials and financially incompetent ‘experts’ submits slavishly to the edicts of financial and industrial conglomerates, putting Europe into disrepute and stirring up a dangerous anti-­European backlash. Proud nations are being turned against each other. Nationalism, extremism and racism are being re-­awakened.

One after the other, the Eurozone economies are being marched off the cliff of competitive austerity, resulting in permanent recession in the weaker countries, low investment in the core countries, unprecedented inequality and declining hope everywhere. Meanwhile, EU member-states outside the Eurozone are alienated, seeking partners and inspiration elsewhere, where they are most likely to be greeted with opaque, coercive free trade deals that undermine their sovereignty.

This inefficient, authoritarian, illegitimate and anti-­democratic ‘Europe’ is fragmenting. Europeans are torn between two false choices:

• Retreat into the cocoon of their nation-­state

• Or surrender to the Brussels democracy-­free zone

But the consequences of either going back to the nation-­state or sticking to the existing EU will be dreadful for Europe, Europeans, and Europeanists.

There must be another course. And there is!

It is the one official ‘Europe’ resists with every sinew of its cartel mentality and procedures. The antidote to the authoritarianism that corrupts the European Union and its institutions is a surge of democracy. Our movement, DiEM25, seeks to call forth just such a surge. The democratisation of the EU should start immediately, for without a swift start it may be impossible to chisel away at the institutionalised resistance in good time, before Europe goes past the point of no return.

Our goal to democratise Europe is realistic. It is no more utopian than the initial construction of the European Union was. Indeed, it is less utopian than the attempt to keep alive the current, anti-­democratic, fragmenting European Union.

Our goal to democratise Europe is terribly urgent. We give it a decade, by 2025.

If we fail to democratise Europe by then, and Europe’s autocratic powers succeed in stifling democratisation, the EU will crumble under its hubris, it will splinter, and its fall will cause untold hardship everywhere – not just in Europe.

Why is Europe losing its integrity and its soul?

In the post-­war decades during which the EU was initially constructed, national cultures were revitalised in a spirit of internationalism, disappearing borders, shared prosperity and raised standards that brought Europeans together. But, the serpent’s egg was at the heart of the integration process.

From an economic viewpoint, the EU began life as a cartel of heavy industry (later co-­opting farm owners) determined to fix prices and to re-distribute oligopoly profits through its Brussels bureaucracy. The emergent cartel, and its Brussels-­based administrators, feared the demos and despised the idea of government-­by-­the-­people.

Patiently and methodically, a process of de-­politicising decision­-making was put in place, the result being a draining but relentless drive toward taking-­the-­demos-­out-­of-­democracy and cloaking all policy-­making in a pervasive, pseudo-­technocratic fatalism. National politicians were rewarded handsomely for their acquiescence to turning the Commission, the Council, the Ecofin, the Eurogroup and the ECB, into politics-­free zones. Anyone opposing this process of de-­politicisation was labelled ‘un-­European’ and treated as a jarring dissonance.

A deceit lies at the centre of the EU bureaucracy: It pretends that top­down, opaque decision-­making is apolitical and demands that we all treat it as such. In fact its procedures are highly political as they attempt to kill off democracy by treating political decisions as technical problems. They mask the real purpose of their sanctity of ‘rules’: to keep the majority of Europeans away from exercising democratic power over money and finance and to defend the interests of financial and industrial conglomerates, their true masters.

The price of this deceit is not merely the end of democratic but also poor economic policies. It should surprise no one that Europe’s political and economic institutions have led to abysmal economic data and avoidable hardship.

• Rules should exist to serve Europeans, not the other way round

• Currencies should be instruments, not ends-in-­themselves

• A single market is consistent with democracy only if it features common defences of the weaker Europeans, and of the environment, that are democratically chosen and built

• Democracy is essential for limiting capitalism’s worst, self-­destructive drives and opening up a window onto new vistas of social harmony and sustainable development

In response to the inevitable failure of Europe’s cartelised social economy to rebound from the post-­2008 Great Recession, the EU’s institutions that caused this failure have been resorting to escalating authoritarianism. The more they asphyxiate democracy, the less legitimate their political authority becomes, the stronger the forces of economic recession, and the greater their need for further authoritarianism. Thus the enemies of democracy gather renewed power while losing legitimacy and confining hope and prosperity to the very few (who may only enjoy it behind the gates and the fences needed to shield them from the rest of society).

This is the unseen process by which Europe’s crisis is turning our nations inwards, against each other, amplifying pre-­existing jingoism, xenophobia. The privatisation of anxiety, the fear of the ‘other’, the nationalisation of ambition, and the re-­nationalisation of policy threaten a toxic disintegration of common interests from which Europe can only suffer. Europe’s pitiful reaction to its banking and debt crises, to the refugee crisis, to the need for a coherent foreign and anti-­terrorism policy are all examples of what happens when solidarity loses its meaning:

• The customary assumption that, whenever a state budget must be bolstered or a bank bailed out, labour and society’s weakest must pay for the sins of the wealthiest rentiers

• The injury to Europe’s integrity caused by the crushing of the Athens Spring, and by the subsequent imposition of an economic ‘reform’ program that was designed to fail

• The scandalous ‘not in our backyard’ attitude of most EU member-states to the refugees landing on Europe’s shores, illustrating how a broken European governance model yields ethical decline and political paralysis, as well as evidence that xenophobia towards non-­Europeans follows the demise of intra-­European solidarity

• The comical phrase we end up with when we put together the three words ‘European’, ‘foreign’ and ‘policy’

• The ease with which European governments decided after the awful Paris attacks that the solution lies in re-­erecting borders, when most of the attackers were EU citizens – yet another sign of the moral panic engulfing a European Union unable to unite Europeans to forge common responses to common problems.

What must be done? Our horizon

Democracy across Europe is a prerequisite for a functioning, prosperous European Union. We believe that the EU is running out of time, quickly. Change is needed. An immediate change of direction with the aim of creating a democratic union by 2025, at the latest. The EU bureaucracy, which today harbours a deep contempt for democracy, must be democratised. Or it will disintegrate.

One simple, radical idea is the motivating force behind DiEM25:

Democratise Europe! Democracy cannot be a luxury afforded to creditors while refused to debtors.

Realism demands that we work toward reaching milestones within a realistic timeframe. This is why DiEM25 will aim for four breakthroughs at regular intervals in order to bring about a fully democratic, functional Europe by 2025.

Now, today, Europeans are feeling let down by EU institutions everywhere. From Helsinki to Lisbon, from Dublin to Crete, from Leipzig to Aberdeen. Europeans sense that a stark choice is approaching fast. The choice between authentic democracy and insidious disintegration. We must resolve to unite to ensure that Europe makes the obvious choice: Authentic democracy!

When asked what we want, and when we want it, we reply:

IMMEDIATELY: Full transparency in decision-making.

  • EU Council, Ecofin, FTT and Eurogroup Meetings to be live-streamed
  • Minutes of European Central Bank governing council meetings to be published a few weeks after the meetings have taken place
  •  All documents pertinent to crucial negotiations (e.g. trade-­TTIP, ‘bailout’ loans, Britain’s status) affecting every facet of European citizens’ future to be uploaded on the web
  • A compulsory register for lobbyists that includes their clients’ names, their remuneration, and a record of meetings with officials (both elected and unelected)

WITHIN TWELVE MONTHS: Address the on-­going economic crisis utilising existing institutions and within existing EU Treaties Europe’s immediate crisis is unfolding simultaneously in four realms.

• Public debt

• Banking

• Inadequate Investment, and

• Rising Poverty

All four realms are currently left in the hands of national governments powerless to act upon them. DiEM25 will present detailed policy proposals to Europeanise all four while limiting Brussels’ discretionary powers and returning power to national Parliaments, to regional councils, to city halls and to communities. The proposed policies will be aimed at re-­deploying existing institutions (through a creative re-interpretation of existing treaties and charters) in order to stabilise the crises of public debt, banking, inadequate investment, and rising poverty.

WITHIN TWO YEARS: Constitutional Assembly

The people of Europe have a right to consider the union’s future and a duty to transform Europe (by 2025) into a full-­fledged democracy with a sovereign Parliament respecting national self-­determination and sharing power with national Parliaments, regional assemblies and municipal councils. To do this, an Assembly of their representatives must be convened. DiEM25 will promote a Constitutional Assembly consisting of representatives elected on trans-­national tickets. Today, when universities apply to Brussels for research funding, they must form alliances across nations. Similarly, election to the Constitutional Assembly should require tickets featuring candidates from a majority of European countries. The resulting Constitutional Assembly will be empowered to decide on a future democratic constitution that will replace all existing European Treaties within a decade.

BY 2025: Enactment of the decisions of the Constitutional Assembly.

Who will bring change? We, the peoples of Europe, have decided to regain control over our Europe from unaccountable ‘technocrats’ and shadowy institutions.

We are forming DiEM25 intent on moving from a Europe of ‘We the Governments’, and ‘We the Technocrats’, to a Europe of ‘We, the peoples of Europe’.

Our four principles:

• No European people can be free as long as another’s democracy is violated

• No European people can live in dignity as long as another is denied it

• No European people can hope for prosperity if another is pushed into permanent insolvency and depression

• No European people can grow without basic goods for its weakest citizens, human development, ecological balance and a determination to become fossil-­fuel free in a world that changes its ways – not the planet’s climate

We join in a magnificent tradition of fellow Europeans who have struggled for centuries against the ‘wisdom’ that democracy is a luxury and that the weak must suffer what they must. With our hearts, minds and wills dedicated to these commitments, and determined to make a difference, we declare that:

Our pledge

We call on our fellow Europeans to join us forthwith to create the European movement which we call DiEM25

• To democratise the European Union

• To end the reduction of all political relations into relations of power masquerading as merely technical decisions

• To subject the EU’s bureaucracy to the will of sovereign European peoples

• To dismantle the habitual domination of corporate power over the will of citizens

• To re-­politicise the rules that govern our single market and common currency

We consider the model of national parties which form flimsy alliances at the level of the European Parliament to be obsolete. While the fight for democracy-­from-below (at the local, regional or national levels) is necessary, it is nevertheless insufficient if it is conducted without an internationalist strategy toward a pan-­European coalition for democratising Europe. European democrats must come together first, forge a common agenda, and then find ways of connecting it with local communities and at the regional and national level.

We come from every part of the continent and are united by different cultures, languages, accents, political party affiliations, ideologies, skin colours, gender identities, faiths and conceptions of the good society.

Our overarching aim to democratise the European Union is intertwined with an ambition to promote self-­government (economic, political and social) at the local, municipal, regional and national levels; to throw open the corridors of power to the public; to embrace social and civic movements; and to emancipate all levels of government from bureaucratic and corporate power.

We are inspired by a Europe of Reason, Liberty, Tolerance and Imagination made possible by comprehensive Transparency, real Solidarity and authentic Democracy. We aspire to:

• A Democratic Europe in which all political authority stems from Europe’s sovereign peoples

• A Transparent Europe where all decision-­making takes place under the citizens’ scrutiny

• A United Europe whose citizens have as much in common across nations as within them

• A Realistic Europe that sets itself the task of radical, yet achievable, democratic reforms

• A Decentralised Europe that uses central power to maximise democracy in workplaces, towns, cities, regions and states

• A Pluralist Europe of regions, ethnicities, faiths, nations, languages and cultures

• An Egalitarian Europe that celebrates difference and ends discrimination based on gender, skin colour, social class or sexual orientation

• A Cultured Europe that harnesses its people’s cultural diversity and promotes not only its invaluable heritage but also the work of Europe’s dissident artists, musicians, writers and poets

• A Social Europe that recognises that liberty necessitates not only freedom from interference but also the basic goods that render one free from need and exploitation

• A Productive Europe that directs investment into a shared, green prosperity

• A Sustainable Europe that lives within the planet’s means, minimising its environmental impact, and leaving as much fossil fuel in the earth • An Ecological Europe engaged in genuine world-­wide green transition

• A Creative Europe that releases the innovative powers of its citizens’ imagination

• A Technological Europe pressing new technologies in the service of solidarity

• A Historically-­minded Europe that seeks a bright future without hiding from its past

• An Internationalist Europe that treats non-­Europeans as ends-­in­themselves

• A Peaceful Europe de-­escalating tensions in its East and in the Mediterranean, acting as a bulwark against the sirens of militarism and expansionism

• An Open Europe that is alive to ideas, people and inspiration from all over the world, recognising fences and borders as signs of weakness spreading insecurity in the name of security

• A Liberated Europe where privilege, prejudice, deprivation and the threat of violence wither, allowing Europeans to be born into fewer stereotypical roles, to enjoy even chances to develop their potential, and to be free to choose more of their partners in life, work and society.

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  • Yanis Varoufakis will launch the DiEM25 movement at the Volksbühne theatre in Berlin, beginning at 8.30p.m. on Tuesday, February 9th.

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Mediapart's report, in French, on the launch of DiEM25 is available here.

See also:

Our Athens Spring

A Plan B in Europe

Live on Mediapart: Yanis Varoufakis's view of Europe

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