A couple of weeks, ago Yanis Varoufakis – former Greek Finance Minister – came to Berlin to launch the manifest of a pan-European political movement: the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025, or DiEM25. During an interview with the Transnational Institute (16 January 2016) prior to the launch, Varoufakis already mentioned that the choice for Berlin, as the capital of Germany, to host this event was for “obvious symbolic reasons”. On a Tuesday evening, journalists and others gathered in the Volksbühne to hear Varoufakis and others explain the next step in their attempt to revolutionize Europe.
The “obvious symbolic reasons” apply not only to Berlin, but also to the venue itself: Berlin’s Volksbühne, or ‘People’s Theater’. The Volksbühne was opened in 1914 in an attempt to create a theater open and available for the common people of the working class, having as inscription at its entrance the slogan: “Die Kunst dem Volke” – ‘Art to the people’. The location of this theater was not random, as it is located on what has been one of the most important squares in the history of German’s Left: the nowadays called Rosa-Luxembourg-Platz.
This square was once the main stage of one of the biggest demonstrations held against the Nazi Party, in January 1933, five days before Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. The Rosa-Luxembourg-Platz is named after one of the most well-known Marxist theorists in Germany, also one of the co-founders of the Spartakusbund, the political movement which later became the Communist Party of Germany. The other founder, Karl Liebknecht, is not being left behind: right next to the Volksbühne, on the same Platz, we can found the Karl-Liebknecht-Haus, known today for being the headquarters of the German Left Party. So to say it is not really a coincidence that the former Greek minister of finance ended up in this place for the launch of his movement. But what did he have to say?
Let’s start with the basics. Varoufakis is part of a group of activists from all around Europe who launched a manifest calling for the democratization of Europe as to fight the ‘depoliticising of politics’ happening in Brussels and the disintegration of the European Union. To this end, a political movement came into being in order to “get Europeans around a metaphorical (digital) table… to discuss as Europeans their common problems and solutions” (Varoufakis, February 2016).
After his short, but sweet, intervention in European politics as the Greek minister of finance, Varoufakis learned a (his) lesson and is calling for Europeans to join this movement with, at the end, only one agenda: “to either democratise the EU or abolish it”. One of the main drivers behind this, at least as far as it concerns Varoufakis’ role in it, is resulting from the so-called ‘depoliticisation of politics’, which many have been pointing out in the last years as one of the major fault lines behind the European institutions and the European citizens. It means the process of turning macroeconomic policy into a bureaucratic and technocratic process which needs to be administered not through democratic control, but within organizations located outside of political contestation, such as the European Central Bank. As Varoufakis describes in his interview with the Transnational Institute, he saw the face of this ‘depoliticisation’ when joining the Eurogroup meetings last year, representing a newly elected government which was fundamentally based on a radical shift in policies. This shift, however, was not recognized as such by some of his colleagues in Brussels. According to this ‘depoliticisation of politics’ financial and monetary policy-making should not be constrained by such things as elections, so independently of the outcome of democratic voting, the financial and monetary programs designed to ‘get Greece back on track’ could and should not be changed.
Likewise, less and less is being left for Democracy to decide upon, and this is where the fundamental premise of DiEM25 finds its roots: democratise Europe! The manifest is, among other things, calling for more transparency in the European institutions and the creation of pan-European parties which can be elected for the constitution of a true democratic European Parliament. But is democracy the solution for Europe?
…the so-called ‘depoliticisation of politics’, which many have been pointing out in the last years as one of the major fault lines behind the European institutions and the European citizens. It means the process of turning macroeconomic policy into a bureaucratic and technocratic process which needs to be administered not through democratic control, but within organizations located outside of political contestation, such as the European Central Bank.
Let’s face it: Europe is not ready for a pan-European democratic system, with pan-European parties directly forming a parliament from which, eventually, derives a European president. The major events of last year have proved it once again: we, as Europeans, are not ready to think politics in a pan-European way. We are not ready to see a Europe in which national borders fade, in which the interests of the Italians are also the interests of the Swedish and vice-versa. The refugee crisis, unfortunately, functions as a perfect example here.
Although European integration has paved its way through in the last decades, politics are still mainly being confined to national borders. Even European integration itself is being evaluated according to its use for the national interest: whether more, or less, integration will give ‘us’ more or less benefits. Why? Because we are not ready to fully engage with a European identity.
Many authors, politicians, philosophers and academics have said it before me: a democratic system cannot be sustainable and efficient without a belief in a common good, a national interest and an identity which bonds a group of people. On November 13th we all felt some European solidarity with the French, and especially with the Parisians, as we accompanied the French capital in a state of emergency and even a ‘state of war’. We all became more alert, spoke with each other about growing danger and insecurity, and sent some planes to Syria. But does that mean that we are ready to embody a European identity, crossing national, ethnic, linguistic and cultural borders? I do not believe so.
For this reason, I do not believe that creating pan-European parties and allowing citizens to vote directly for the members of the European parliament, and ultimately for a European president, will provide an alternative for the ‘de-integration of Europe’, as Varoufakis calls it. I do not believe that more democracy will give the European institutions more legitimacy. I do not believe that, at this moment, a European president can be seen as such: as ‘European’, independently from his national background. I do not believe that democratising Europe by giving more power to the electorate will solve the European issues, our issues.
And still I am writing this article in a humble attempt to raise a bit more awareness for a fight which, in my eyes, is not only fair as well as essential to every single European citizen. I think most people can agree when I say that, if Europe continues the way it has been going on in the last years, the best case scenario would be for it to fall apart. Europe is in need of a substantial shift in the way it (or we) thinks politics, economics, security and sovereignty in order to be able to cope with the enormous challenges it is facing nowadays. Whether it is democracy that will provide an answer to our current questions, I am not sure. However, I am sure that Europe is in need of people such as Varoufakis and many others in order to keep the fire burning, or to say, to keep raising question marks and enhance critical thinking regarding our status-quo. As DiEM25 states, we are in need of a metaphorical table around which we, as Europeans, can gather in order to discuss the possible ways forward on a pan-European level. The alternative is to build back our national fortresses and watch the world around us to fall to pieces.
A full transcript of the Transnational’s Institute with Varoufakis can be found here