Yanis Varoufakis speaks to Spain’s daily, La Razón. Read his comments on Brexit, the EU and DiEM25´s progressive answer to the “Nationalist International”.
English version below, as per the e-mail exchange with the journalist.
Do you think Jeremy Corbyn’s apparently no stance regarding the Brexit helps him? Why isn’t he clear about if UK is better outside the EU or not?
Jeremy and I share views and experiences. One such experience is the brutal distortion of our views by the media. Who said that Jeremy is not clear on whether the UK is better off in or out of the EU? This is a preposterous and unfounded accusation. Jeremy and I campaigned powerfully before the referendum against Brexit. The DiEM25 line was clear: IN the EU, against THIS EU! Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell adopted that view – a clear, sophisticated opposition to Brexit. That Jeremy did not wax lyrical about the EU, presenting it as the best thing since sliced bread, is to his credit. He showed that he does not infantilise voters by presenting to them a grey world in black and white. This is to his credit.
After we lost the referendum to the Leavers, Jeremy and I refused to demonise those who voted for Brexit or to pursue a second referendum that would have poisoned Britain’s democracy forever – focusing instead on seeking ways to minimise the costs of Brexit, e.g. DiEM25’s proposal for a Norway Plus solution.
And speaking about socialism, what do you think about the resurgence of socialism in Spain? Were you happy to learn Pedro Sánchez is our new president? Or are you more fan of Podemos?
I was very glad to see the back of Mr Rajoy. And to see that Mr Sánchez rejected xenophobia and began to explore alternatives to austerity. However, until and unless the Spanish government develops a European strategy that reverses the current policy mix coming to us from Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin, our societies will not be able to breathe within the EU. My fear is that neither PSOE nor Podemos are spending enough time developing such a strategy. I hope they do, together, and perhaps with DiEM25’s expertise to help them along.
In your opinion, is Greece better off out of the safety net, the umbrella of the euro?
The euro was never a safety net, an umbrella for the people of Greece, except for the oligarchy of course. It was nothing but pure poison. My view has been, since 2008, that Greece should stay in the eurozone on condition of a deep debt restructure, a large investment program and reforms that undermine the rent-seeking behaviour of the oligarchy. And that, if the EU authorities prevent all this by threatening us with a euro exit, we should be prepared to exit.
You have said that even though growth is back, the euro is still in danger, why?
There has been no sustainable, substantive growth. The euro is fragmenting and unsustainable, causing deflationary forces that only empower ultra-right wing, racist movements. Italy, to be precise, has a 2.5 trillion euro debt and a banking system that are unsustainable in this monetary system of ours. It is not a coincidence that it now has a government whose deputy prime minister is employing a fully fascist tactic of stirring up racial hatred by which to entrench his power.
There is a commercial war going on nowadays, is Donald Trump the main threat for the worldwide economy?
Donald Trump is a symptom of the liberal establishment’s failures. The crisis of 2008 destroyed the foundations of financialised corporate globalised capitalism. The establishment’s implementation of socialism for the financiers and austerity for everyone else gave rise to the Nationalist International that Mr Trump is heading in the US. We are re-living the post-1929 period when, at least in Europe, a clueless ruling class unwittingly fuelled fascism by attempting to transfer the financiers’ losses onto the masses.
You are now leading the pan-European movement DiEM25, why do you want to go back to Brussels?
I have no interest in going back to Brussels. But as committed Europeanist democrats who see Europe being destroyed by racists, we, the members of DiEM25 members, feel a duty to present Europeans with an alternative, on the one hand, to the authoritarian inanity of the neoliberal pro-EU establishment and, on the other, to the xenophobic forces that take advantage of Europe’s fragmentation to push us into a post-modern version of the 1930s.
Personally, years ago I thought austerity measures and the economy in general was going to break the EU. Now, I think it´s the migrationissue. Do you agree? What are your proposes/solutions within DiEM25 for this vital issue?
It is a mistake to separate austerity from the migration issue. Austerity has caused a permanent depression in countries like Greece, Italy, Portugal, the Baltics, Hungary, and a deflationary environment that eats into the middle class’ savings in places like Germany, Austria, the Netherlands. The insecurity and fear that this economic reality inspires into people, coupled with the complete loss of any uniting vision from the establishment politicians, is what gave the opening to racists to turn the migrant into a symbol of everything that is wrong about Europe. Just as in the mid-war period racism rose up on the back of a Great Depression, so too now xenophobia and the migration so-called crisis is wrecking the integrity and poisoning the soul of Europe. DiEM25’s answer to all this is our comprehensive, paneuropean New Deal for Europe policy agenda that combines (i) a program of 500 billion euros annually to be invested in the green economic transition – and, thus, creating millions of good quality jobs – and (ii) a radical migration policy based on our uncompromising slogan ‘Let Them In’.
Whenever Yanis Varoufakis is mentioned, the adjective “populist” follows your name. Do you like being in the same umbrella as for example politicians such as Matteo Salvini?
No politician in Europe has fought against populism more than I have. The fact that the establishment tries to paint everyone opposing its policies as populist is not something that causes me to lose any sleep. Ask your self this: Who enabled and empowered Brexit more? Varoufakis (who campaigned up and down in Britain against Brexit) or the authoritarian, anti-democratic, austerian policies and rhetoric of the European Central Bank, the European Commission, Mrs Merkel and the IMF? Who enabled and empowered Mr Salvin (whom I have branded a fascist) more? Varoufakis or Mario Monti, Mario Draghi and Matteo Renzi whose policies caused per capita income in Italy to decline year-in-year-out?
Knowing how difficult it all was, if Alexis Tsipras asked you again to be his Finance minister, would you accept?
Why would I want to serve in a government that has surrendered fully to the policies that we were elected, back in 2015, to reject?
Greece ended its third bailout deal with international creditors, the sacrifice Greeks have made is worth the sorrow?
I find your question painful. Why? Because it reminds me that the propaganda of Europe’s, and Greece’s, oligarchy has succeeded in conveying the illusion that the ‘bailout’ has ended. Nothing, but nothing, has ended. All that happened is that the money of the 3rd bailout has run out and we are entering 4th bailout program by another name. Ridiculous austerity continues (including fresh pension cuts, tax increases for the poorest and punitive tax rates for the middle class that will be introduced in 2019) while the Greek state’s insolvency is extended until 2060, home repossessions will accelerate, the young are living the country and businesses either go bankrupt or also leave the country. The only difference between the 4th and the 3rd bailout is that, instead of giving the Greek state new loans by which to pretend that we are repaying its old loans, they are now deferring loan repayment to after 2032,when they with interest.
Do Greeks live better now than in 2010, when the country was rescued for the first time?
Greece was never rescued. The French and German banks were rescued by means of loans amounting to 326 billion euros, all up between 2010 and 2015. Of this, the Greek state only got to keep 5%. What did the Greek people get out of this ‘rescue’? Here is the dismal list:
• 380 thousand young people left the country before 2015
• Another 200 thousand left after the summer of 2015 – with up to 15 thousand leaving every month as we spea
• 1 in 2 families have no member employed
• 60% of children today live under the 2008 poverty line
• One-third of Greek workers are forced to work for 384 euros per month (before tax)
• 700 thousand precarious workers are forced to prepay their taxes one year in advance
• Before 2015 pensions fell 40%. After the summer of 2015 they fell again 10%-20%, and then again by 18% in 2019
• The small solidarity payment to the poorest pensioners, abolished
• Citizens’ share of pharmaceutical and hospital bills reached 50%
• Half of medical school graduates migrate
• Heating allowance for poor families slashed 50%
• Income and sales taxes for poor families up
• Home evictions accelerate
• State railways, Piraeus & Thessaloniki ports, plus the Old Athens airport – sold to oligarchs for peanuts
• 14 regional airports sold to one state owned German company, with money provided by the Greeks
• Not one euro received from privatisations will be invested in Greece – it will all go to the creditors
• Greece’s death rate rises three times faster than rest of Europe
• Suicides are up 45%
• The debt is still rising
• National income is still 25% lower than in 2008
Do you regret anything of those months as Greece’s Finance minister? What about that interview with pictures having dinner with your then wife in the terrace in Athens that made it to the front pages of several media across the world?
I regret being far too accommodating to the troika; e.g. seeking a four month extension to our negotiations, assuming that the troika would be negotiating in good faith. They were simply not interested. In retrospect, I should have pulled the plug on the negotiations at the end of February 2015, defaulted on our debt to the ECB and activate our own payment system. As for the photo spread you mentioned, take a moment to think of what you are asking: Our people were condemned by the EU oligarchs to another thirty years of debt bondage and emigration and you are focusing on photos of my wife and I eating on our terrace (what a crime!).
In 2015, I remember reading about you every single day. Do you like being on the spotlight?
No, I did not like being in the spotlight, especially in a lifestyle context. Every time the media focussed on my motorcycle or my wife I knew they were doing it so as not to talk about our hungry, needy, distraught, desperate people. In 2015, and to this day, the international media are continuing to undermine their credibility with a behaviour that is unseemly.
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