Yanis Varoufakis: The Remain Campaign’s Best Spokesman For Brexit

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Think that the EU is a hopelessly outdated, cumbersome, anti-democratic tyranny of the technocrats and unaccountable elites? So does Yanis Varoufakis. But he would very much like for you to vote Remain.

If you were searching for a passionate, eloquent case against the EU and the increasingly discredited idea of European political union from a non-Briton, you could do little better than the first 80% of Yanis Varoufakis’ latest Op-Ed in the Guardian.

In his article, Varoufakis uses anecdotes from his brief and tumultuous period as Greek finance minister to give the reader an illuminating and deeply unpleasant close-up view of exactly what it is like for a national government minister to face off against the EU’s leaders and technocrats in defence of their sovereign national interest (spoiler alert: advocating for national interest, like sovereignty, is verboten).

If you stop reading the Op-Ed before the final six paragraphs, you would come away thinking that this is a man who has stared into the cold, dead eyes of supranational European governance, seen its soul and come away understanding just how misguided and dangerous is the anachronistic, mid-century experiment known as the EU.

But then Varoufakis executes one of the sharpest journalistic handbrake turns you will ever see, wilfully ignoring his own bitter experience at the hands of supranational governance for the “common good”, and somehow arriving at the conclusion that everything will be better if we simply double down on our commitment to European political union.

His response upon being burned by the flame of unaccountable, supranationalist technocracy is apparently not to recoil his hand, but rather to go marching briskly on into the inferno.

Thus Varoufakis goes from this, when describing the nature of his negotiations with the Eurogroup (and German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble in particular) at the height of the Greek Euro crisis in 2015:

An alliance of states, which is what the EU is, can of course come to mutually beneficial arrangements, such as a defensive military alliance against a common aggressor, coordination between police forces, open borders, an agreement to common industry standards, or the creation of a free-trade zone. But it can never legitimately strike down or overrule the sovereignty of one of its member states on the basis of the limited power it has been granted by the sovereign states that have agreed to participate in the alliance. There is no collective European sovereignty from which Brussels could draw the legitimate political authority to do so.

One may retort that the European Union’s democratic credentials are beyond reproach. The European Council comprises heads of governments, while Ecofin and the Eurogroup are the councils of finance ministers (of the whole EU and of the eurozone respectively). All these representatives are, of course, democratically elected. Moreover, there is the European parliament, elected by the citizens of the member states, which has the power to send proposed legislation back to the Brussels bureaucracy. But these arguments demonstrate how badly European appreciation of the founding principles of liberal democracy has been degraded. The critical error of such a defence is once more to confuse political authority with power.

A parliament is sovereign, even if its country is not particularly powerful, when it can dismiss the executive for having failed to fulfil the tasks assigned to it within the constraints of whatever power the executive and the parliament possess. Nothing like this exists in the EU today.

For while the members of the European Council and the Eurogroup of finance ministers are elected politicians, answerable, theoretically, to their respective national parliaments, the Council and the Eurogroup are themselves not answerable to any parliament, nor indeed to any voting citizens whatsoever.

Moreover, the Eurogroup, where most of Europe’s important economic decisions are taken, is a body that does not even exist in European law, that keeps no minutes of its procedures and insists its deliberations are confidential – that is, not to be shared with the citizens of Europe. It operates on the basis – in the words of Thucydides – that “strong do as they please while the weak suffer what they must”. It is a set-up designed to preclude any sovereignty derived from the people of Europe.

While opposing Schäuble’s logic on Greece in the Eurogroup and elsewhere, at the back of my mind there were two thoughts. First, as the finance minister of a bankrupt state, whose citizens demanded an end to a great depression that had been caused by a denial of our bankruptcy – the imposition of new unpayable loans, so payments could be made on old unpayable loans – I had a political and moral duty to say no to more “extend-and-pretend” loan agreements. My second thought was the lesson of Sophocles’s Antigone, who taught us that good women and men have a duty to contradict rules lacking political and moral legitimacy.

Political authority is the cement that keeps legislation together, and the sovereignty of the body politic that engenders the legislation is its foundation. Saying no to Schäuble and the troika was an essential defence of our right to sovereignty. Not just as Greeks but as Europeans.

To this, in his pivot towards advocating a Remain vote:

Our European Union is disintegrating. Should we accelerate the disintegration of a failed confederacy? If one insists that even small countries can retain their sovereignty, as I have done, does this mean Brexit is the obvious course? My answer is an emphatic “No!”

Here is why: if Britain and Greece were not already in the EU, they should most certainly stay out. But, once inside, it is crucial to consider the consequences of a decision to leave. Whether we like it or not, the European Union is our environment – and it has become a terribly unstable environment, which will disintegrate even if a small, depressed country like Greece leaves, let alone a major economy like Britain. Should the Greeks or the Brits care about the disintegration of an infuriating EU? Yes, of course we should care. And we should care very much because the disintegration of this frustrating alliance will create a vortex that will consume us all – a postmodern replay of the 1930s.

It is a major error to assume, whether you are a remain or a leave supporter, that the EU is something constant “out there” that you may or may not want to be part of. The EU’s very existence depends on Britain staying in. Greece and Britain are facing the same three options. The first two are represented aptly by the two warring factions within the Tory party: deference to Brussels and exit. They are equally calamitous options. Both lead to the same dystopian future: a Europe fit only for those who flourish in times of a great Depression – the xenophobes, the ultra-nationalists, the enemies of democratic sovereignty. The third option is the only one worth going for: staying in the EU to form a cross-border alliance of democrats, which Europeans failed to manage in the 1930s, but which our generation must now attempt to prevent history repeating itself.

This is precisely what some of us are working towards in creating DiEM25 – the Democracy in Europe Movement, with a view to conjuring up a democratic surge across Europe, a common European identity, an authentic European sovereignty, an internationalist bulwark against both submission to Brussels and hyper-nationalist reaction.

Is this not utopian? Of course it is! But not more so than the notion that the current EU can survive its anti-democratic hubris, and the gross incompetence fuelled by its unaccountability. Or the idea that British or Greek democracy can be revived in the bosom of a nation-state whose sovereignty will never be restored within a single market controlled by Brussels.

Just like in the early 1930s, Britain and Greece cannot escape Europe by building a mental or legislative wall behind which to hide. Either we band together to democratise – or we suffer the consequences of a pan-European nightmare that no border can keep out.

In other words, the European Union as it is presently constituted and governed is a colossal, anti-democratic behemoth, but trying to leave this decaying mid-century relic to embrace the kind of inter-governmental and multilateral cooperation which befits a modern, confident Britain in a globalised world would “create a vortex that will consume us all”. Britain is stuck with the decision it made in 1975.

This is the Sajid Javid school of thought – the heart feels eurosceptic and yearns for Brexit, but the head worries that the world is too dangerous and uncertain right now for us to risk a small outbreak of democratic sovereignty by voting Leave. Incidentally, it is also the same mental cowardice that would have seen the thirteen American colonies never declare their independence from an overbearing, undemocratic British Crown with which they increasingly felt little affinity.

Or is it?

Much like the battered spouse convinces themselves that they are the ones at fault, or that their abusive partner can change, Yanis Varoufakis seems to have convinced himself that with enough “grassroots support” a pan-European democratic movement (his own DiEM25) can spring up and accomplish the following lofty goals at the drop of a hat:

  1. Willing a true European demos and sense of European identity into being, and
  2. Wresting the true levers of power within the EU away from political and economic elites, and vesting them in the newly-invigorated common European institutions created in Step 1

But it is pure wishful thinking. The EU’s architects (those who bought into the original vision of a process leading to a single European state) and current beneficiaries (political elites who enjoy the lack of full accountability to their own electorates) will not take such a brazen power grab lying down. Varoufakis, if he recalls, was finance minister of Greece until the powers that be froze him out, forcing his resignation.

And were they to succeed, DiEM25 would only be yet another entirely elitist group seeking to impose their own top-down vision of supranational governance on the peoples of Europe. Two of its founder members (Noam Chomsky and JK Galbraith) are Americans who have no damn right to decide how we choose to govern ourselves in the first place.

(Look beyond the flashy website and the picture of a smiling Caroline Lucas and read the manifesto, and you’ll see that the talk of democracy is just a window dressing for the same integrationist dogma, only bolted on to a bunch of miserablist, left-wing nonsense)

Apparently Varoufakis’ idea of an alternative to the current hegemony of the Brussels elite is to replace them with a new academic elite instead – to cram the European Union’s institutions with tweed-jacketed professors in place of sharp-suited lobbyists and bureaucrats.

One can understand why Yanis Varoufakis might want to agitate for a mini-revolution within the European Union to displace his many recently-acquired enemies and install more people like him (cerebral, academic types) in their place.

One can even admire his chutzpah for trying to engineer such a coup in broad daylight, and his shamelessness at exploiting the very real suffering of his Greek compatriots in an attempt to bring about another elitist vision of European political union (which will fail ordinary citizens just as the current model fails Europe’s citizens).

But what Varoufakis utterly fails to do – having devoted the majority of his Guardian Op-Ed to correctly explaining why the EU is a democratic black hole – is advance the slightest argument as to why Britain should aid and abet him in his grubby scheming by voting to remain in the European Union this June.

 

Yanis Varoufakis

Top Image: City AM

Bottom Image: Guardian

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2015: A Good Time To Be Eurosceptic

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First published at Conservatives for Liberty

It’s hard to remember the last time it felt this good to be a Eurosceptic, to love Europe but abhor the mid-century anachronism that is the European Union.

Since the dying days of the Major government we eurosceptics have been on the back foot, forced to watch Britain sign the agreements and ratify the treaties which lashed us ever more tightly to the post-war dream of ever-closer union, totally incapable of mounting an effective defence. And when we did speak up, we have consistently been portrayed as cranks, obsessives (and far worse) by left-wing politicians, Conservative sympathisers and the media.

Aside from the recent morale boost courtesy of Nigel Farage and UKIP, it has often felt as though we eurosceptics were waging a lonely and futile battle against progress itself – that the inevitable world of 2115 would be organised into huge, supranational, protectionist trading blocs, with nation states stripped of power and relevance, and representative democracy having long since slipped down the crack between the two.

But not now, not in 2015. Not after Greece.

It should not have taken the immolation of a small, southern European country – sacrificed for the “greater good” of monetary union – for so many people to finally wake up and realise that the European Union does not mean them well, that the Eurogroup’s treatment of one recalcitrant member is the rule, not the exception.

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The Curiously Brittle Bonds Of Left Wing Patriotism In Britain

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People of all political stripes sometimes say things they don’t mean, or come to regret, in the heat of passionate argument, either out of anger or just for dramatic effect.

The Sun newspaper once famously warned the last person fleeing Britain in the event of a Labour election victory to “turn out the lights”. Every Labour Party campaign in living memory has warned voters that they had only “24 hours to save the NHS”, though somehow it never seems to disappear in the Tory years. Paddy Ashdown said he would eat his hat if the Liberal Democrats did as badly in the 2015 general election as the exit poll predicted (they did worse).

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, angry liberals threatened to move to Canada when George W. Bush was re-elected, while social conservatives – high on passion but lacking in international awareness – responded to the Supreme Court’s ruling legalising gay marriage by themselves threatening to move to Canada, that well-known bastion of homophobia and social conservatism.

So rhetorical hyperbole is not restricted to any one political party or any one type of outlook or worldview. But there is a certain type of political argument to which those on the political Left seem to resort far more often than their opponents on the Right.

When faced with electoral defeat and years in political opposition, those of a conservative mindset tend to lick their wounds for awhile and then set about the business of trying to re-acquire power and influence, however angrily or unsuccessfully. However, when those of a left-wing mindset are faced with rule by the other side, they are far more likely to view the situation as intolerable to the extent that even remaining part of the same country or political structure becomes undesirable.

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The British Left Rediscovers Euroscepticism, With Help From Greece

 

You know there must be a serious disturbance in the Force when left-wing commentators like Owen Jones begin openly flirting with euroscepticism. But this is exactly what we are now witnessing, with formerly staunch eurofanatics up and down the land executing sharp 180-degree U-turns in their general attitude toward Brussels, sometimes with quasi-admissions of former error (see Owen Jones) but usually done quietly in the hope that nobody will notice.

Never mind the fact that just a couple of short months ago, many of these same left-wing talking heads were taking to the airwaves during the general election campaign to argue that the European Union represents enlightened internationalism at its best, and that only the most unlettered and unsavoury characters (read: Ukippers) could possibly believe otherwise.

Never mind the cognitive dissonance required to accuse Nigel Farage of paranoid xenophobia one month and then find fervent common cause with him the next; wherever there is a David vs Goliath struggle raging in the world, the virtue-signalling Left are never slow to exploit it, even if it means resorting to twisted pretzel logic or making themselves look extremely silly in the process. Thus the British Left have decided that plucky little Greece is “good”, while the European Union – for so long a beacon of social democracy in Britain’s ‘capitalist darkness’ – has suddenly become the evil enforcer of a punitive “neo-liberal” agenda.

Of course, this is done with the level of sanctimonious obnoxiousness that you would expect. Those filthy Ukippers hated Europe for all the ‘wrong’ reasons, one can imagine them thinking as they penned their first tentative polemics against once-loved EU institutions. But we changed our opinion of the EU for ‘good’ reasons, reluctantly, after watching Greece being bullied. So you should sit up and take notice when we criticise the EU, because we’re not like the fruitcakes and closet racists who bang on about Europe the rest of the time.

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Greece Capitulates, And The Euro Project Claims Its First Victim

 

Much of what Guy Verhofstadt shouted at Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras in the European Parliament the other day – captured in the video above, which has since gone viral – is perfectly true.

Yes, Greece has dragged its feet making necessary pro-market economic reforms, not just over the past five years but since that country joined the European Union in 1981. Yes, tax collection is not what it should be in a modern western economy. Yes, there remain too many closed industries, stifling competition with their restrictive practices and deliberately insurmountable barriers to entry. Yes, corruption is still a real problem in some cases. And yes, the Greeks voted in a left-wing Syriza government well endowed with socialist rhetoric but less so with reforming zeal.

And yet when you watch a democratically elected leader – the prime minister of one of the EU’s own member states – being lectured and belittled in view of the whole world by a European parliamentarian, something does not sit right in the stomach. Unlike Britain, Greece is an enthusiastic EU member, viewing their membership of the organisation and the single currency as a marker of national progress and development. But must this be the price of their ongoing membership, their leaders summoned to Brussels for public rebuke and their ministries thrown open to clipboard-wielding EU technocrats?

As was perhaps inevitable, Greece has largely capitulated in the ongoing standoff with their creditors and the European Union. Austerity measures, even more than were demanded before the “Oxi” vote in the Greek referendum – which itself tells you a lot about the real motivations behind the EU’s negotiating strategy, not seeking a sustainable deal but wanting to punish a small member state for not immediately doing what it was told – are now being willingly accepted in the latest Greek proposal.

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