Yanis Varoufakis’ #DiEM25 – The European Union will be democratised. Or it will disintegrate!

“DiEM25 – The European Union will be democratised. Or it will disintegrate!”

Nine pages of a classical manifesto in the tradition of André Breton’s memorable Surrealist Manifestos signed by by the DiEM25 movement. The letters are the acronym of the “Democracy in Europe Movement 2025” launched in 2015 by former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. The text was officially presented on 9 February 2016 in the Volksbühne theater in Berlin. “Volksbühne” might deserve a translation in this context: the “People’s Stage”. Germany has been fond of the idea of “peoples” rather than “nations” for quite a while, before it abandoned both and became pro European in an uncanny political move. The manifesto is in red and, conveniently, on a pdf:

http://diem25.org/assets/documents/diem25_english_long.pdf

I was curious and remain, confessedly, perplexed. A number of reading impressions and some thoughts.

(Needless to add: Europe’s Positivists, the “Republic of the West” founded by Auguste Comte in the late 1840s, would, of course, be honoured to offer the reply of the author on this our humble web platform. We are about to see nothing less than a revolution of structures that will affect our joint Republic.)

“The Brussels democracy-free zone”

The opening is basically written with the aim to present the two major threats Europe is facing at the moment. We will either “retreat into the cocoon of our nation-states” or “surrender to the Brussels democracy-free zone” – unless we seize power in “a surge of democracy” to begin right now and to take place over the next two years with an immediate impact on the next decade, the years to 2025.

It is Charybdis to begin with, Greek’s nightmare, before we come to Scylla, Germany’s nightmare. The EU is, so the outline, run by politicians who fear the public vote and who keep “manipulating” the public in this fear. It is run by the Lobbyists of Brussels, the “Troika” (who negotiated with Greece) the Eurogroup (Europe’s monetary heart), by “bailed out bankers” (as noted by the Occupy movement, by governments that plead for austerity (Germany was the leading voice here), by fear-mongering media moguls (Germany’s Bild-Zeitung kept raising its sales figures with ever new revelations Greece’s mismanagement and spendthrift), to put it into a nutshell, by a…

…confederacy of myopic politicians, economically naïve officials and financially incompetent ‘experts’ [who] submit slavishly to the edicts of financial and industrial conglomerates, alienating Europeans and stirring up a dangerous anti-European backlash.

The message to the bureaucratic monster has five points of subtle philosophical twists – four to be employed in the Greek debt debate, the fifth required in order to win back the wider central European left and its neighboring Green movement:

  • 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 cannot be a luxury afforded to creditors while refused to debtors
  • 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

Who would disagree: Rules should be there to our advantage, we should implement them and change them as soon as they become troublesome. Yet they can do their job only to the extent to which we can rely on their acceptance. “Currencies should be instruments, not ends-in-themselves” – true to the point that even Greek citizens will change their Euros into gold or Swiss Francs if they fear that the might lose their declared value.

“A single market is consistent with democracy only if it features common defences of the weaker Europeans, and of the environment…” The statement is slightly odd in its junction. What exactly are “weaker Europeans”? The elderly and infirm? Not quite, though it is too early to reveal the entity in the centre. The environment is an artificial addition and it will reappear in this odd position in several of the other statements from now onward.

“Democracy cannot be a luxury afforded to creditors while refused to debtors”, the statement is apparently referring to debtors on a state level, not to citizens who overdraw, and who will not be stripped of their democratic rights in such an event. Run a state – the word “state” is on the list of words Varoufakis is trying to avoid – into a deficit and your creditors will appear with demands and no further interest in your people’s voice. We are in the middle of the Greek debt debate and need the last point to return to the European mainstream of social-democrats and Greens who will agree that capitalism has to meet strict regulations, complex frame conditions, to limit the exploitation of the workforce and environmental devastation. The document has several such lists and they usually have four or five points on the Greek debt crisis and a final one for the central European intellectual who has to understand that this is just as well the agenda of the individual and the ecology he happens to be interested in.

The nightmare of populism

Charybdis is the ensemble of European institutions, Scylla the nightmare of the “unseen process by which Europe’s crisis is turning our peoples inwards, against each other”: Populism, “amplifying pre-existing jingoism, xenophobia” is the new threat.

Varoufakis is infuriated by Europe’s foreign policy (“The comical phrase we end up with when we put together the three words ‘European’, ‘foreign’ and ‘policy’”) just as he is infuriated by Europe’s handling of the present refugee crisis:

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 manifesto is not written with the intention to present a problem and a model solution. Should we have joint European borders? – borders we can close at any given moment? Should we declare that refugees are welcome and opt for a central European committee to allocate them?

What we get is an idea of natural solidarity among the peoples. We would see this solidarity if only Brussels was not destroying it. The manifesto’s final bullet list will eventually state some of the philosophical premises. If we reach the ideal situation we will see Europe’s peoples ready to realise that they “have as much in common across nations as within them”, we will reach “an Internationalist Europe that treats non-Europeans as ends-in-themselves,” so the neo-Kantian formula in the end.

Transparency

The central and only solid political demand is the call to strip the EU-institutions of their opacity. The DiEM25 is here:

  • 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)

    Varoufaki’s problem is here to some extent the discretion he himself will see as a strategic necessity in negotiations. We demand that we can negotiate a credit in silence. We will loose our investors if they feel we will not be able to serve our obligations.

    The rules we implement should, however, be public and transparent. TTIP is a precarious project on this account. We should support the implementation of international laws and law courts. But that again is not quite the DiEM25 agenda.

    “We, the Peoples of Europe”

    The political demands require an immediate intervention. The next year will be spent to “address” the central problems of Europe: “public debt, banking, inadequate investment, migration and rising poverty”. It is not said what “address” means in this context. Within two years we will see the formation of a “Constitutional Assembly” “consisting of representatives elected on trans-national tickets” – as we see them wherever universities are applying for international funding, so the vague practical hint. The “Constitutional Assembly will be empowered to decide on a future democratic constitution that will replace all existing European Treaties within a decade”.

    All this is a language of power. Things will happen as we shall see. Yet it is not that transparent who this DiEM25 is supposed to be. For a moment it sounds as if we hear a collective speaking, a collective of thousands who have drafted this text. We read of their different languages, accents, skin colours, gender identities and faiths. Then, however, this congregation transforms into an assembly of “We the peoples”. What exactly is a people in its magical singular?

    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.

    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’.

    The “peoples of Europe” have four principles. Three again under the populist agenda on which we might think of Germans or Greeks as peoples, the last again under the wider agenda of the Western individual and its needs. “Peoples” as collectives need inviolable democracies and an inviolable “dignity”, the unalienable right to live without the threat of permanent insolvency:

    • 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

    The status of these sentences is more or less mysterious. “No European people can be free as long as another’s democracy is violated”. Back in the 1970s (and easily forgotten) Portugal, Spain and Greece were still military dictatorships. The peoples of Norway and Sweden were free – or not free – back then. This is obviously not the problem Varoufakis has in mind. His problem is a Europe that forces the Greek people to accept reforms – against their declared democratic will.

    Varoufakis does not offer a clearer picture of the framework which free democracies will have to accept nor does he offer a clearer idea of his concept of “dignity” European peoples should be allowed to defend. The constitutional German appeal to “human dignity” focuses on the individual whether a tax payer or in need of medical care for the rest of his life, whether free or interrogated by police. The dignity of “peoples” is generally the concept of populists who appear in order to restore this mythical dignity – if necessary at the expense of minorities and neighbouring nations who continue to trample on this most precious asset.

    The Greek debt debate is hovering over all these points – “No European people can hope for prosperity if another is pushed into permanent insolvency and depression” – and it is again not resolved. The wider consensus is again reached in a step from the peoples (nations) to the individual and the environment.

    A “pledge” as the new form of democratic legitimisation

    DiEM25 is strictly speaking in itself undemocratic and intransparent. It has not been elected. Its manifesto has not been signed by anyone. It must therefore declare its democratic commitment, and the pledge is the appropriate form to use with a perspective on upcoming actions. The movement is big and comes from “below” – from “local regional or national levels”. It will “promote self-government (economic, political and social) at the local, municipal, regional and national levels”. Both statements should be surprising. Below is practically any hierarchical level below the level of European institutions. The new movement will, however, also embrace civic movements. Shall we think of mayors of villages and cities, of regional governors and state leaders embracing student movements, and delegates of Greenpeace and Amnesty International at the eve of the upcoming Constitutional Assembly?

    The assembly will emancipate “all levels of government from bureaucratic and corporate power”. The practicalities are again interesting: “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.” You declare you are a “democrat” and that will give you the right to perform democratic acts? Those who join the assembly will be “inspired by a Europe of Reason, Liberty, Tolerance and Imagination made possible by comprehensive Transparency, real Solidarity and authentic Democracy.” How will we find these individuals who will apparently do not need a legitimisation beyond their idealistic commitment? Europe’s parties are in any case obsolete:

    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.

    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.

    The new Europe which the “peoples of Europe” will create will be (to quote only the capitalised central terms): “Transparent”, “United” (because its “citizens have as much in common across nations as within them”). It will be “Realistic”, “Decentralised”, “Pluralist”, “Egalitarian”, “Cultured”, “Social”, “Productive”, “Sustainable” and “Ecological” (“leaving […] fossil fuel in the earth”), “Creative”, “Technological”, “Internationalist” (on that Kantian premise: “An Internationalist Europe that treats non-Europeans as ends-in-themselves”), “Peaceful”, “Open”, and “Liberated”.

    Janis Varoufakis2

    A document of democratic neo-idealism?

    The DiEM25 manifesto is wonderfully questionable:

    • What exactly happens if the “peoples” of Germany and Belgium begin to treat the Syrian refugees as “ends-in-themselves”?
    • What exactly is “a people”? Is the German people the constitutional sovereign of all German citizens? Is the Greek worker at BMW in Munich, who has spent the last 30 years in Germany, part of the Greek people or part of the German people?
    • Do we have to acknowledge the existence of an alternative Europe stretching from French Normandy to Lesbos with a responsibility to serve and protect its 508 million individual citizens?
    • If democracies of individual peoples (in the former sense of states) are inviolable – should they (states) enter treatises with a longer commitment than one election period? (How can any government decide over a situation that will limit the democratic choice of the next publicly elected government?)
    • Is the “dignity of a people” balanced by a concept of individual dignity? How do we resolve the conflict between two peoples who feel they have to restore their dignity?
    • A constitutional assembly will emerge and end the era of the present European institutions – with the authority of the ideals the participants will declare and restore?
    • And what exactly will be the alternative to Europe’s party system? DiEM25 declared the “model of national parties which form flimsy alliances at the level of the European Parliament to be obsolete.”

    The “democratic West” has been spreading democracy to war torn countries with terrifying results. Parties of the last civil war send their “political arms” into the new assemblies in order to exploit the system. The new parties are formed along the lines of the ongoing conflicts whether sectarian, ethnic or family feud, and are not interested in any compromise let alone in swing voters. They will fight solely for their clientele and channel all positions and money they can get down into their clientele.

    Our Western democracies have developed parties of a different design and it seems to puzzle Varoufakis: parties with broad platforms that try to attract voters of all classes, ages, and regions. All these parties know that they will get the power only for a term or two, and that they should therefore cooperate with their political opponents and bear in mind that these will be in power one of these days. The EU Government is actually in a good position with parties we find on all hierarchical levels from Greek village to Brussels’ EU Government. It is an interesting situation that the Germans SPD, active in a Bavarian village, will have alliances all across Europe. The most logical alternative would be parties along the lines of the individual “peoples”, to use the DiEM25 language. We have been witnessing the emergence of “our people first parties” in recent years and they are not pro European – why should they?

    Democracy is eventually not the full project: We are speaking of complex mechanisms of checks and balances that do indeed curb the public vote, and it is clear why Germany is particular fond of such curbs, eager to establish the “rule of law” as the super construct. Germany became a democracy after 1918 with the aim to restore the “German dignity” after the lost war. The Treaty of Versailles was Germany’s “yoke” and “we” eventually found a politician who would put the people’s will into action and quit all further payments to our international creditors. Germany’s people decided to have their previous borders restored together with their dignity and the European Holocaust was eventually the democratic decision of the German people to free Europe from an alleged pestilence and thus to restore the dignity of the individual peoples of Europe.

    The alternative is the rule of positive law, of law we implement, and the construct of the individual as the new contract partner. The individual becomes a subject with an inviolable personal dignity which the state must respect and defend. This will include access to education, food and shelter, protection whether free or in prison, social care, even for those who need this care for the rest of their lives – so the German answer to the regime that had decided to “heal the Volkskörper” (the body of the German people). As a citizen I might actually prefer to claim all these my rights at a European court – it gives me the same rights and protection from Gotland to Lesbos. DiEM25 is strikingly uninterested in European institutions that could generate such a contract between the individual citizen and Europe, an ensemble of institutions.

    Europe has to change

    Europe has to change. The “Greek debt crisis” and and the present “refugee crisis” should be prime incentives to outline a better Europe.

    Speaking as a German, I would say we will need less nationalism in this debate and more federalism under European institutions. Germany’s federal states have been coexisting under a “financial equalisation scheme” for the last 67 years. Money is constantly transferred between federal states. The system is under constant stress yet without alternative. It can only be fair to the extent to which the individual federal states agree on similar standards of good governance and public spending. Health care, pensions, standards of service in the public sector must be harmonised in order to establish such a system on a fair basis. DiEM25 is not considering any such option.

    The present refugee crisis is indeed a European disaster. It is again not clear how a new Europe should act in such a situation. If we want to allow “free” nations to take care of “their own borders” they must make sure that they do not create problems (like a larger intake of refugees) to be solved by the other “free peoples of Europe”. This is the dubious status quo the Dublin Regulation No. 604/2013. The alternative is one Europe with one collective European border and one policy of political asylum to be or not to be granted, yet that will restrict the individual state’s right to control its borders.

    It is clear what will lead us to more Europe:

    • a gradual harmonisation of all national laws and regulations across Europe
    • the organisation of a European legal system that eventually protects the rights of European citizens
    • the development of a European citizenship that replaces the old national citizenship

    The aim is here a new European citizen who will vote wherever he is registered whether for Europe’s parliament and for the parliaments of the region or the municipality where he is presently registered. The gradual harmonisation of laws has been going on for the last decades. Individuals and companies have been demanding this harmonisation on the wider market. This is not the call for a free and unregulated market. Quite the contrary, we will need European institutions to control business and industry in Europe. We will need civil movements with a European agenda to balance the influence of corporate lobbyists, and, I agree, we need more transparency in this field.

    All this is apparently a nightmare for most Europeans right now – it is otherwise the Europe they are constantly demanding, whenever they cross open borders, whenever they want to be part of the bigger monetary system, whenever they move from one country to another with children whose schooling has to gain common standards throughout Europe for that purpose. All this requires an interest in joint European solutions.

    Varoufakis’s DiEM25 is not too specific about the solutions. The close reading can in this situation give more hints at the hidden agenda. It is apparent that Varoufakis has a problem with the populist movements of France, Poland, Hungary, Russia, and Germany. His alternative of “We, the peoples of Europe” seems to be an alternative Marxist, neo-Kantian, Green, Internationalist, Pluralist, sexually liberal, allegedly pro European populism, a plea for a EU of the free peoples – yet of peoples that should hardly need European institutions any longer.

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    [Image source: Jörg Rüger Wikimedia Commons]

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