There is a threshold in nonlinear mathematics. Suddenly things take off. That's what we would like.
CARTA: Mr Varoufakis, you are running for European Parliament as a candidate in Germany with a newly founded transeuropean project that you call »Demokratie in Europa«. We would like to know more about this. A bit earlier today, you were referring to long term goals and to the expectations for the upcoming European elections in the short run. What is, in your eyes, the ideal outcome of the election?
Yanis Varoufakis: To stop the disintegration of the European union. That is our number one goal. And to stop the European continent from becoming what Donald Trump really loves – a divided toxic reactionary Europe. »Democracy in Europe – DiEM25« in Germany and across Europe was created because we feel the duty to do something to stop this.
C: What do you want to concretely reach within the frame of this upcoming election?
YV: OK. That’s the boring part. We’re now talking about means, not ends or objectives. Getting elected is just a means. Our objective is to stop the disintegration of the European union and its conversion into a reactionary divided continent.
Our means are tools: if we would ideally elect 25 MEPs we would form our own European parliament group. Not that the European parliament can change anything, but it gives you a forum, and what is most magnificent about the European parliament and the election is not so much the parliament itself but the fact that we have an election the same week all across Europe. So we have an opportunity to put our platform and our program and our ideas forward in front of the eyes and ears across the continent.
C: You have spoken about a chain reaction that you intend to start. How?
YV: All political movements that are successful are nonlinear in mathematical terms. Take Bernie Sanders for instance. Nobody knew him outside Vermont at the beginning of 2015. He had a very small base, but then he started his campaign, and very soon… There is a threshold in nonlinear mathematics. Suddenly things take off. That’s what we would like.
If you are asking, what is your objective: we start small, we start with a base of 20.000-30.000 members here in Germany, but if our message is any good and if we’re smart in the way we’re propagating it, then there will be a sudden takeoff. And we will go from 20.000 to 1 million people, to begin with, and this across Europe.
C: In 2016, you and your fellow colleagues initially announced your plans at Volksbühne Berlin. How do you assess what you’ve achieved so far?
YV: It’s mixed. I’m being honest with you. The results are mixed. We are very disappointed by the attitude of progressive existing parties. Because when we founded DiEM we did not want to run in elections. It was a movement, it was a meeting platform for people from different countries and with different party affiliations. We wanted our movement to be a common infrastructure for progressive liberals, social democrats, Marxists, greens, feminists, and so on. So that we could all get together and shift the Christian political parties in a direction of policies that could actually work, as opposed to policies that have no chance of working. That didn’t work.
C: Was that a surprise to you?
YV: No. It was no surprise but we had hoped that we could shift the parties. And in the end, they proved completely incapable of being shifted. They are bureaucratic machines. We were hoping that the crisis and the fact that they were shrinking would give them an incentive to rethink their own mechanisms. But they didn’t.
We didn’t believe that really would happen. We just hoped there was a 10 percent chance. And it didn’t happen. We were disappointed but not grossly disappointed. So the next step was to say, given that the existing political parties are not interested in politics, really, they are far more interested in reproducing their own office. So now we have to make a big decision, as DiEM. Do we run ourselves? It took us 6 months to decide that.
»Democracy in Europe« is not becoming a political party. It remains a movement. But we are the first movement in history, that says, okay, now we’ve created »Demokratie in Europa« in Germany, but a DiEM-member in Germany does not have to belong to it and can even run with another party. That has never happened before. So we’re not democratic centralists. But we’re running. To us, disappointment is there, but also the excitement that we’re starting something afresh, yet with a little bit of regret that we’re running against comrades. So here in Germany we’re running against Katja Kipping, who is a friend and a comrade, but she is refusing to move out of the cocoon of »Die Linke« and cannot side with our radical Europeanism because of a strong Eurosceptic faction in that party. I really appreciate Katja Kipping, we agree on everything, but they see loyalty to the their party as more important than program coherence. If we don’t have a common program we are bypassed by history because racists have a common program: they want misanthropy to be spread around.
C: What do you think about the gilets jaunes?
YV: Well, I’ve already answered that question in France a number of times, now I’m going to do it in Germany. They are the children of austerity. Like all children they are a mixed bag. They can be rebellish, they can be nasty – as you know there is nothing more horrible than children fighting with one another. But they are the product of Wolfgang Schäuble’s great success. Because what Schäuble tried to do with the Greek program, and I know that because he told me, was to take the troika, hone it, develop it in Greece, then transfer it to Ireland, to Poland, to bring it to Paris. The troika has not formally gone to Paris but the troika policies have been implemented in France. So you have a reduction in property taxes for the rich, you have increasing austerity and elasticated forms of labor in a recessionary environment. The result is that you have lots of little Greeces in France. There are pockets in France that are going gangbustered, others that are doing very, very well, and there are remarkably profitable and successful companies in France. Yet, France is not Greece. But now, France has little Greeces in it. And the gilets jaunes began there. It begun in places where people make 1.400 or 1.500 euros, whole families, a month. They struggle to make their ends meet. Their taxation is going up, their school fees are going up and suddenly the diesel tax comes in. They have a 15 year-old diesel car, they cannot afford a new one, and they are told that they have to save our planet by paying a carbon tax. So then they wear their gilets jaunes and they go out and start smashing things up. Our view is: it is a spontaneous movement, it contains fascists, it contains unpolitical people, it contains some progressive people. It’s a mixed bag, but we should look at the cause, not the effects.
C: Does »Democracy in Europe« want to reach out to these people? A lot of academics who have some idea about economy will be able to agree to your program. But beyond that it’s difficult, and that might prevent DiEM from growing.
YV: Here you are being very pessimistic.
C: Do you see any chance to reach out to a broader public?
YV: Yes, because we do reach out. I’m on the campaign trail. The other day, I was in Patras, a Greek city with 35.000 unemployed people out of a population of 110.000. And I was addressing unemployed workers in churches and in town halls and the message is very clear to them. The message is on an European level and on a national level, as always. You have to say to them what you are going to do at the level of the European Union and on the level of Greece, and in their town. So we have a well developed answer to this, and it’s what I was also saying there.
Think about the monstrosity of it. In Europe, we have about 3 trillion Euro in the banking system gathering dust, not doing anything, not being invested. We’re going to take 500 billion every year from European Investment Bank (EIB) bonds and invest it in good quality jobs. In Greece we’re going to stop selling public assets for peanuts. And we’re going to found an investment bank. And we’re partnering both with the german Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW) and with the European Investment Bank. We say to them that we will reduce tax rates. VAT rates. And we are planning to introduce an inheritance tax for people above a certain level of wealth.
Eventually, you know what the real difficulty is? It is not that our message is not going through. It’s money. We don’t have funds. Because if we had the capacity to buy some advertising space either in newspapers or radio, which is my favorite medium, or a little bit on television, we would have taken off. But especially in places like Greece we face complete media silence. Complete silence. It’s not an accident, it’s not a conspiracy either. You just follow the money. All the media in Greece are bankrupt.
C: How do you consider the role of Germany?
YV: Well, my line all my life was: any sentence beginning with »Germany does this …« is wrong. Whatever comes after this is wrong because there is no such thing as Germany. There are many Germanies. Our »Demokratie in Europa« people are German. Der Mittelstand is German. And so is Siemens. Siemens and the Mittelstand don’t have the same interests. Frankfurt banks have their own agenda. The chancellery has different priorities from the finance minister. When I was in government, Schäuble and Merkel hated each other. So what’s Germany?
C: However, there is a certain German role in the EU, and there is a certain German political agenda, and especially an economic agenda.
YV: Well, in these terms nothing has changed. If anything, the overall position and stance of the German political class in the European union is becoming more entrenched in the old way of thinking. My problem, if you want, was expressed in an article I wrote in 2013 in »Handelsblatt« that was titled »Europe needs a hegemonic Germany«. Germany still refuses to be hegemonic. The German government is refusing to be hegemonic. It is as if the political elite in this country continues to insist that Germany is a small open economy that’s a taker of policies, a taker of exchange rates, a taker of the international aggregate demand or the European aggregate demand. It is not. Germany is a big player. It is shaping the rest of Europe. And therefore we must have a new type of politics in Germany so that the majority of the Germans can shape policy and help bring Europe, and Germany, together.