At Bozar (Brussels) the movement co-founded by former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis presented a critical account of the state of affairs in the European Union, which they fear at risk of disintegration, and their proposals to change it. “Europeans must set aside the propaganda coming from the Commission”.
Brussels – Let’s change Europe now, or it will soon disintegrate. That is the message conveyed by the Democracy in Europe 2025 movement (DiEM 25) during its “Real State of the Union” in front of a crowded Bozar on last Saturday night. The movement, which was co-founded by former Greece’s finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, was in Brussels few days before the State of the Union address by the president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, to present a radically alternative view on the current state of affairs in the European Union (EU). “President Juncker will say that the crisis is over, but we know well that’s not the truth. He is lying, as European politicians have been doing all the time in the last years”, stated Varoufakis in the opening of DiEM show, standing on a bright stage dressed with big white and red (falling) stars, recalling those of the EU flag. “On the contrary, things are getting worse. Numbers are not telling the suffering of European citizens” as Europe is disintegrating, the former Greek minister continued, mentioning the rise of xenophobic and extreme-right parties all over the continent as the most evident sign that the EU is at risk.
Losing public confidence
Varoufakis called into question the blind austerity policies imposed by a “technocracy with authoritarian methods”, not only in Greece but in many Southern Europe countries. However, problems do not only lie in Eurozone’s failing economics recipes. “This austere and highly undemocratic Europe is no longer sustainable”, Philippe Legrain, former advisor to Commission president José Manuel Barroso, argued. “European politicians are irresponsible, incompetent and even corrupt”, and “the tragedy is that, as a result of all this, the political capital of the European project, built up over decades, has been greatly eroded in just a few years; old stereotypes have been revived and there’s a burning sense of injustice in Europe”, Legrain added. A diagnosis shared by other speakers on Bozar stage, including Irish senator Alice-Mary Higgins: “We should have a new mandate for trade negotiation, different to that adopted in the negotiations for CETA and TTIP”, she stated, dealing with the issue of free trade agreements; “standards for environment and employment should be integrated in the new trade mandate of the Commission”. “Public confidence and engagement are more important for Europe’s future than market sentiment. Though, market sentiment is still guiding much of the decisions of the EU”, Higgins underlined, arguing that “Brexit is just one of many warning bells, meaning that people see themselves no longer represented in the decision making”.
A plan to recover Europe
Diemers have a plan to reverse the current state of the Union, setting up a democratisation process for the EU and its institutions. But before that, “we need a social Europe”, which relaunches economic growth and fights poverty through a massive investment programme. This programme, according to DiEM25, should be called the “European New Deal” (END), as the one adopted by United States president F.D. Roosevelt after the economic depression of 1929. From the stage, Varoufakis announced the main parts of DiEM’s proposal: a “green transition” programme for European economic recovery, based on innovation and research; a plan of “economic stabilization” that guarantees European citizens the right to a job and a house in their communities; last but not least, a “universal European dividend” at disposal of all EU citizens. DiEM25’s co-founder also explained some specific measures for the eurozone, such as the step-by-step creation of a “banking union” similar to the federal bank created in the USA in the 30s, and the introduction of « a mechanism of public debt restructure for the member states members who are no longer able to refund it ».
One could argue that this kind of criticism is similar to that of eurosceptic movements across Europe who are actually trying to dismantle the EU. However, the roots of Diemers ideas are firmly opposite to those of nationalist parties: the aim of DiEM25 is not to destroy the union, but rather to improve its functioning in a way which is much nearer and fair to its citizens. In this hard time for Europe, the multi-headed movement believes that a significant change in EU policies, beginning with economics and welfare, is the most urgent goal in order to prevent Europe’s doom. “We are committed Europeanists. We are not here to celebrate the troubles of our union but to expose them. Until we do that, we cannot fix it”, Varoufakis recently declared in an interview to POLITICO, inviting Europeans “to look ‘under the bonnet’ and set aside the propaganda coming from the Commission”. During the event, top level international politicians and scholars took also the floor, including former Ecuador president, Rafael Correa and Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Centre for sustainable development at Columbia University, as well as former advisor to Bernie Sanders during the last US Democratic primaries; they all supported DiEM’s project, while sharing their experience in fostering change across the ocean. “We are the evidence that another Europe is not only possible but already exists”, stated Lorenzo Marsili, co-founder of the movement, with a mix of pride for the present and hope for the future, towards the end of the event. DiEM25’s message in Brussels was clear, and it sounded like a wake-up call to Europe’s establishment. Will it be heard?
Matteo Guidi is vice-president of Eyes on Europe and former student at ULB Institute for European studies. Twitter: @Matt_Guidi
The full livestream of the event is available here.