In this interview LA STAMPA sought my views on the outcome of the Italian elections. My original answers (in English) appear below. The gist? Italy’s election result is yet another example of the political centre’s implosion as a result of the establishment’s perseverance with failed, austerity-based policies, pretending that they were the solution to our continent’s systemic crisis. One thing is clear: A new political force needs to emerge from the debacle; a progressive, radical, Europeanist force. This is what we, at DiEM25 are working towards across Europe and with our Italian partners across Italy – beginning this weekend in Napoli.
What is your view of the outcome of the Italian elections?
The Italian election yielded a sad impasse. The only real beneficiaries are those who invested in xenophobia and fear. Like every other European country in which the establishment pressed on with failed, austerity-based policies, pretending that they were the solution to our continent’s systemic crisis, the ballot box reinforced the forces of European disintegration. One thing is clear: A new political force needs to emerge from the debacle; a progressive, radical, Europeanist force. This is what we, at DiEM25 are working towards across Europe and with our Italian partners across Italy.
Do you see any analogies with what happened in Greece in the elections that saw the victory of Syriza?
None at all. Syriza was a pro-European party that rode a wave of hope and positivity. The Lega, Berlusconi and the smaller parties of the Italian right received votes based on fear, pessimism and xenophobia. The only connection between our two countries is that we are both in the clasps of a systemic European crisis that the European establishment refuses to recognise as systemic.
What’s your view of the Five Star? Do you categorise them as a populist movement or as a new left?
No party that invests in fear of the migrant, of the ‘other’, the refugee can pose as left-wing. The term ‘populist’, in my mind, has been widely abused of recent. In terms of domestic economic policies, Five Star is clearly trying to re-position itself as a centrist party that can be trusted by the establishment. It tries to maintain its perceived radicalism by targeting the old political class and it corrupt ways while refraining from challenging the ‘system’ itself. Of course, when a system is failing as obviously as Europe’s and Italy’s, the attempt to embrace the system while criticising its functionaries seems to me ill-fated.
What do you think of M5S’s proposal for a basic income? Is it radical? Is it progressive?
M5S are proposing a Guaranteed Minimum Income. This must not be confused with the Universal Basic Income, which would be paid to every citizen with no conditions attached. M5S’s proposal is for a minimum means-tested payment that is conditional also on registering at a job centre, demonstrating that you are looking for work, and not turning down job offers – even if they are low grade and demeaning. In essence, M5S is proposing a welfare net that is standard in most central and northern European countries. Many Italians need this payment and see it as a glimpse of hope – so we should not be quick to criticize it. Whether it will, in the end, be good for poorer Italians or not will depend on the implementation, and in particular what other benefits (e.g. disability or child benefits) are cut.
The winner of the Italian elections, M5S and League, want to force the European rules (3% deficit rule for instance), they critique the euro and attack the fiscal compact: what effect is this likely to have?
Mateo Renzi has already done it. His gross error was to demand, like a spoilt child, Italy’s right to bend the fiscal compact rules without, however, demanding a new debate at the heart of Europe – as Italy’s Prime Minister had a duty to – to re-design the rules. It is clear to me that, lacking any serious proposals on how to re-design the eurozone, M5S and the Lega are bound to repeat Renzi’s error.
Do you think that these parties, once in government, would fold back into the system like Tsipras did?
Just like Tsipras, Renzi and any politician who lacks (a) a comprehensive proposal on how to re-design the eurozone and (b) the stomach to say no to Berlin and Frankfurt once his comprehensive proposal is turned down.
Is it likely that a new government will face the same pressure from Europe that your government did in 2015?
Unlike our government in 2015, neither a M5S nor a Lega led government is going directly to oppose Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin. Instead, they may try to bend the rules behind the scenes, e.g. by issuing bonds backed by future taxes. How Germany and the EU will react will also be quite different to how they reacted to us in 2015: First, Italy is not Greece, in that any threat to Rome of an expulsion from the euro will end the euro. Secondly, because the German government and the German Chancellor are much weaker today than they were three years ago.
Is the euro irreversible as Draghi says?
Nothing on this planet is irreversible, let alone a currency that is unsustainable. Of course, the President of our Central Bank has a duty to keep insisting that the euro is irreversible.
How do you judge the new activism of Macron and the axis between France and Germany to reform the Eurozone?
An excellent show lacking any tangible substance. First, Macron’s proposals for the eurozone would prove macroeconomically insignificant even if adopted. Secondly, they will not be adopted, since Berlin will find a way to reject anything beyond some new window dressing.
What is the situation of Greece as compared to when you resigned as minister?
Despite the impressive propaganda, every day is worse than the previous one.
In which way?
From every point of view. Here are a few examples of developments since the summer of 2015:
- 170 thousand more young, well-qualified, people left the country
- Another 1.2 million people fell below the poverty line (the total now being 3.7 million out of a population of 10 million)
- A further drop of wages by 20%
- 34% of workers now receive less than €380 per month before tax
- A further drop of pensions between 10% and 35%
- Another 500 million euros was cut from the health budget
- 50% of medical school graduates left the country immediately after graduating
- Suicides continue at the same pace, 45% above the pre-crisis levels
- Electronic auctions were introduced even for main home residences, followed by evictions
- Sales of public assets for ludicrously low prices
- 14 airports to a German company that borrowed every euro from Greek banks that were re-capitalised by… Greek taxpayers
- 67% of Piraeus to China’s Cosco for much less than Cosco had offered when I was in the ministry
- Our trains for… 45 million euros
- The largest seaside Athens metropolitan plot of land (the old Athens airport) for €140 per square metre
What are your political projects now?
This weekend DiEM25 is bringing together in Napoli, hosted by Luigi de Magistris (Napoli’s Mayor), many political parties from across Europe. Our aim is to announce the formation of the first transnational party list to contest the May 2019 European Parliament election. Needless to say, we want to work with many other forces and this will be an open process. On 26th March, we shall be inaugurating our new political party in Greece, to be called MeRA25. By April, DiEM25 Italia will organise regional assemblies in all Italian regions to elect regional coordination committees – following the election of our national coordination committee. Our aim is to establish soon, together with our political partners in Italy, a new Italian national party that is part of the transnational European party list coming together this weekend in Napoli.