Greece’s Varoufakis seeks to relaunch anti-austerity fight across Europe
Former Greek Finance Minister and anti-austerity campaigner Yanis Varoufakis launched a new political party on 26 March as part of a movement to contest EU elections in different countries next year, though the movement faces challenges in Greece and abroad.
Three years after leaving Greece’s government over its agreement to accept a third international bailout, Varoufakis is again challenging the austerity politics of the European Union (EU), the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
“They’re not interested in Greece’s recovery or even getting their money back,” Varoufakis said at a launch of the party in Athens. “What they are interested in is maintaining the networks of power they have built since 2008 and 2010.”
The new party, called MeRA25, is aligned with an international civil society network Varoufakis founded in 2016, the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 or DiEM25, whose declared aim is to stop the EU from becoming a superstate run by technocrats.
“It’s a kind of experiment for us, because usually you either have movements or political parties, so what we are trying is to combine both,” says Croatian philosopher Srecko Horvat, who co-founded DiEM25 with Varoufakis in 2016.
“The launch of the Greek party is just the beginning,” he continues. “We will also be launching other parties in other countries, with the idea that all these parties will not only compete in national elections, but also on a transnational list at the European elections in 2019.”
“The European Parliament […] has always been there as a fig leaf for the lack of genuine democratic processes within the European Union,” Varoufakis said at the launch of the party.
“The beauty of the European Parliament is that it gives us at least the opportunity once every five years, to have a pan-European election that lets us put forward our pan-European plan.”
Disputes over economic recovery
After turning its back on a rejection of the EU’s bailout terms in 2015, the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, formed by the Syriza coalition of left-wing parties, has been implementing the economic reforms demanded by creditors in exchange for a third bailout.
And three years later, economic indicators are showing signs of slow recovery from the debt crisis that gripped the country in 2008 and forced the first of three harsh bailout programmes in 2010.
“The growth rates and the decline in unemployment are not as fast as the optimists would want, but they’re not terribly bad, either,” says Vassilis Monastiriotis of the Hellenic Observatory at the London School of Economics.
“So the economy is in a recovery phase, doing reasonably well. As implementation of the bailout agreement proceeds, there is a return in market confidence, so we see positive signs on this front.”
So one of the challenges for MeRA25 is convincing voters that the indicators used to gauge recovery do not necessarily correspond to the realities people are facing.
“Around 500,000 people emigrated from Greece since the crisis started, and I think is the best indicator about so-called growth,” Horvat says.
“And this is not only about Greece,” he argues. “The party is part of a pan-European movement that tries to show that these sorts of statistical and economic indicators are a sort of ideology that is trying to convince us that countries are moving forward, when other indicators are showing that precisely the opposite is the case.”
Challenges at home before heading abroad
In addition to the EU elections, MeRA25 will have the opportunity to run in Greece’s next general election, which much take place before autumn 2019.
But Greek voters do not all have the same enthusiasm for Varoufakis that progressive groups around Europe do, with some critics arguing the former finance minister’s confrontational approach to talks led to a harsher reform deal.
Varoufakis is also the third former member of a Syriza government to start a new party, and none of the others have seen anything approaching the support that led Syriza to win two elections in 2015.
“Probably the target group are people who were disappointed with the outcome of the referendum and left Syriza,” says Marina Prentoulis, a senior lecturer in politics and media at the University of East Anglia who has campaigned with Syriza and for European reform before the UK voted to leave the EU.
“There is a small niche there where Varoufakis could get some votes, but I wouldn’t expect it to be something huge.”
The other challenge will be whether the DiEM25-affiliated parties planned for other EU member states build the momentum the movement is hoping for.
“[Varoufakis] was the first to try and connect different groups and create something that goes beyond the national borders, so in that respect, I think he’s trying to do something that the EU really needs,” Prentoulis says.
“But I don’t know how this is going to be organised and how much it will reflect what is happening with the grassroots across Europe, mainly because I think there is a lot of emphasis on Varoufakis’s personality.”