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A pan-European political movement

DEMOCRACY / According to Yanis Varoufakis, his DiEM25 was the first to present a green new agreement – one that was comprehensive, radical and realistic at the same time.


As a theorist, economist, politician, author and co-founder of two transnational democratic and progressive movements, Yanis Varoufakis a political renaissance man who has captured some of the most important social, political and economic movements of our time. As Greek Finance Minister in 2015, he made a name for himself as a strong voice of opposition to European institutions of power in a time of turbulent financial crisis. Varoufakis has continued to be a leading voice for change. In 2016, he co-founded the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 ( DiEM25 ), and in 2020 he co-founded the international organization Progressive International. Varoufakis is currently a member of the Hellenic Parliament in Greece, representing MeRA25 (The European Realistic Disobedience Front), the constituency of the DiEM25 movement.


- You were involved in starting the DiEM25 movement in 2016. First of all, what was the main motivation for forming the movement?

- It began with the recognition that the crisis we have in Europe is not a crisis for Greece, Germany, France or Italy, but a pan-European crisis. It has to do with the structure of the EU. So if the problem is EU-wide, the solution must be EU-wide. The problem with our governments is that they are elected on the basis of nation-specific parties, which go to the electorate with an agenda that is completely unrealistic, as it can never be realized by a nation-state government. We do not have the opportunities to do what, for example, German political parties are proposing. So you have a kind of bogus politics, you have nation-state democracies that don't have the power to do what they promise, and you have the EU's extensive political decision-making, which is not democratic.

Once we had that realization, it was obvious to start one pan-European political movement, a unified transnational political movement. We are not talking about an alliance of a Greek party, a Polish party, a Dutch party and so on, since these alliances do not function as confederations. They have no common program, they just have the same job in Brussels.

We are the first movement that does not have a Greek branch or a German branch, and in our coordination committee we have neither a Greek representative, a German representative, nor a Dutch representative. We are all elected by all the members, regardless of our nationality. Some of us happen to be Greek, German or Italian, but we do not represent Greece, Germany and Italy respectively in the committee. We represent the membership across Europe. To stand for election, we created the party in Greece, for example. But all the decisions regarding the party, the manifesto – for example: What is our policy regarding refugees in Greece? What is our policy regarding VAT in Greece? — is voted for by everyone, including the Germans and the Dutch, not just the Greek members. This has never been tried before.

To formulate policy

- What does it take to create such a political movement? How do you proceed? And what are its challenges?

- It is very difficult. It is very hard work, let's admit it, also because of the geography. Europe is big, so before covid-19 we were always on a plane, running around, having meetings and so on. But the way we did it, when we started the movement in 2016, was to rent a great theater in central Berlin, the Volksbühne theater, where we invited people from all over Europe. We had a website, and we said: Join us. Then we decided on the design of the policy: On the one hand, at a pan-European level, a lot was of course digital – then the local campaigns, and then the creation of local committees. We call them DSCs (DiEM25 Spontaneous Collectives) – in Poland, in Greece, and so on.

We got five euros here and five euros there from our members.

It has been a nightmare to organize this and to carry out the election. In the election to The European Parliament in May 2019 we made lists in eight countries, which was particularly difficult for a movement without money. We got five euros here and five euros there from our members, which is why you don't see us in the European Parliament. We were very close to getting MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) elected in Greece, in Germany and in Denmark, but we failed – by a very small margin. Nevertheless, we got one and a half million votes across Europe – which is not a lot, but at the same time it is not insignificant – and we have influenced many other people. It's a constant battle. We haven't succeeded yet, but we haven't given up. The fact that we are still going full speed ahead is a great success for us.

Green conversion

- In your opinion, what is DiEM25's greatest achievement? Would you say it was the turnout?

- No. The greatest achievement is Green Deal for Europe – our political agenda – which we are proud of, since everyone is talking about the green transition and green politics. About how we combine the social with the environmental. We were the first to actually put forward a green deal – one that is comprehensive, radical and realistic at the same time.

And the way we did it: In 2016, we had a committee of about 20 economists, environmentalists and experts who created a questionnaire that we distributed across Europe and outside Europe, among our friends in America and elsewhere, questions that were very specific. Key questions such as: How much should we spend on green? Energy solutions? Numbers, not unrealistic guesses. Where will this money come from? What part of it will be publicly funded, what part of it will be taxes? How will it be distributed? What will it be used for?

What about universal citizen pay, a basic income? ? Do we want it?

And other questions like what about public debt – which is a big problem, especially in the EU and the eurozone. What about private debt? What are we going to do with the banks? How do we regulate the banks? What about universal citizen pay, a basic income? Do we want it? And if we want it, how do we pay for it? I'm just giving a few examples. Everything was a question, and it was a logistical nightmare, as we received thousands of responses and had to read through them all.

Based on all these answers, the 20-person committee had to put together a draft of a Green Deal proposal, which was then sent out for consultation. More answers came, we fixed it again, and we put everything together again, and then there was a vote for all the members across Europe. Then we formed the alliance on which we went to the European Parliament elections in May 2019. We brought in other parties that had not been part of this new green deal and they had to contribute themselves – so that changed everything.

Now we have a document. If you compare it with what comes from the European Commission, the green agreement of von der Read, theirs really isn't worth the paper it's written on – compared to ours. I am very proud of our agreement. I mean, of course, that there are things that can be improved and will be improved and are being improved, as we continually adapt it to the time that comes after the covid-19 pandemic.

- Thank you for the conversation.

The interview is shortened.

Translated by Iril Kolle.

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