Your letter is a remarkable source of inspiration and hope for me. It also constitutes a wonderful opportunity to clarify, even within my own thinking, what our new movement, DiEM, is about.
The Athens Spring, and the ruthlessness with which ‘official’ Europe crushed it, shook millions of Europeans out of their complacency. Suddenly, it was impossible for decent folks to carry on pretending that all is well in the best of all feasible Europes. Suddenly, good people who had been lulled into a false sense of TINA (“there is no alternative”) began to realise that the present power structures in Europe are not an option (as they are crumbling all around us) and that, if they continue to do nothing, they will be complicit in the emergence of a postmodern 1930s.
DiEM is being conceived as a movement that will connect these good, recently enraged, Europeans, with the movements that you so eloquently described in your open letter. Of course it would have been absurd to think that I was the first one to come up with the idea of starting a pan-European movement. Civilised Europe has been shaped by cross-border movements for centuries. No, the idea behind DiEM is to provide an opportunity for this new, hopeful coalescence between (A) the movements and (B) the recently energised/enraged/awakened silent majority. The aim is to use the Athens Spring as a springboard for a new coalition of democrats demanding that the demos, the people, is put back into democracy.
Undoubtedly, the questions that DiEM will pose, beginning on 9th February in Berlin, have been posed countless time before by people and movements all over Europe.
- A European party or self organisation across Europe?
- Can the euro be fixed and made compatible with shared prosperity?
- Is the current mélange of EU institutions reformable (even in theory) or should we look beyond it?
- What forms of political action are best suited to the task of democratisation?
As I used to tell my students, the big questions do not change – the interesting answers do. What DiEM offers is an opportunity of unifying:
(A) all those who have been asking these questions for years, while fighting the good struggles in their cities, communities, workplaces; networking across regions and countries with
(B) Europeans who had hitherto not left their… couch, or lifted a finger against the establishment, but who are now eager to be part of a movement that restores hope in a Europe that can become decent, sustainable and worth striving for.
In this context, you are precisely right: DiEM must, from the word ‘go’ (i.e. on 9th February, at the Volksbuehne), prove itself as a movement keen to learn from the accumulated experience and dynamism of (g)local movements like Blockupy. Whenever in the past few years I sought to counter the ultra-nationalist, quasi-fascist elements here in Greece, who tried to use the crisis to turn Greeks against Germans, I would refer to the resistance movements within Germany and to the solidarity of German activists (including the internationalist-networked manifestation of that solidarity across borders). Indeed, it was my hope that such movements would be excited by our choice of the Berliner Volksbuehne (as the site of DiEM’s launch) and thus join us more readily.
So, let’s get practical. –
- I propose that, prior to the launch (at 20.30 of the 9th of February), one of the pre-launch public meetings (earlier in the day) should be dedicated to the question: ‘DiEM and the movements?’ Many comrades who are at this early stage working towards the inauguration of DiEM25, defining its direction and helping me with the writing of our Manifesto, have been for years or even decades actively participating in various movements – from the World Social Forum to the European Social Forum, from various solidarity campaigns all around Europe to the Altersummit, from Uninomade to Euronomade, from occupations in the Balkans to the struggle of Blockupy, from the Subversive Festival to Transeuropa Festival, from the theatre-scene to many other honest and important initiatives all around Europe and beyond. Their contribution, your contribution, that of movements like Blockupy, together with contributions from other participants [e.g. from Barcelona (led by Ada Culao), Madrid (represented by Miguel Urban Crespo), the UK, Denmark, France etc.] should, in the context of a truly open agenda, help tackle the issues you mentioned in your open letter.
- In addition to the pre-launch event, allow me to extend an invitation for you, or for another of your comrades, to address the audience during the main event, in the Volksbuehne.
Finally, on a personal note, if I may: You close your open letter by welcoming me to the “hell of the movements”. My answer to you is: “Glad to be here – even though, in truth, I was never anywhere else!” While earlier this year I spent a few, brief months in the corridors of ‘power’, and many years in universities as a professor, I have always been an activist: Beginning with the occupation movement of high school Greek students in 1975-8, the Black Students Alliance in my English university in 1978-80, the steel, printing and coal picket lines against Mrs Thatcher’s neoliberal policies in the early 1980s, CND and pro-ANC campaigns, working as a trades union advocate in Australia in the 1990s, involved in the student occupations of Athens University in the 2000s (when, as their professor, I gave ‘anti-lectures’ on political economics to the occupying students), all the way to the 2011 Syntagma Square occupation (where I participated daily and addressed the crowds, twice) – and finally to the… Eurogroup. Activism as a state of being… Lastly, your are right in saying that we cannot afford to start from scratch, from the beginning, ignoring all that has been accomplished by current and past movements. This is so. But, at the same time, I think we need a new beginning. One that appeals to those that the movements have, so far, left untouched. A new beginning to which we all contribute expecting nothing in return, save perhaps for the warm inner glow, when we are terribly old and decrepit, that we were not idle in the face of Europe’s descent into authoritarianism, misanthropy and sadness. That’s the purpose of DiEM. Looking forward to the 7th of February, where (following your advice) I shall be attending the Blockupy meeting in Berlin, two days before our joint (I hope and trust) launch of DiEM. In solidarity Yanis Varoufakis
Open letter to Yanis Varoufakis: Welcome to the movement!
(Translation from German)
since a couple of weeks, you have issued an invitation for the founding of a paneuropean movement against austerity. This is to start in Berlin on 9 February with #DiEM25. You spoke about this idea on several occasions already. One such occasion took place in October at a panel discussion with other wise Leftists at the Berliner Volksbuehne. Since then the thought has not left me to respond to you on this with an open letter. I believe and hope that I am not the only one in this. Your appearance in this area and your call have generated a great deal of discussions among us. Some have been asking themselves whether the revolution can be done so easily: 12 Euros – and you are in. Where did you get the idea that Germans before the coming revolt, before the “storming of the Station” always first buy a train ticket? Anyway, these are frivolous Twitter comments.
Seriously, our circles – the circles of leftist movements – are wondering: Has this Varoufakis discussed seriously with someone from the Basis of the movement against austerity in Greece, Germany or Europe before issuing this call (for action) ? Does he not think, that the smart idea to launch a movement for another kind of Europe has already occurred to others?
Before I dig further, the obligatory words of praise should not be forgotten: There are many people including my friends and I who have deep respect for what you have accomplished already. Your confrontations with Dr. Schaeuble will remain in our memory. Nobody else but you could bring him to the edge of madness, no one but you could fulfil best the role of an alternative Minister of Finance. You became at once the symbol of the anti-austerity movement. More important than Alexis, Pablo and all the other stars.
Your ideas expressed in your books do not sound at all unrealistic: You propose another kind of Europe with your small but „modest proposal for a solution of the Eurocrisis”; and this without going against the European Treaties (which some people classify as “reformist”) -but nevertheless this is an alternative proposal which dares to question the idea of a German Europe. And not being satisfied with a so-called social administration of the crisis as your ex-comrades and ex-colleagues are doing. And above all you are a pushing for a fundamental critic of the reigning political economy ideas, as it is taught at the universities. Especially for this you deserve a big “Like”. However, some said, you always wanted to be in the foreground, but perhaps you have shown, that someone has just to dare. And started all this from your own self first. Even a new left populism has to be learned.
I would like, however, to give you some tips for your upcoming trip to Berlin. Apparently, you are stepping into an unknown territory, very far from Parliaments and Economic Institutes, and you want to address and activate a “Europe from the bottom”.
You need, however, to pay attention to the fact that social struggles and the confrontation of power in discussions over the crisis have already started from the beginning of the crisis of the capitalist innovation offensive. For this you do not have to look too far away, but take a look at Greece: the student protests of 2006-2007 against neoliberal policies in universities, the uncompromising revolt of parts of society pushed to the edge in December 2008, the General strike of hundreds of thousands of people in the street, the movement of the Indignados (“Aganaktismenoi”) and the occupation of Syntagma square.
The exhaustion of the mass protest correctly observed by leftist academics led to new discussions in the Left: Party or self-organisation? Or both? Solidarity has been undertaken in Greece not only as self-support or charity but with the vision of the transformation of social relations toward a different administration of the Commons. Similar debates have been and are taking place in Spain and in other areas of the world. The decisions of Tsipras and Syriza have led to further fundamental questions which you yourself are also asking: how to change the EU without leaving it? Why are we so damn helpless and are talking since summer of the last year only of “Defeat”?
But let’s go back to Berlin and Germany: Imagine, here also there were attempts to counter the propaganda of the media and politicians of the „lazy Greeks“. Here, in the “Heart of the Beast”. Maybe our protests were too small to influence the existing discussion. Here some remember the solidarity “smoke signals” from Frankfurt to Athens during the Blockupy protests against the opening of the ECB in March 2015 or the #thisisacoup demonstrations after the Referendum, the ultimate unsuccessful occasion.
In addition, since years German and Greek activists are travelling to each other. We are people who want to prevent that in Europe only German is spoken: Blockupy, Greek Solidarity Committees, crisis migrants, progressive parts of the left parties and other Clubs, culture and theatre people and many others. Perhaps none of your German speaking partners explained that there are people who have already had the idea that we need a transnational network, even a movement from the bottom. And with this I do not mean the plan B of Oskar Lafontaine.
All these initiatives from Germany are networked also beyond its borders. There are many European wide forums, to which it is worth participating: Blockupy International, Alternative summits, Beyond Europe, transnational Agora-meetings, antiracist networks, struggles for transnational social strikes, networked eco-social struggles from Nantes via Val de Susa to Chalkidiki. Talk with your comrades in Greece: They also know about this, they also belong to these transnational networks. In Frankfurt we were all together on the streets.
We do not have always to start from the beginning. But: we all have to unite for a real movement.
This is why I have four direct requests for you:
- Come to the Blockupy meeting which will take place on 6 and 7 February, shortly before your visit to Berlin. Or at least contact them one way or the other.
- Do not waste your time with irrelevant Plan B conferences. Movements are not made from the top.
- Create for yourself a small map of social resistance and transnational networks in Europe. Blockupy can certainly help you in this. Believe me, it is worth it!
- Talk directly with the people: A lot of them are complaining they could not talk in the Volksbuehne. You especially can influence and open to the public the conferences you are going to support and participate in.
The initiative to create a paneuropean movement to change existing conditions is correct, but existing structures should also be associated with this. Welcome to the Hell of social movements.
NB. This is my email if you want to react to this: [email protected]
Following the tragic events of 13 November in Paris and the French government’s decision to set and extend the “state of emergency”, it is now very clear: It is the freedom of movement and freedom of protest that is at stake.
In fact, the choice to ban demonstrations and people gatherings does not make any sense from the point of view of an effective “anti-terror security measure”.
Contrary, it is part of a “state of war” attitude and rhetoric from above, including the scapegoating of Muslim communities and of refugees, who are really escaping from the same Daesh terror in the Middle East. This governmental decision represents instead a dangerous limitation to the spaces of free and democratic expression. That is unacceptable!
To the many activists from all over the world that will join the civil society mobilizations and actions around the UN Climate Conference in Paris (COP21) Blockupy International is sending all its active support. Whatever the results of the COP21 might be, we already know that the same austerity policies, neoliberal economic and political rules and big corporations’ interests are among the most relevant contributors to global warming, climate change and their devastating consequences on the environment and communities’ life. It is a “social and climate state of emergency” we are living in.
The initiative from below by social movements all around the world is the only one, which could reverse the capitalist trend of destructing the planet. Debt, crisis of democracy, climate and social justice, austerity, migration are so crucial that we cannot leave them in the hands of politicians, corporations and warmongers. It is not the French government, which has the right to decide whether a multitude of people should or should not take the street of Paris.
Only the ability to break the rules of the current crises and the war-mongering, capitalist regime may create conditions for developing alternatives in a broader perspective of democracy, freedom and equality. We now need to raise our voices loudly in the squares during the COP21 conference and everywhere else. We need climate and social justice: Now more than ever.
Moreover, we are sending a strong message of solidarity to our sisters and brothers in the climate justice movements and in Paris: Right now at this moment, no matter where we are physically, we will be with you in Paris!
Let us not leave our cities to the “masters of war” whoever they are!
Let us take together the squares and the streets for climate and social justice!
Let us refuse the “state of emergency” and reject any restriction on our ability to act!
Blockupy International, November 25, 2015
Over the weekend, the Socialists and the Comunists signed an agreement. Since the Left Bloc and the Socialists had already done likewise, there is, right now, a parliamentary majority to defeat the briefest government in the history of Portuguese democracy, bringing an end to the Passos Coelho and Paulo Portas saga. The outcome is fundamental as much as it is historical: after the horror of austerity, a new page is being turned.
Over the previous weeks, I have been quite critical of the time it took to close a deal and of its lack of audacity, because two separate agreements – even if they are basically the same – and three motions for rejection to take down the government mean a choice was made not to come up with a strong statement. But now that an agreement has been reached and it is public, it’s time to focus on its contents and durability, which I shall discuss from the only point of view that matters (to me): how to answer to the social crises exacerbated by the torment of austerity.
I will start with the agreement’s contents.
The three conditions mentioned by Catarina in her television debate with Costa were, even before the electoral campaign, the starting point for this weekend’s agreement: the SP must drop the reduction of the Single Social Tax paid by the employers, as well as the Single Social Tax for workers whose pensions have been cut; forget the so-called “conciliatory lay-offs” and unfreeze pensions. Faced with electoral results, which left the right wing with no majority, the SP accepted these conditions. And there were plenty of socialists sighting in relief, for they did not support those three ideas put forward by their own party.
But the agreements that have now been made public go further than that — much further than that, actually. They did come up with an emergency response embodying emergency measures, but did go the extra mile, inasmuch as some of them could become longstanding alternative answers to austerity if there is a will to do so.
The agreements stipulate the end of privatisations — there will be no more privatisations. They also cancel the recent processes of handing the urban public transports of Lisbon and Oporto to private companies. They protect water as an essential public asset.
As for labor incomes, which affects millions of workers, public sector wages will be fully restored (in 2016), while wages in the private sector will benefit (those over 600€ due to a reduction in the surcharge, which will be abolished in 2017; the ones bellow 600€ because of a decrease in social security contributions, with no future impact on pensions nor the sustainability of the social security). Four public holidays will be restored. Bearing in mind that losing them meant workers that to work more hours for the same wages, all workers will be positively affected — all 4,5 million of them.
All pensioners will be better-off (pensions bellow 600€ will be unfrozen and shall see a small recuperation, while those above 600€ will no longer have to pay the IRS surcharge), and that means two million people will be better-off. In contrast, the right wing had vowed to go ahead with a 4000 thousand euros cut in Social Security (1600 millions by freezing pensions, plus 2400 in 600 million a year in benefit cuts, as promised to Brussels). The difference is abyssal.
New fiscal rules will apply: IRS progressivity is restored with more tax brackets; the familiar quotient, beneficial for wealthier families, is replaced by an IRS deduction per child; there is a limit clause for rises in Municipal Property Tax (it cannot exceed 75€ per year) and Corporate Income Tax reductions will come to a halt; the deadline to report company losses will be reduced to five years, instead of the twelve, and new rules will curb fiscal benefits from dividends. Finally, VAT in restaurants will return to 13%.
To fight poverty, the minimum wage will rise to 557€ on January 1st, 2017, and to 600€ by the end of the mandate. Poor families will be entitled to reduced electricity fares. Such measures will benefit one million people.
Measures shall be adopted to make sure false autonomous workers are provided with proper contracts; collective bargaining shall be reinstated; the special mobility regime for public workers, which lead to lay-offs, will be cancelled.
Attachment orders on people’s homes due to public liabilities will no longer be allowed. Mortgage debts will from now on be settled whenever there is dation in payment (that is, the bank keeps the house), if there is no alternative in terms of new deadlines and interest rates.
The list of measures on health and education includes reducing NHS user charges and a textbook exchange mechanism.
The Socialist Party withdrew its electoral law proposal, which included single member constituencies (the “first to pass the post” system used in the UK).
Finally, a parliamentary cooperation proceedings have been agreed, with multiple meetings between the parties, and including setting up committees on external debt sustainability and the future of social security. These committees shall write trimestral reports.
What is thus achieved is stability in people’s lives, relief for pension holders, wage recovery, jobs protection and more fiscal justice. On the other hand, such an increase on aggregate demand will cause an immediate positive economic reaction.
What is then missing?
The agreements lack structural solutions for investment and on how to manage and improve both external and income accounts. Only debt restructuring will enable it; otherwise, there will be no leeway to resist external pressures and launch employment. It will take investment and promoting the productive capacity, and the State will have to play a strategic pivotal role in reacting to the protracted recession we have been dealing with.
Besides, we cannot yet foresee what the conditions imposed by Brussels, Berlin or the ECB will be, but we know they won’t be favourable. We must keep in mind the statement issued by the European Commission only two days after the elections, which demanded new measures on social security — the subject will remain a matter of dispute. And we must also keep in mind how rating agencies have been threatening the Portuguese Republic. Lastly, the Novo Banco issue [the bank that was created after the bankruptcy of BES and that the government has been trying to sell, unsuccessfully] will blow up before the summer, bringing about wither important losses to the budget balance, demands for recapitalization or a new bank resolution process, which must be carried out in accordance with technical demands that protect the public welfare and cut down on external debt.
These are the problems that will be knocking on our doorstep over the next months and years. The new majority is quite aware of it, because there is a safeguard clause guaranteeing that no budgetary unforeseen event or situation will lead to higher taxes on labor or lower wages and pensions. The time has surely come to start devising the answers to such unforeseen events and situations, because they will be here before the new Budget.
Francisco Louçã Professor universitário. Ativista do Bloco de Esquerda.
This article was first published in esquerda.net
The Inequalities in Health Care during the Crisis
Posted on 10 August 2015 by mkie — No Comments
To tell a very long story in a short space, here is a summary of the inequalities in health care that have taken place since austerity policies were introduced in Greece over the last years. Health care was far from perfect before the crisis started in 2008. But whatever the many faults of the system, one way or another, the general public had access to public health.
From the beginning of the crisis up to August of 2013, no government bothered much about the uninsured – who according to the president of EOPYY (Public Health Care Providers) reached more than 3 mln. in September of 2013. These people, most long term unemployed, were virtually cut off from pubic health care for having been without a job for more than two years, a limit set by OAED (the unemployment bureau). Those who had a serious illness were doomed to an early death – unless they could lay their hands on the necessary money. The rest put their families in debt as owing money to state hospitals was added to tax debt.
So what changed in August of 2013? For the first time since 2011, after the government had been under a tremendous pressure from the volunteer social solidarity clinics, the Minister of Health, Adonis Georgiadis came up with the health voucher system. It stated that 100,000 of the long term unemployed would be eligible for health care. But this was just a drop in the ocean. Many of the 3 mln people were in need f more than primary care. On top of that, they needed medicine, diagnostic tests and often very expensive therapies.
For the first time in January of 2014 the government decided to grant the uninsured partial access to the Greek Public Health System. This came about after the furor that broke out when a patient of MCCH died. He had been on a list of ten patients whose life was at risk which had been delivered to the Ministry of Health in December of 2013. Unfortunately the Ministry had not even responded, in spite of vigorous public campaign from the social clinics. On the day of the patients, death, the Ministry finally decided to react. On the day of our patient’s death, and for the first time since the crisis began, there started a pubic debate on the health problems of the uninsured that still continues. The Ministry finally admitted that there was a problem and the Minister of Health at the time, Mr. Georgiadis, proclaimed that, apart from the changes in primary health care, all uninsured patients would have access to the newly formed PEDY (Public Health Clinics). What the minister did not mention was that in just a month’s time, he forced 3,000 doctors out EOPYY after giving them the choice of keeping their private practice or working for PEDY, but not both. So PEDY had half the doctors to face providing primary health care for a vastly larger number of people. Very soon as many as half of the clinics had to close because they were understaffed and lacked physicians of various specialties.
In the summer of 2014, the government went a step further and granted secondary (hospitalization) health care to uninsured patients who needed it. Unfortunately, a patient had to pass inspection by a three person committee. Even today, these committees have not even been selected for most of the public hospitals. Patients are still waiting, as usual, and trying to cope with their illnesses in vain.
At the same time, the previous government took another step forward. Both insured and uninsured were allowed access prescription medicines bought with a contribution from the state. For the first time insured and uninsured could get medicines with the same co-pay level. But the co-pays were increased. The amount contributed by the patient surpasses more than 25% of the cost of the medicine. The average co-pay amount is 35-40% and in some extreme cases, can reach 75%. As a result, not only could the uninsured not afford medicines, but many of the insured couldn’t either. Finally, the previous government did nothing to allow the uninsured to have access to diagnostic tests.
These years of austerity have seen an increasing exclusion of the public from the Greek public health system. There have been unbelievable situations which have led to deaths because patients couldn’t afford the necessary care or necessary medication. The examples are numberless. Insured cancer patients having their treatments (booked way in advance) cancelled because the hospital no longer had the necessary funds to provide treatment. No alternative treatment center was suggested. Uninsured cancer patients, completely cut off from treatment, looking for alternative sources of treatment – sometimes for more than 6 months before they found help from a social clinic. An uninsured cardiac patient was literally ejected from surgery at Greek public hospital for not having 18,000 Euros to pay. In 2012, more than one maternity clinic kept new-borns from their mothers until they could pay delivery costs. All these cases were reported by the foreign press who got their facts from the voluntary community clinics that have been trying, all these years, to stop this uncivilized treatment.
Today we are not much better off than we were with the previous government. There is a new decision from the Ministry of Health to help the uninsured in conjunction with the social clinics. However this has not yet to be published in the government gazette, so the decision cannot be implemented as yet.
The direction is clear; the Greek public is increasingly excluded from the Greek Public Health System. This is particularly dangerous in a country with close to 2/3rds of the population living just above or below the poverty level. The biggest problem is the sheer lack of money in the Greek public health system. It renders useless any legal or ministerial efforts. Funding for the public health system has been reduced by 50% since 2009. Without this being addressed, nothing significant will change.*
communications team of the Metropolitan Community Clinic at Helliniko
*Note, this piece was written before the government signed the new memorandum, which promises to a new round of reductions to the Greek Public Health system reducing spending to 0.5% of GDP, which means a further overall reduction of 933 million euro, against the GDP of 2014.
When this text was finished (morning of 29th of June) nobody knew, how the confrontation between Greece and the other 17 countries of the Euro-group would end. Everything is possible. The crisis has reached such a precipitating dynamics, that nobody is able to fully control the process. There might still come a last minute muddling through compromise. The fact that Obama has called Merkel on Sunday the 29th of June indicates, that there is pressure from Washington, where they want to keep Greece in the Euro for geopolitical reasons. But there might also be an insolvency and a subsequent Grexit either by accident or by intention.
Independently from how the drama will continue, the damage is already huge and irreversible. From outside, the situation looks like a total mess. Compared to the bunch of extraordinary problems the EU is confronted with - migration, Ukraine, Brexit, right populism, the economic crisis and unemployment in many member states - the Greek issue appears almost the easiest to be managed. Hence, seen from Rio, Tokyo or Beijing the want-to-be super power EU looks rather ridiculous.
The Greek referendum – too democratic for the EU
Looking closer, one can see an abyss of brutal power play and blackmailing by the neoliberal Goliath against the Greek David. Goliath cannot accept, that a country whose population is completely exhausted and depressed by five years of failed crisis management should have the right to democratic self-determination. The fact, that the referendum came as a shock to the Euro-group offers a deep insight into their understanding of democracy. In a statement at the finance ministers conference the Greek representative, Yannis Varoufakis, had reminded that his “party received 36% of the vote and the government as a whole commanded a little more than 40%. Fully aware of how weighty our decision is, we feel obliged to put the institutions’ proposal to the people of Greece.”. But such a reasoning seems alien to the “institutions” and the leading governments. Jeroen René Victor Anton Dijsselbloem, Dutch finance minister and chair of the Eurogroup called the Greek decision “unfair” after Greece had refused to swallow the ultimatum he had set. Again social democrats are on the forefront when it comes to propaganda and slander against Greece. German foreign minister Steinmeier even qualified the referendum as taking the Greek people as “hostages”.
But this should be no surprise. The eurocratic elites are used to take decisions of historic range without consulting the sovereign of democracy, the citizens. Thus the Lisbon treaty, which replaced a draft constitution after its rejection in referenda in France, the Netherlands and Ireland in 2005 or the far reaching measures of the crisis management since 2008, are implemented in a kind of permanent mode of emergency. One cannot but agree to Krugman’s comment in the New York Times: “If you ask me, it has been an act of monstrous folly on the part of the creditor governments and institutions to push it to this point. But they have, and I can’t at all blame Tsipras for turning to the voters, instead of turning on them.” The Greek experience adds a fresh chapter to the long story of the democratic deficit of the EU. Those, who hope since 25 years for a social and democratic EU should now definitively be disillusioned by the Greek experience.
By the way, it is worthwhile to read the whole statement of Varoufakis. The information policies of the Euro-Group is very intransparent. They never publish documents so that most media rely on statements of politicians, which, of course, are always biased by their strategic interests and their blame game, while the Greek position does hardly come through. Syriza also published the draft agreement, which the Euro-group refused to accept. It shows for instance that declarations in TV like the one from Martin Schulz, head of the European Parliament, that they had refrained from increasing Greek VAT, are simply not true. Either Schulz does not know what he is talking about or he is lying.
EU at a turning point
Whatever will happen with Greece in the future, the whole drama is another indicator that the EU is coming to a turning point in its history. Too many heavy problems remain unresolved, to begin with the currency. Economically it is a misconstruction to have a common currency for such a heterogeneous group of economies without an overarching single state. The economic crisis and the failure of the crisis management is further deepening the asymmetries. The centrifugal tendencies are increasing. Even if another referendum, the one in the UK, should not lead to a Brexit, there will be in any case to a loosening of rules and regulations.
The centrifugal trend will be furthered by another important development: as mentionedabove, Obama has phoned Merkel to express the US interest in the case of Greece. What seems to be a trivial detail reveals a new dimension of the situation in the EU. Abon mot of Henry Kissinger cuts it short. When asked about his opinion about the EU, he used to say: "What’s the phone number of the EU?" At present, Kissinger’s question is answered. The phone number of the EU is nor Juncker, neither Tusk, but Merkel. In other words, the crises of the last seven years have served as a catalyst for the establishment of a German hegemony, or, as it is called in the mainstream discourse: German leadership. The problem, however, is that too many people and some governments still remember, that the German word for leader is Führer. Although contemporary Germany can by no means be compared to the times, when Europe was integrated under German leadership from the Atlantic to Stalingrad, the present crisis has shown, how easy the spectres of the past can be mobilised. In particular the former leaders in London and Paris are not enthusiastic about the new hierarchy. Obama is aware of that and knows that German capabilities are limited and contested by the lower ranks in the informal hierarchy. This increases the influence of the US on European issues.
The EU is in sharp decline. This will not be prevented by the recent proposal of Juncker, Tusk, Schulz, Dijsselbloem and Draghi for a leap forward in the integration of the Eurozone. This plan will not work, as most countries are not prepared to follow this pathway.In order not to fall back into complete national fragmentation it would be wise to redefine the future of the EU, the so called finality question. It is time to say definitively good bye to the dream of the United States of Europe. Instead, more flexibility internally and more openness towards the outside world are required. We need less centralisation and more diversity. This means selective disintegration in certain areas, such as the common currency and selective integration in other areas, for instance renewable energy. Opening to the outside world could mean to develop closer ties with the Maghreb region and Turkey, or taking up the idea of an economic space from Vladivostok to Lisbon, as suggested by the Prince of Darkness in the Kremlin and accepted in general by Merkel in the Minsk II agreement. We need realism instead of euromanticism!
After this weekend, that moment seems to have moved closer. Next week the Greeks will give their opinion, via a referendum, as to whether they are for or against the austerity agreement.
Since the beginning of the crisis the Greek economy has collapsed. 25% of the wealth has evaporated. One in four Greeks is unemployed and amongst young people the figure is as high as six out of ten. Extremely harsh austerity – many times greater even than in the Netherlands – has dismantled health care. Figures for poverty are rocketing, as is the number of suicides.
Billions in loans in recent years have not helped Greece. That’s not so hard to believe. Europe has primarily, with the money for Greece, rescued its own banks. These have, as a result, withdrawn from the country and governments have taken over their debts. Meanwhile the problems have not been solved, as Greece can only emerge from this catastrophe if some prospects of improvement arrive. A real solution: fewer right-wing reforms, less tax avoidance and more hope, optimism and revenue, so that the economy returns to the discussion.
That hope is not on offer from Dijsselbloem & Co. Worse still, instead of such hope, the Greeks have been handed a new austerity agreement which would drive the society, the public sector and the economy still further down.
This weekend’s crisis lays bare the fundamental problem of the euro. It is a struggle between European institutions which are allowing themselves to be led by the financial markets and a population which is demanding democracy and human dignity. The struggle for market and currency is colliding with the Greek struggle for humanity and democracy. The Greek people have opted for a social course, but Brussels cares nothing for election results. First the currency, then the people. That’s how things go in this Europe.
I can well imagine Tsipras’s choice. He has not, against the will of his constituents, agreed to impose an austerity agreement. Quite correctly, he has not left his voters in the lurch but instead has given them a voice. So a referendum is a logical decision. You might well wish that there were more such democrats in Brussels, and a great deal fewer technocrats sitting around the table.
For the last six months, the Greek government has been waging a battle under conditions of unprecedented economic asphyxiation, in order to implement your mandate, that of January 25th.
The mandate to negotiate with our partners to bring about an end austerity, and for prosperity and social justice to return to our country once more.
For a sustainable agreement that will respect democracy, as well as European rules, and which will lead to a definitive exit from the crisis.
During the negotiations, we were repeatedly asked to implement memoranda policies agreed to by the previous governments, despite the fact that the memoranda were unequivocally condemned by the Greek people in the recent elections.
We never considered giving in—not even for a moment. Of betraying your trust.
Following five months of tough negotiations, our partners submitted a proposal-ultimatum at the Eurogroup meeting, taking aim at Greek democracy and the Greek people.
An ultimatum that contravenes Europe’s founding principles and values. The values of our common European project.
The Greek government was asked to accept a proposal that will add new unbearable weight to the shoulders of the Greek people, and that will undermine the recovery of the Greek economy and society–not only by fueling uncertainty, but also by further exacerbating social inequalities.
The institutions’ proposal includes measures that will further deregulate the labor market, pension cuts, and further reductions in public sector wages–as well as an increase in VAT on food, restaurants and tourism, while eliminating the tax breaks of the Greek islands.
These proposals–which directly violate the European social acquis and the fundamental rights to work, equality and dignity–prove that certain partners and members of the institutions are not interested in reaching a viable and beneficial agreement for all parties, but rather the humiliation of the Greek people.
These proposals mainly illustrate the IMF’s insistence on harsh and punitive austerity measures. Now is the time for the leading European powers to rise to the occasion and take initiative to definitively end the Greek debt crisis, a crisis affecting other European countries as well, by threatening the very future of European integration.
We are facing a historic responsibility to not let the struggles and sacrifices of the Greek people be in vain, and to strengthen democracy and our national sovereignty—and this responsibility weighs upon us.
Our responsibility for our country’s future.
This responsibility obliges us to respond to the ultimatum based on the sovereign will of the Greek people.
Earlier this evening, the Cabinet was convened and I proposed holding a referendum, so that the Greek people can decide.
My proposal was unanimously accepted.
Tomorrow, the Parliament will hold an extraordinary meeting to ratify the Cabinet’s proposal for a referendum to take place next Sunday, on July 5th. The question on the ballot will be whether the institutions’ proposal should be accepted or rejected.
I have already informed the French President, the German Chancellor, and the ECB’s president of my decision, while tomorrow I will ask for a short extension of the program -in writing- from the leaders of the EU and the institutions, so that the Greek people can decide free of pressure and blackmail, as stipulated by our country’s Constitution and Europe’s democratic tradition.
I call on you to decide –with sovereignty and dignity as Greek history demands–whether we should accept the extortionate ultimatum that calls for strict and humiliating austerity without end, and without the prospect of ever standing on our own two feet, socially and financially.
We should respond to authoritarianism and harsh austerity with democracy–calmly and decisively.
Greece, the birthplace of democracy, should send a resounding democratic message to the European and global community.
And I personally commit that I will respect the outcome of your democratic choice, whatever it may be.
I am absolutely confident that your choice will honor our country’s history and will send a message of dignity worldwide.
In these critical times, we all have to remember that Europe is the common home of all of its peoples.
That in Europe there are no owners and guests.
Greece is, and will remain, an integral part of Europe, and Europe an integral part of Greece.
But a Europe without democracy will be a Europe without an identity and without a compass.
I call on all of you to act with national unity and composure, and to make a worthy decision.
For us, for our future generations, for Greek history.
For our country’s sovereignty and dignity.