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Some thoughts on the claims of Yanis Varoufakis

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I have been reading Mr. Yanis Varoufakis’ (@yanisvaroufakis) recent interviews and public statements. The former Greek Minister of Finance has been making certain far-reaching claims, some of which are value judgements, while others appear as matters of fact. Indicative of his views is the closing paragraph from his recent contribution to Le Monde Diplomatique:

Whatever one thinks of our government, this episode will go down in European history as the moment when official Europe, using institutions and methods that no treaty legitimised (the Eurogroup, the Euro Summit, the threat of eviction from the eurozone), dealt a major blow to the ideal of an ever-closer democratic union. Greece capitulated, but it is Europe that was defeated.

Mr. Varoufakis’ main narrative is that the Greek government never had the chance to engage in meaningful negotiations. It was faced with a dogmatic, “all or nothing” stance from its creditors. This outright antagonistic approach culminated in what the professor considers to be a coup d’état. The government the Greek people had elected to power only a few months ago is no more. It was forced into submission, transformed into the troika’s assignee.

Whatever one thinks of Varoufakis the person, these are the words of a former Minister and an eminent scholar. Put broadly, they can satisfy any of three possibilities:

  1. he is telling the truth;
  2. he is lying;
  3. he is blending true statements with falsehoods, to weave a story that fits his agenda.

Without willing to engage in speculations, what I see, as a citizen who labours under conditions of incomplete information, is that we have no credible means of definitively ruling out any item on that list. By that I mean that we have no parliament, be it the European or any given national one, that can exercise scrutiny on a key aspect of the euro’s economic governance.

In particular, we face three issues:

  • the Eurogroup is a quasi-legal entity, whose inner workings are completely opaque;
  • the Euro Summit is a subset of the heads of state and government comprising the European Council, an EU institution which however is insulated from EU-level parliamentary control;
  • the European Central Bank makes—or appears to make—political decisions using monetary instruments; an ECB whose accountability to the European Parliament amounts to tokenistic briefing sessions.

These are made manifest in the following milieu:

  • the Economic and Monetary Union (and the European Union in general) does not have a genuine federal government, based on republican principles;
  • there is no proper Congress, consisting of two chambers of elected representatives, one representing the body of European citizens and the other the Member States;
  • the legislative counter-party to the European Parliament is the inter-governmentalist institution of the Council of the European Union, consisting of ministers or, depending on the committee, of the heads of each state’s Permanent Representation to the EU (i.e. ambassadors);
  • the Commission is not a democratic executive, in spite of the spitzenkandidaten process that supposedly rendered it indirectly legitimate, for it is the European Council (a non-legislative institution) that actually provides the Commission with its mandate.

In other words, we have a supra-national nexus of inter-governmental arrangements, bound together by interweaving rules and institutions that are effectively insulated from parliamentary control.

The present order exercises authority over the whole compass of the Union (or the euro area), without being commensurate with a European Demos and without being underpinned by a corresponding European Democracy legitimising and standardising everything that concerns the Union at-large.

If it is indeed the case that we as citizens have no means of really knowing whether decisions made on our behalf are legitimate and consistent with the founding values of the European Union, then we are confronted with a very unpleasant reality: the status quo is alien to the ideals of the European project for the democratic unification of the continent.

I do not know whether Mr. Varoufakis speaks the truth or is pursuing his own agenda. What I do think though, also based on a series of recent analyses posted on this website, is that we lack the democratic tools for testing the truth value of his claims. That is a problem in itself and, I would suggest, is indicative of the quasi-confederal technocracy the EU/EMU has become.