Varoufakis tells Macron to adopt the ‘empty-chair’ tactic

Varoufakis calls the empty-chair tactic a form of "constructive desobedience." [Marc Lozano/Flickr]

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis supports Macron’s federalist proposals  on the euro single currency but believes only a real threat could make Germany budge on the issue. EURACTIV France reports.

More than fifty years ago, in 1965, French President Charles de Gaulle withdrew his ministers from the Council of the EU, de facto vetoing all decisions.

According to Yanis Varoufakis, former finance minister for Greece, Macron should consider refreshing this tactic – but for the opposite reason. De Gaulle was defending nation states, while Macron wants to push federalism forward.

“Macron has got some good ideas, but he already lost, he is done, belittled by Germany” who refuses to create a budget for the Eurozone, according to the economist, who spoke to the French press in Paris.

According to him, the success of the liberal FDP party in September’s parliamentary election gives Germany the perfect excuse to retrench on this dossier. And the European Monetary Fund, proposed by Germany as an alternative to a Eurozone budget, is a sham and not a real compromise, according to Varoufakis.

The only way to force Germany into siding with France on relaunching the federalist process is the empty-chair tactic, he says.

A form of “constructive disobedience” that he elaborates in his book “Adults in the room”, published in English by Bodley Head and considered by the Guardian “one of the greatest political memoirs ever”.

The French economy threatened by permanent stagnation

“Trying to achieve a permanent reduction of the public deficit under 3% of GDP is nonsensical. It is not a problem to run a public deficit: Arizona will always have one, especially if compared to California. In a federation, this happens a lot. But in the case of France, current public spending will condemn the country to permanent stagnation, because the German industry has a monopoly of numerous markets”, he says.

The real priority according to him is investment, which should be raised to €500 billion per year. “The Juncker plan is a farce,” he said.

Without a eurozone budget to relaunch the federalist project, the economist proposes that the European Investment Bank (BEI) issue green bonds to finance large infrastructure projects in clean energy and transport – and that the European Central Bank (ECB) buys them.

“We don’t need to change the treaties. It is already feasible – it is just a question of achieving the consensus of the EIB’s board.”

On the type of projects that should be financed, Varoufakis echoes Macron who spoke about a way to cross the old continent without polluting: he would like to develop a railway network from the East to the West as well as invest in clean energy.

Running for German votes

While he sides with Macron’s federalist elements, including a transnational list for the 2019 European elections, Varoufakis is also very critical of his first steps.

“The speech he gave in Greece was pathetic. Coming to tell us that Greece is out of the crisis is an insult, and speaking from [Athen’s Acropolis] where countless dictators spoke to Greeks adds insult to injury,” said the economist.

Varoufakis plans to run for the 2019 European elections, even if he says the European Parliament “is not a real parliament.” But he wants to run in Germany, “to show that federalism is possible, and also that Germany’s current politics is harmful for Germans.”