Ignoring the will of the people by pursuing unpopular austerity policies plays into the hands of Europe’s extreme right, say Yanis Varoufakis and Arnaud Montebourg. EURACTIV France reports.
“Fakis, Fakis,” the militant socialists chanted in Frangy-en-Bresse, in France, on Sunday (23 August). The annual “Fête de la Rose”, a gathering regularly attended by France’s former finance minister Arnaud Montebourg, has taken place since 1972.
Once the scourge of the Eurogroup, the rock star economist Yanis Varoufakis was visibly delighted to be in the village of Frangy (dubbed Frangis in his honour), despite the rain, and to launch a fresh attack on European leaders and the current Greek government.
A coup d’état
“What happened on 12 July was a real coup d’état and a defeat for all Europeans,” the former finance minister said, referring to Greece’s acceptance of the harsh conditions attached to the latest aid package. A package that also cost him his job as the country’s minister of finance. Similarly, Arnaud Montebourg lost his job as French Minister of the Economy exactly one year ago, after openly criticising the French government’s austerity policies at the 2014 Fête de la Rose.
“I do not believe the September elections can lead to an alliance that will create the conditions for an economic policy that works for Greece,” Yanis Varoufakis warned. He said he was “torn” by the splitting of the Syriza party, although he was not officially a party member.
25 Syriza MPs announced on Friday that they would form a new party, following the resignation of the Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, who hopes the elections will give him a larger majority and a stronger mandate to enact his plans.
The two ex-ministers strived to highlight the dangers of continued austerity in Greece.
“Without political union, the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) is a big mistake. Now that we have it, we must repair it. What we need today is a real common investment policy, and a real banking union,” the Greek economist said.
Yanis Varoufakis told EURACTIV that the emergence of an allied European left, in opposition to the current system, was a possibility.
“I believe that an alliance of Europeans from across the political spectrum, who share one radical idea, the idea of democracy, is possible,” he joked. “For 20 years, the principle of democracy has been trampled on in Europe. But it remains a common idea. If we want to make the transition to a democratic Europe, we need to empower the citizens, rather than the current cartel of lobbies.”
This view was shared by his host. Arnaud Montebourg said, “Power is held by an oligarchy in Europe.”
The organisers of the Fête de la Rose had hoped that the occasion’s European outlook would lead to the emergence of a new European movement. But not a single MEP or representative from the radical left party was present. Even the French “rebels”, who openly criticise the government, preferred not to appear alongside Yanis Varoufakis.
Economic mistakes play into the hands of the extreme right
For Varoufakis, the Greek government made a serious mistake in agreeing to sell off assets and implement regressive austerity measures. He believes that the “Athens Spring” was crushed by the bankers, just as the Prague Spring was crushed by tanks.
“In 1929, there was a financial crisis after the Wall Street Crash, which led to the loss of the gold standard. Voters abandoned the left because they were afraid. You know what happened next. In 2008, we had the Wall Street crisis, which brought about a financial crisis and a eurozone crisis. But the leaders keep applying the same economic policies. This crisis must not be allowed to result in the rise of the extreme right,” Yanis Varoufakis warned. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party represents a serious threat in Greece.
Arnaud Montebourg, now employed by the furniture company Habitat, also slammed Europe’s democratic deficit.
He said, “If when you vote, you don’t see any change in political choices, and if in spite of the political choices, the eurozone system means that the same policies are still applied, then there is a problem.”
The former politician added that “the decision to bring down Syriza puts Greece a great risk” from the Golden Dawn party.
Comparing the situation in Greece with that in France, Arnaud Montebourg said that if the Socialist party could not bring France out of the crisis, French voters would also turn to the extreme right.
The 43rd annual “Fête de la Rose” took place in Frangy-en-Bresse, in the department of Saône et Loire, on Sunday 23 August. It is traditional for this gathering of French socialists to invite one special guest; François Hollande, Ségolène Royal and Pierre Moscovici, the current European Commissioner for Economic Affairs, have been guests of honour in the past. But this year the event broke with tradition and invited a European personality. After considering Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the organisers decided to invite Greece's charismatic former finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis.
Varoufakis stood down as the Greek finance minister at the beginning of the summer, after a series of disputes with his European counterparts. He has since been a vocal opponent of the extra austerity measures imposed on Greece by the country's creditors. Eurogroup finance ministers accepted a new aid package for Greece on 14 August, on the condition that Greece privatises more of its public sector industries and increases taxes. But Varoufakis, a professor of economics, believes these measures will do nothing to rescue the ailing Greek economy.