Guardian Live debate on “Europe, Austerity and the threat to global stability” (6-4-16) with Yanis Varoufakis, Caroline Lucas and Tariq Ali, chaired by Heather Stewart. Notes & comments by Julia Clarke for Walthamstow Positive Money group
“Brexit would be the worst of all worlds, says Varoufakis: The former Greek finance minister has rejected an out vote in favour of an alliance of pan-European progressive parties to deal with the EU’s problems”.
In fact there was far more agreement between Yanis Varoufakis and Tariq Ali on the impossibility of reforming Europe, and among all three panelists on the need to talk about an alternative vision for Europe instead of batting around the ‘stale debate’ on the economy and immigration.
The Guardian report doesn’t mention Yanis’s comment that the EU bureaucrats are “impervious to rational debate”, nor his assertion that we need to be represented in Europe by an anti-establishment government, “led by Caroline and Jeremy”, which will engage in disobedience, veto everything and refuse to pay debts. He repeated the point I’ve heard him make before - that talking about a “democracy deficit” is like talking about an “oxygen deficit” and there is no democracy in the EU.
Caroline Lucas argued that since MEPs are directly elected they’re actually more representative than UK MPs under the current electoral system, but while agreeing that the EU lacks transparency, the main problem is that it’s dominated by right-wing governments that we’ve elected. She and Yanis told us about their pan-European campaign for transparency and accountability in the EU, the Democracy in Europe Movement.
The ‘threat to global stability’ in the title of this debate was linked to ‘austerity’ with a few references to the banks, financialisation, lack of investment (in the steel industry, in green energy etc) and much speculation on the financial implications of a disintegrating EU. This is where I should have been able to draw on the understanding we’re trying to develop in our Positive Money group, but when Yanis and Tariq start arguing about economics – whether leaving the EU would result in deflation, stagflation and so on, I still get lost. But it seems that a Tory government would continue to negotiate TTIP style trade agreements with the USA and multinationals whether we’re in or out. Tariq pointed out that the process of disentangling the UK from the EU would take several years, and Brexit would give the Troika* a kick up the bum and get Europeans thinking about different possibilities. He agrees with Naomi Klein that we can only do something about the environment if we act internationally.
All three panellists agreed that Brexit would speed up the disintegration of the EU, and the main point of disagreement between the two men was about whether or not this disintegration would result in a rise of fascism. Yanis invoked the spectre of 1930s style depression, Golden Dawn etc, but Tariq talked about the far right governments we’ve been tolerating in Europe for years and argues that staying in Europe just bolsters their chauvinism. This is the theme of Tariq’s book, The extreme centre (2015), which wasn’t mentioned, since the whole event centred on the promotion of Yanis’s latest book, And the Weak Suffer What They Must?: Europe, Austerity and the Threat to Global Stability. I didn’t queue up for a signed copy because I haven’t finished The Global Minotaur yet, but also because I was annoyed by his self-promotion, telling us how Nigel Lawson was a good friend of his, and so was Paul Mason, who’s recently argued that keeping Trident will make Corbyn more electable. (And I now read that the 'extreme centre' (ie New Labour) are warning Corbyn that he’ll be blamed for a Brexit vote if he doesn’t “show more fire” in the pro-EU debate?)
Tariq and Caroline both pointed out that the UK has opted out of so many EU provisions and blocked EU attempts to regulate banks and establish standards for human rights, energy, climate etc. (the UK even opposed an EU proposal to impose tariffs on Chinese steel). From this, they draw different conclusions, ie:
Europe would be better off without us (Tariq) ; or
we need to elect progressive governments and stop scapegoating the EU for the failings of individual member states (Caroline).
All three panellists in the debate seem to agree that the EU, dominated by right-wing governments, compliant in the secrecy and supremacy of the Troika bureaucrats cannot deliver the fair, democratic and sustainable world we all want. So the priority, they all agree, is for the UK to elect a “progressive” government.
What do I think? Well, the question of immigration may have become part of a ‘stale debate’ but I note Jonathon Portes’ response to Cameron’s “EU Deal”, on the UK in a Changing Europe web site
“Perhaps the real significance of the negotiation is that it has clarified just how fundamental free movement and non-discrimination are to the European Union. That means the dividing lines for the referendum are more clearly drawn. If the UK votes to stay in, it will have accepted – however reluctantly – this basic principle. “
This seems like a persuasive argument for staying in the EU. At least it ensures some protection for human rights and legislation for our safety. But then Tariq points out that free movement of labour has always been a “basic principle” for global capitalism. While keeping wages down and weakening indigenous Trades Unions, foreign workers provide useful scapegoats for the anger that would otherwise be directed at the government and the fat cats whose interests they serve. But then Yanis and Caroline both seem to be saying that we can only restore democracy in Europe if we elect progressive (socialist-green) governments to represent us there. So now I’m left with this question: If the main value of the EU is to protect us from the inhumanity of our Tory government, then if we can elect the kind of government we don't need to be protected from, why would we need the EU?
*(Troika = the EU Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF)