Democracy in Europe

A New Deal for Europe: democratising the Union

Yanis Varoufakis has recently launched, along with his colleague Srećko Horvat and like-minded European democrats, DiEM25 – the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025, with an aim of democratising the European Union, and stabilising our societies before they fall into the clutches of nationalists, who will lead us into a modern-day 1930s. This is the argument put forward in their manifesto. However their path to doing this, beyond a brief outline, is still up in the air. The movement itself will, democratically and over the course of its lifetime, develop more concrete proposals and plans to achieve its aims, however, what is the New Deal that democracy in Europe proposes? The devil is in the details, but what about the broader picture?

I refer to the New Deal in capitals, because this is the name of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s own plan to rescue his society in the dark period of human history post 1929 – the 1930s & 40s. Now, President Roosevelt’s New Deal was too late to rescue our world from sliding into the most destructive war in its history. However, it had a lasting impact which did ultimately restore our civilisation, and governed the next 30 or so years of human history. We again stand at the same crossroads that those in 1930s Europe and America did, and, as DiEM has pointed to time and again, if we do not act now, we will be too late to rescue the Western World from a modern version of the 1930s dystopia. So here is an interpretation of what DiEM wants to achieve in its ‘radical aim to put the demos back into democracy’ – not based on outright facts but my understanding of the comments that have been made so far.

Political – democracy: of course we all know the currently suggested plan to democratise the EU. Those who look at the European Parliament, and the changes that it has gone through since it was first directly elected in 1979, might think that actually, democracy in Europe isn’t so lacking. I have heard this in a series of interviews with Yanis Varoufakis since last year. However the European Parliament, whilst the best the EU has, is still not good enough to provide a democratically legitimate basis for the decisions the EU makes. So what does DiEM intend to do about it? Well, there are 2 major areas of the manifesto that we have to contend with, which have been discussed as length by Varoufakis and Horvat in a series of articles and interviews. First is transparency; at the national level, all important meetings and gatherings by our politicians and statesmen are recorded and broadcast at best, and the minutes are taken at least, in order to provide a record accessible to the public of what took place in the meeting. In the Eurogroup, neither is the case. No recordings are made, whether written or filmed. For the eurozone in particular, this is the place where many important decisions take place, like the decision last year to force another loan on Greece from the Troika, and prolong the problems in that country. Transparency in democracy is absolutely crucial – these meetings need to be seen, and our leaders need to be able to be challenged by elected representatives, journalists and the public on their decisions and proposals. They need to be scrutinisable and leaders must be forced to defend them. It’s no good them all coming back to their respective parliaments pretending that they had no choice in accepting, and we have no idea what they actually said. If we were talking international agreements that is permissible; in a democracy, it isn’t.

Secondly, DiEM intends to hold a Constitutional Assembly to determine a new political structure for Europe. Regardless of what becomes our future legislative assemblies, the current ones are not sufficient. Parties need to be elected on a ‘pan-European’ ticket, as Varoufakis puts it – Greeks need to be elected to these chambers by Germans, Britons and Italians, based on their politics. The days of groupings and alliances as in the European Parliament are over. It’s old-fashioned they say. More importantly in their thinking, I believe, is the fact that a pan-European ticket perfectly lends itself to developing a European demos – a European people whose collective will European leaders, bureaucrats and politicians need to be accountable for. What’s more, as the name ‘Constitutional Assembly’ suggests, this body will need to construct a European constitution. Essentially their idea is to push for a federal Europe. Now this idea in practice hasn’t been refined perfectly, but does not need mean a Europe where the old nation-states are no longer remembered or relevant. Jürgen Habermas has made several arguments in an attempt to refine this concept of European federalism, but this hasn’t quite been adopted by everyone. Nevertheless, when referring to a ‘federal Europe’, they mean that we have officially and clearly outlined that our politics are intertwined, and that decisions will be made by a European legislature and executive where this is necessary. This will be linked to the Principle of Subsidiarity, which is already a part of European Law; in essence, laws will only be made at the European level if the national-level is insufficient at dealing with its problem. Likewise it appears from DiEM’s rhetoric that the principle will go deeper, in order to re-empower the many regions and municipalities of Europe.

Economics – Keynesian: DiEM’s reference to the economic sphere, despite the one of the movement’s founders being a professor of political economy, is lacking considerably in economic objectives and plans. Economics is a contentious issue in our modern world, so it’s no surprise to me that they avoided the issue. In the manifesto, we hear talk of the redeployment of European institutions to deal with the current economic (and social) crises the Union is facing. From a series of statements in interviews, articles and Varoufakis’ book (The Global Minotaur), I believe a broad economic outlook can be put together. Varoufakis is not a Marxist/Leninist when it comes to economics – at least not right now. Right now, he advocates interventionist, demand-side economics argued by John Maynard Keynes. In truth I think most neoliberals these days see Keynes’ ideas as anathema, almost as much as they do those of Marx. However with Keynes there are tried an tested historical examples of how his ideas can work; the post-1945 era was a time when the objective of full-employment, government driven investment and the overall sustaining of demand were at the centre of government economic policy. Varoufakis said in conversation with Paul Mason last October that this needs to be replicated but in the modern context; this time, investment needs to be encouraged in Green and digital technologies – ones that are ecologically viable, take advantage of the internet and lead to technological spill-over. This is not impossible; the current programmes of QE in Britain and the eurozone encourage certain types of debt. Right now it’s mortgages. But, given the right remit, central banks could be used to encourage pioneering technologies of the modern world. In fact, in that same discussion, he linked this proposal with Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘People’s QE’. If Corbyn and others can fuse this demand-side Keynesian economics with modernism, as Harold Wilson did with his “White heat of the scientific revolution” speech.

Society – open: there again is little in the manifesto on this specific area of DiEM’s new European Deal. Specifically, DiEM spokesmen have talked about the need to accept the refugees coming to our shores, as a moral obligation as decent human beings. This ultimately is at the core of their idea, and the spill-over from the realms of politics and economics that I’ve already discussed can clearly point in the direction DiEM hopes for us to go. Ultimately, we are talking about a society in which people participate in local as well as national and European democracy, where decisions are taken as close to the citizen as possible, and the citizen feels as included as possible. This means we have to be informed and accepting of our fellow man’s opinions, and discuss them as ideas to be considered and refined. “Play the ball, not the man”. There is more to this quaint English phrase than first seems; it means take the prejudgment out of your reasoning and decision-making, and consider the arguments themselves. Don’t assume things about people, and don’t use your disagreements as reason alone to judge another person. DiEM’s talk of Constitutional Assemblies and Subsidiarity have participation written all over it; whether you call it a Civil Society, or whatever, it’s about involving yourself with other people – realising that you do have mutual endeavours with others and that we are not just individuals. We live in communities where working together will always be superior to working alone. Where our actions impact others and considering that first will lead to better decisions made by all of us. Where today the internet allows us to be more connecting in our communities than ever before, and that this needs to be taken advantage of. Here we see the economic side coming in; not only should be be aware of our impact on the environment, and thus promote Green technologies wherever possible, but the development of modern, internet-based and digital technologies has to be used for the good of building and strengthening communities. By investing in these areas, we can better take advantage of the new technologies we have, and further the development and bonds of our communities – municipally, regionally, nationally, and at the European and Global level. This must be the object of our economic endeavours, to further allow us to connect as a people, to work together and to understand each other.

This hasn’t been a review of all DiEM’s statements and my arguments are interpretations of a series of comments made by the movement and those linked to the movement. I would never suggest I am speaking for them when I explain these ideas. But it is clear that this is the direction the movement’s founders wish to move in. To a world where the neoliberal consensus is broken, and we as Europeans have the right to determine a New Deal where we have a say on the direction our civilisation takes, and are not confined to the illusory safety of the nation-state, which as we know, has been tried and failed before.

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Sources: The Guardian, Another Europe is Possible, Political Critique, DiEM25.org

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