Murnaghan Interview with Yanis Varoufakis, Former Greek Finance Minister, 25.10.15

Dermot Murnaghan


DERMOT MURNAGHAN: Now then, long before Corbynmania so-called, a wave of anti-austerity began sweeping parts of Europe.  Greece was at the forefront of that of course with the election of left-wing Syriza.  After his election in January the Greek Finance Minister was Yanis Varoufakis and he became about as close to a celebrity as many politicians get but after seven months of fierce negotiations with Greece’s creditors and the European Union, he resigned.  Well Yanis Varoufakis joins me now from West London and a very good morning to you.  As I mentioned anti-austerity parties, what parallels do you see between your own Syriza party and the Labour party in the UK under Jeremy Corbyn?  

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: There are some broad similarities in that I believe that the body politic both in Greece and the United Kingdom and elsewhere, in Canada as it turned out quite recently, have had a gut full of the old style of politics, of the assumption that the weaker members of society must suffer the costs of a crisis to which they contributed nothing at all and that there is no alternative other than a continuing diminution of prospects for the majority of the people.  That is the comparison but on the other hand we have to be vigilant about the great differences between Greece and generally member states of the eurozone and Britain.  Fortunately for Britain and maybe for the rest of us, Britain is not part of the eurozone so in this country the forces of [inaudible] face quite different challenges and also have access to levers that are lacking in places like my country back home in Greece.

DM: I wanted to ask you about that because it was the great, well maybe unanswered question but let’s hear it from you, you said there fortunately for Britain it’s not in the euro, but it was never part of Syriza’s programme that Greece should even think about leaving the euro and then have control over your own currency and all the devaluation and other levers that you can have at your disposal.  

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well it is important to draw a very sharp distinction between on the one hand the verdict that we should not have been in the euro, this was a view that I held in the 1990s and I lost a lot of friends in Greece due to my opposition to our entering the eurozone but as I said, we need to distinguish this sharply from the view that we should get out. The point I’m making is this: we should have not have entered but once we’re in, the path that led us to the eurozone doesn’t exist anymore so if we try to back up, to reverse along the same path we will fall off a cliff.  Exiting a monetary union is an utterly hazardous operation, it’s the equivalent of announcing a devaluation many, many months before it takes place so once in you have to stay within and try to fight as hard as you can, maybe default within the monetary union, in order to extract from Brussels and from Frankfurt a decent agreement, to reframe the terms of your presence in the eurozone in such a way as to make it possible for the deflationary spiral to end and for some glimmer of hope of recovery and growth to return.      

DM: Mr Varoufakis, what do you make of the UK as it debates its future within Europe ahead of an in/out referendum?  Your analysis is that the EU is anti-democratic, that it is run by authoritarian technocrats yet you feel that Greece should stay in it.  Many in Britain make that analysis but by and large they’re the ones that want to leave.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Let me be brief in my assessment regarding the referendum in this country.  You will not find many politicians who are as scathing about Brussels as I am, at the very same time my message to my friends here in Britain is stay within and campaign as strongly as possible in order to change it.  Retreating back to the nation state is not an option anymore, Britain is simply going to find itself still constrained by a malfunctioning European Union without having any capacity to influence it and secondly, let’s face it, the moment you step out of the European Union, the constitutional problems of the United Kingdom are going to flare up and they are going to distract this nation from the task of regaining its poise, looking after the incredible failure with productivity, with investment, with creating decent jobs for the people of Britain.  Think of the person in the pub, the man in the pub as they say, who now scapegoats the European Union, blaming Brussels for everything, what is going to blame everything that will go wrong on after that?  

DM: I just wanted to ask you about Portugal, you will have seen as we talk about anti-austerity parties within Europe, the Portuguese president refusing to appoint a party that won a majority because of its anti-EU rhetoric.  Do you interpret that as anti-democratic?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Well this is just another example of the crisis of European democracy.  The rules of the eurozone are impossible to implement because the whole monetary union was exceptionally badly designed.  Unfortunately Europe is in denial of this and the greater the failure of those rules, the greater the determination of the bureaucrats and the politicians who are serving the bureaucrats rather than vice-versa, to implement these rules and the only way to go against the laws of nature if you want is to become increasingly authoritarian and for the democratic deficit to become greater than ever.  This is why what Europe really needs now is a surge of democracy, what it needs is a movement of well-thinking reasonable European democrats to demand from the bureaucracy, to demand from their politicians that they start respecting a simple idea and a very simple principle, the principle of democracy.

DM: And lastly, more advice for the Labour party who are sharing some of your anti-austerity analysis, what about its method of campaigning and this idea, as Syriza did, of energizing a new base, perhaps an anti-politics base using social media and other non-traditional methods?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Look, there is no doubt that the media, and of course I except you from this judgement, the media have been quite toxic in the way that they covered our campaign for a modicum of rationality and economic reason, it is as if they were behaving in a totalitarian fashion in support of policies that were absolutely impossible to justify, that was the situation in Greece and unfortunately I see there is also a tendency in this country to undermine the quality of the conversation once Jeremy Corbyn appeared on the scene.  Let me just give you an example, the way that he was lambasted for his idea of a different kind of quantitative easing, people’s quantitative easing, when effectively what he was doing was reviving a monetarist agenda, even Milton Friedman had talked about helicopter money.  The way, the quality of the dialogue is being jeopardised by a media which is absolutely keen to bring down any radical voice that seems to be stepping out of the beaten track.  This is detrimental to democracy and my advice to Jeremy Corbyn and actually to every, any conviction politician is just ignore the media, articulate a reasonable position, put it to the people and if you’ve done your job properly of articulating a reasonable position, in the end the people are going to, the citizens are going to respond to it and then the media will have to follow.

DM: Okay, Mr Varoufakis, fascinating talking to you, thank you very much indeed for your time.  Yanis Varoufakis there, the former Greek Finance Minister.