More than three years ago, on 9 February 2016, around a thousand of us gathered at a magnificent theatre in Berlin’s city centre, built originally by workers to stage progressive theatrical productions. On that night, we founded a pan-European, transnational, progressive, democratic movement that we named Diem25, or Democracy in Europe Movement 2025.
This week Diem25, along with many other movements that joined us to form the European Spring list, is seeking the vote of European citizens across the continent in the context of the European parliament elections. Many ask: “Why?”
The motivation was implicit in the reason we came together back in February 2016. Speaking to The Independent on the day of Diem25’s inauguration, I explained our purpose by pointing out that “Europe is sliding into a post-modern 1930s”, suggesting that those in authority colossally mishandled our generation’s 1929, which of course hit the financial markets in 2008 before triggering the eurozone crisis in 2010.
It took very little foresight to predict that it was only a matter of time before racist, authoritarian right-wing populists would make a bid for power. As I said in that same interview, “the authorities don’t know what they’re doing. They’re making it up as they go along, just like in the 1920s and 1930s”
In anticipation of the triumphant march of organised misanthropy, we set ourselves the task of working on an ambitious agenda, a European “green new deal”. Our aim was to bring all progressives together around a common plan for channelling 5 per cent of European income every year into investments in green energy, transport and technology that Europe desperately needs.
Our hope was that the European parliament elections of 2019 would act as a focal point so that the process of putting together a green new deal for Europe would forge a progressive coalition including parties of the left, the Greens, even anti-systemic liberals and progressive conservatives. Our dream was to be a catalyst of unity with coherence – of running together with a detailed policy agenda that could be put to all Europeans at once, across our continent.
However, after two years of hard work, by the end of 2017 one thing became clear: nation-state-based political parties were too divided to embrace the new, transnational politics that our era demands.
Everywhere we looked we saw crippling divisions leading to the kind of incoherence that has plagued the progressive side of politics, unlike those on the right who find it so depressingly easy to coalesce around xenophobia. However well we argued that the green new deal can be for progressives what xenophobia was to the ultra-right, existing parties were too caught up in their own divisions to respond.
Their divisions cut both ways, across national borders and within national parties. The European Greens, for example, are divided between the German Greens, who pay heed to ordoliberalism, and other green parties that agree with our proposal for a massive green new deal to be financed via European Investment Bank bonds (while supported by the ECB).
The European Left Party is even more divided, as it comprises parties sceptical of the euro but also a party like Syriza whose government has implemented the vicious austerity imposed by the notorious troika, arguing that euro membership is more important than the fight against austerity. Germany’s Die Linke is a good example of within-party divisions, split as it clearly is between a faction proposing curbs on migration and questioning the EU project and a second faction that is pro-migrant and pro-EU.
Given these divisions, the only way existing parties are managing to run together in these European parliament elections was by adopting a lowest-common-denominator manifesto offering voters little more than a wish list and some general principles. Diem25 was not created to countenance such a sad response to the rising spectre of neofascism.
And so it was that Diem25 members were faced with a stark choice: stay out of the elections, in which case voters would never get a chance to support, or even consider, our green new deal for Europe. Or run ourselves, by creating parties from scratch (eg Demokratie in Europa in Germany and Mera25 in Greece) and joining together with parties that adopt, and work with us to develop our ideas.
Unity is important. But a superficial unity bought at the expense of policy incoherence is a ruinous way to oppose the two faces of authoritarianism: the various troikas dishing out harsh austerity and the neofascists who feast on the resulting discontent. While we would have loved not to run, and instead to support existing parties that have worked with us on a meaningful policy agenda, Diem25 has taken the plunge, running in several countries at once with a single, substantive, ambitious green new deal agenda.
To comrades who accuse us of dividing the left, our message is clear: we are only running because you are too divided to agree on a programme for change. By running on our own, we hope to be preparing the moment when our paths can converge on a common agenda that Europeans can embrace in vast numbers so as to terminate our post-modern 1930s.
Yanis Varoufakis is co-founder of DiEM25 and is running as an MEP in Germany