One very simple, but radical, idea…
The DIEM25 manifesto was presented to a selected crowd of individuals, hand-picked from left-of-centre organisations all over Europe, shortly before it was launched as a night show at the Volksbühne (”People’s Theatre”) in Berlin, February 9. The man in the centre is NOT Varoufakis, but Croatian philosopher Srećko Horvat.
By Ole Aabenhus
“The EU will be democratised. Or it will disintegrate!” This is the opening stanza to the DIEM25 manifesto, presented as a campaign platform for the EU by former Greek minister of finance Yanis Varoufakis, and apparently co-authored by Croatian philosopher Srećko Horvat.
(For more about the presentation of the manifesto, see ”Varoufakis and friends – a light in the dark?” elsewhere on this page).
DIEM means “Democracy In Europe Movement” and “25” is a marker to say that some tings could be done immediately, and by 2025 the European Union should have been changed into something much more democratic than today. After the launch, Varoufakis has given the DIEM operation another, even more poignant heading: “One very simple, but radical, idea: to democratize Europe”.
The manifesto comes just-in-time. People all over the continent are discussing, if the EU is not breaking down under the weight of all its unsolved crises – the Ukraine crisis, the euro crisis, the Greek crisis, the scepticism that’s spreading like an epidemic, and the Brexit, which is perhaps just round the corner now. So, Varoufakis & Co. are suggesting that democracy could be a solution – just like the My!Europe project.
There is a difference, however, the DIEM25 is a platform formed at the level of the left intellectual elite. The idea of My!Europe is that we have to start discussing Europe from below. But maybe the two can supplement each other. Suggesting a way forward, as DIEM25 does, could only serve to help people at grassroots level – all over Europe – to define what they want.
In the language of the manifest: “While the fight for democracy-from-below (at the local, regional or national level) is necessary, it is nevertheless insufficient, if it is conducted without an international strategy towards a pan-European coalition for democratising Europe”. It continues: “European democrats must come together first, forge a common agenda, and then find ways of connecting… [with the grassroots level]”.
So, the My!Europe series of conferences has to discuss if some of DIEM25’s ideas should be included in its final declaration.
European history as seen by DIEM25
DIEM’s is a real campaign paper full of one-liners about what we have to do, but it also contains an interesting historical narrative about the “peak from where we came” and to which we should now return:
“In the post-war decades during which the EU was initially constructed, national cultures were revitalised in a spirit of internationalism, disappearing borders, shared prosperity and raised standards that brought Europeans together”.
I wonder whether this statement could stand a critical investigation. But it is interesting for two reasons:
It is a sweeping statement, which we have hardly ever heard before: From the post-war years and until the crisis started in 2008, our common history in Europe is – over all - one of European unification.
At the same time it is a return of internationalism, once the focus of Marxism and the early socialist movement, but now focused at the Europe first. An international, trans-national and democratic approach in Europe is seen by DIEM25 and the centre-left that supports it, as the necessary anti-dote to austerity and escalating authoritarianism in the EU.
The serpent’s egg
“But, the serpent’s egg was at the heart of the integration process”, the manifesto goes on saying. Once upon a time, the military/industrial complex was the pet enemy of the left. Here the guns are turned towards a capital/bureaucratic complex, based in Brussels.
“Patiently and methodically, a process of de-politicising decision-making was put in place, the result being a relentless drive toward taking-the-demos-out-of-democracy”.
So, unless we now fight for international democracy at the European level, there are only two options: Re-nationalisation or “surrender to the Brussels democracy-free zone”.
What must be done?
The DIEM25 has put up a simple set of three targets, some of which might actually be fulfilled:
1. Immediately: Full transparency in Brussels – more precisely: live-streaming of meetings in forums such as The European Council, the council of ministers, Ecofin (28 finance ministers) and the eurogroup.
In addition, public access to minutes of important negotiations such as meetings of the European Central Bank governing council and papers circulated in the TTIP talks (Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). And there should be a compulsory register for lobbyists, with many more details than today - including their names of clients, the fees they pay for lobbying etc.
2. Before February 2017: Five areas should be shifted from national governments and “Europeanized”. There are no details yet, they are to follow. But there is a general statement that shows DIEM25’s approach:
“DIEM25 will present detailed policy proposals … while limiting Brussels discretionary powers and returning powers to national parliaments, to regional councils, to city halls and to communities”. So, Varoufakis & Co. will decentralise at the same time as they are introducing a more internationalist type of democracy.
The five areas:
- Public debt
- Banking (control of banks? editor’s note)
- Inadequate investment
- Rising poverty.
3. Within two years: DIEM25 wants an entirely new constitution for the EU. Therefore, a constitutional assembly should be put up. Its members should be elected on cross-national lists, and the new constitution should be in place by 2025.
DIEM25’s vision: A “full-fledged democracy” with a sovereign European parliament, sharing powers with national parliaments, regional assemblies, and municipal councils.
It would be wrong to sweep DIEM25’s proposals off the table as unrealistic. Actually, a new treaty of some kind may be in the offing. The French and the German governments are discussing new rules for the eurozone, and negotiations with David Cameron to avoid a Brexit involves political agreements on texts that will be included in a new such treaty.
One of Cameron’s aims in his negotiations with the EU on a better deal for Britain, is a more decentralised Europe. So, the decentralised part of DIEM25’s ideas might come true anyway; the issue would be how to shape them, and how to connect to internationalism.
Likewise, it might be possible to find political consensus on transparency. Secrecy in Brussels is under constant attack from euro-sceptics all over Europe, so it is not impossible that the Brussels elite will do at least something to show more openness, if they are under intelligent pressure.
As to the five areas, where proposals are to come later, we know nothing at the moment. We do not even know how the DIEM25 will work with them. You could say that Varoufakis and DIEM25 are no more open in their way of communicating than the Brussels politico/bureaucracy.
But this could also change, perhaps.
Read the manifesto here.