Varoufakis In Conversation With Leading Academics As Syriza Splinters And Election Beckons In Greece by Yanis Varoufakis, The Conversation

When Yanis Varoufakis was elected to parliament and then named as Greek finance minister in January, he embarked on an extraordinary seven months of negotiations with the country’s creditors and its European partners.

On July 6, Greek voters backed his hardline stance in a referendum, with a resounding 62% voting No to the European Union’s ultimatum. On that night, he resigned, after prime minister Alexis Tsipras, fearful of an ugly exit from the eurozone, decided to go against the popular verdict. Since then, the governing party, Syriza, has splintered and a snap election has been called. Varoufakis remains a member of parliament and a prominent voice in Greek and European politics.

When asked about Tsipras’s decision to trigger a snap election, inviting the Greek public to issue their judgement on his time in office, Varoufakis said:

If only that were so! Voters are being asked to endorse Alexis Tsipras’ decision, on the night of their majestic referendum verdict, to overturn it; to turn their courageous No into a capitulation, on the grounds that honouring that verdict would trigger a Grexit. This is not the same as calling on the people to pass judgement on a record of steadfast opposition to a failed economic programme doing untold damage to Greece’s social economy. It is rather a plea to voters to endorse him, and his choice to surrender, as a lesser evil.

The Conversation asked nine leading academics what their questions were for a man who describes himself as an “accidental economist”. His answers reveal regrets about his own approach during a dramatic 2015, a withering assessment of France’s power in Europe, fears for the future of Syriza, a view that Syriza is now finished, and doubts over how effective Jeremy Corbyn could be as leader of Britain’s Labour party.

Anton Muscatelli, University of GlasgowWhy was Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras persuaded to accept the EU’s pre-conditions around the third bailout discussions despite a decisive referendum victory for the No campaign; and is this the end of the road for the anti-austerity wing of Syriza in Greece?

Varoufakis: Tsipras’ answer is that he was taken aback by official Europe’s determination to punish Greek voters by putting into action German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble’s plan to push Greece out of the eurozone, redenominate Greek bank deposits in a currency that was not even ready, and even ban the use of euros in Greece. These threats, independently of whether they were credible or not, did untold damage to the European Union’s image as a community of nations and drove a wedge through the axiom of the eurozone’s indivisibility.

As you probably have heard, on the night of the referendum, I disagreed with Tsipras on his assessment of the credibility of these threats and resigned as finance minister. But even if I was wrong on the issue of the credibility of the troika’s threats, my great fear was, and remains, that our party, Syriza, would be torn apart by the decision to implement another self-defeating austerity program of the type that we were elected to challenge. It is now clear that my fears were justified.

Roy Bailey, University of EssexWas the surprise referendum of July 5 conceived as a threat point for the ongoing bargaining between Greece and its creditors and has the last year caused you to adjust how you think about Game Theory?

Varoufakis: I shall have to disappoint you Roy {Editor’s note: Roy Bailey taught Varoufakis at Essex and advised on his PhD}. As I wrote in a New York Times op-ed, Game Theory was never relevant. It applies to interactions where motives are exogenous and the point is to work out the optimal bluffing strategies and credible threats, given available information. Our task was different: it was to persuade the “other” side to change their motivation vis-à-vis Greece.

I represented a small, suffering nation in its sixth straight year of deep recession. Bluffing with our people’s fate would be irresponsible. So I did not. Instead, we outlined that which we thought was a reasonable position, consistent with our creditors’ own interests. And then we stood our ground. When the troika pushed us into a corner, presenting me with an ultimatum on June 25 just before closing Greece’s banking system down, we looked at it carefully and concluded that we had neither a mandate to accept it (given that it was economically non-viable) nor to decline it (and clash with official Europe). Instead we decided to do something terribly radical: to put it to the Greek people to decide.

Lastly, on a theoretical point, the “threat point” in your question refers to John Nash’s bargaining solution which is based on the axiom of non-conflict between the parties. Tragically, we did not have the luxury to make that assumption.

Cristina Flesher Fominaya, University of AberdeenThe dealings between Greece and the EU seemed more like a contest between democracy and the banks, than a negotiation between the EU and a member state. Given the outcome, are there any lessons that you would take from this for other European parties resisting the imperatives of austerity politics?

Varoufakis: Allow me to phrase this differently. It was a contest between the right of creditors to govern a debtor nation and the democratic right of the said nation’s citizens to be self-governed. You are quite right that there was never a negotiation between the EU and Greece as a member state of the EU. We were negotiating with the troika of lenders, the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and a wholly weakened European Commission in the context of an informal grouping, the Eurogroup, lacking specific rules, without minutes of the proceedings, and completely under the thumb of one finance minister and the troika of lenders.

Moreover, the troika was terribly fragmented, with many contradictory agendas in play, the result being that the “terms of surrender” they imposed upon us were, to say the least, curious: a deal imposed by creditors determined to attach conditions which guarantee that we, the debtor, cannot repay them. So, the main lesson to be learned from the last few months is that European politics is not even about austerity. Or that, as Nicholas Kaldor wrote in The New Statesman in 1971, any attempt to construct a monetary union before a political union ends up with a terrible monetary system that makes political union much, much harder. Austerity and a hideous democratic deficit are mere symptoms.

Panicos Demetriades, University of LeicesterDid you ever think that your message was being diluted or becoming noisy, or even incoherent, by giving so many interviews?

Varoufakis: Yes. I have regretted several interviews, especially when the journalists involved took liberties that I had not anticipated. But let me also add that the “noise” would have prevailed even if I granted far fewer interviews. Indeed the media game was fixed against our government, and me personally, in the most unexpected and repulsive way. Wholly moderate and technically sophisticated proposals were ignored while the media concentrated on trivia and distortions. Giving interviews where I would, to some extent, control the content was my

1, 23  - View Full Page