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Greece’s Varoufakis brings his anti-establishment party to Italy

Yanis Varoufakis tried to rescue Greece from the austerity imposed by the liberal establishment. Then he wanted to rescue the whole EU.

Now the motorbike-riding, leather jacket-wearing former Greek finance minister has turned his attention to Italy.

“If ever there was a moment it is now,” the economist told POLITICO in an interview to mark the Italian launch of his pan-European political party, Mera25.

The radical-left party was launched in the incongruously grand surroundings of the former Roman Aquarium, a 19th century exhibition space and cultural center, with cameos by Mera25’s celebrity backers Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and composer Brian Eno, who dialed in by video link.

As part of the leftist Syriza-led Greek government in 2015, Varoufakis battled the so-called troika and Europe-imposed austerity. While the Greek government eventually capitulated, Varoufakis quit government and founded a cross-border far-left political movement. As well as Waters and Eno, supporters include activist Julian Assange, film-maker Ken Loach, philosopher Noam Chomsky and Pamela Anderson of Baywatch fame.

Varoufakis clearly relishes the star-studded connections. “I just received [Eno’s] latest album with a dedication for me,” he reveals.  

You might expect a self-styled “erratic Marxist” to be dismayed by the recent elections in Italy, which returned a government led by Giorgia Meloni of the far-right Brothers of Italy. But while he expresses concern for the possible ramification for minorities, Varoufakis reckons the result shows that the time to radically rethink Europe’s political and economic system has arrived.

The vote shows that Italian voters, rejecting decades of center left and center right governments that have accepted “soul-crushing” EU policies and structures that kept Italy down, are willing to try anything, he claims.

But as Meloni too has made what Varoufakis terms “a Faustian pact” with the establishment, signaling that she will work with Europe and be loyal to NATO, in order to gain power, she will inevitably be unable to keep her electoral promises, he argues. The resulting vacuum “will create space for a transnational progressive party offering something completely different,” in the heart of Europe.

The need for transnational politics is demonstrated by the global nature of recent crises.

“The debt crisis, banking crisis, climate crisis, geopolitical, energy, war, health,” Varoufakis says. “None of this can be sorted out at national state level.”

Mera25’s policies, decided by its 150,000 members in a Europe-wide ballot, include a federal EU republic and replacing energy markets with a common green grid.

Varoufakis said Diem 25, his first attempt at cross-border politics, failed due to the left’s fragmented nature | Angelo Carconi/EPA-EFE

If Varoufakis had his way NATO would be dead and buried. “[It] has no business existing. It is an affront to the idea of the European Union to designate our security to a foreign power with antithetical interests to our own,” he says. 

Instead, Europe should be responsible for its own defense, with its own military, he insists. Until Europe abandons NATO “we will be completely subservient to the interests of the U.S.”

Sending more arms to Ukraine is “the definition of madness” and sanctions “are a joke,” he said. Russia’s war-chest, buoyed by high energy prices, has only grown since the invasion of Ukraine. “If you want to massage your conscience for moral reasons I can understand that, but sanctions are not working and will never work.”  

As much as Italians are unlikely to see the need for yet another radical left party, Varoufakis’ views could resonate with a part of the Italian electorate. A majority of Italians oppose sending arms to Ukraine, and sanctions, a position that is likely to find further support as energy costs fuel resentment over the winter.

Varoufakis acknowledges that Mera25 hasn’t yet taken off.

He says that his initial run at cross-border politics, a movement intended to unite existing progressive forces, called Diem 25, failed, because of the fragmented, parochial nature of the left. Months spent trying to unite the Italian left ahead of the 2019 European elections, made him lose the will to live, he said. After a year and a half of failure he decided to focus on a party that would run in elections instead.

It narrowly missed being elected to the European Parliament in Germany, but counts its entry into the Greek parliament as a win, especially as the party has been “attacked brutally” by former comrades in the left-wing Syriza party. “They tried to eradicate us as we were spoiling the broth for them.”

Varoufakis reflects: “By no means are we successful but we have to start somewhere … We are not trying so much to maximize votes but to start a conversation. … We want to demonstrate what transnational politics looks like.”

Source : Politico