Former Greek finance minister says quest for transformation could help counter far right
— A radical Green New Deal has the potential to unite progressives across Europe in the same way as nationalist and rightwing movements are mobilising around immigration and xenophobia, according to the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis.
Varoufakis, a co-founder of the Democracy in Europe Movement (DiEM25), which is standing candidates in Germany and Greece in Thursday’s European elections, told the Guardian a radical green agenda could act as the “glue and cement” for an alliance of leftists, greens and liberals.
“I think this a very optimistic moment,” said Varoufakis, who is standing for DiEM25 in Germany. “The ultra right, the xenophobic right have a rallying call, they have glue and cement holding them together and that is racism, xenophobia, migration and narratives of gloom about Islamists coming to Europe and taking over.”
Progressives, however, have lacked a similar “rallying cry”, according to Varoufakis, who has become one of the leading figures on the European left in the last decade.
He argued that a Green New Deal, financed by green investment bonds issued by the European Investment Bank (EIB), could transform the economy, creating sustainable, secure jobs, and help tackle the unfolding environmental crisis while uniting young and old, socialists, Greens and liberals across the continent.
“This is a great opportunity for progressives across Europe to unite around a doable, radical but at the same time moderate agenda,” he said. “It can be for progressives what immigration and racism is to the rightists.”
The idea of a Green New Deal has gained traction in both the US and Europe in recent months. The European Greens have endorsed a version of it, and Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, recently set out his vision for a similar programme.
DiEM25 said that since the launch of its campaign for a Green New Deal for Europe this month, hundreds of politicians, MEP candidates and civil society leaders – including leading figures in the Labour and Green parties in the UK – had pledged their support.
Varoufakis said he had been working closely with the UK Labour party, which has already committed to implementing a transformative “green industrial revolution”. The Labour grassroots groups Momentum and Labour for a Green New Deal are pushing the party to go further and commit to a comprehensive plan for the UK hit zero emissions by 2030 and create hundreds of thousands of well-paid, secure jobs.
The growing awareness of a climate crisis is reflected in a surge of support for the Greens across Europe, who are on course for their strongest showing to date in the European elections and could find themselves kingmakers in a newly fragmented EU parliament.
Varoufakis said he had been working on his plans since 2003, and the challenge now was to implement a coordinated, pan-European proposal that could be scaled up.
“A Green New Deal for Europe will slingshot us out of this morass of under-investment, unemployment, and climate destruction and toward a future of sustainable, shared prosperity,” he said.
DiEM25 is urging people across the continent to vote for MEPs who are committed to a radical Green New Deal – especially in light of the threat posed by the resurgent populist right to action on the environment.
Under the DiEM25 proposals, 5% of Europe’s GDP would be invested in a green transition, financed via bonds issued by the EIB. Varoufakis said there was currently around €3tn “sloshing around” in the financial sector – held in bank accounts, being used by companies to buy back their own shares and in the insurance and derivatives sectors.
He said the plan, which has already won the support of some bureaucrats, could be implemented “tomorrow without changing any of the existing European treaties”.
“Think of the GND as a sponge that can soak up the excess liquidity in the financial sector that is currently doing a lot of damage,” he said.
The momentum behind a Green New Deal follows protests by Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes movement, which have helped to push the climate crisis higher up the political agenda.
Varoufakis said the protests were inspirational and he called on politicians and voters to take their cue from the younger generation.
“This election is not a beauty contest. The future of Europe and the future of humanity rest on its outcome,” he said. “We stand with the climate strikers, because when the adults in the room fail to respond to the greatest threat that our species has ever faced, it is time for us to follow the children who have the courage to show the way.”
by Matthew Taylor, Arthur Neslen | The Guardian