Yanis Varoufakis says politicians ‘not what they used to be’ in 2016
Politicians in Europe were helpless this week as EU officials raced to backtrack on the decision to cut-off the UK’s coronavirus vaccine supply. It came as discontent rippled across member states after Brussels failed to deliver vaccine doses around the continent following a delay, the result of what many described as the bloc’s “bureaucracy”. EU countries transferred power to the bloc last year, giving them the green-light to procure coronavirus vaccines with various pharmaceutical companies.
The UK at the time opted-out as the Government cited concerns that the proposed programme could result in delays of up to six months.
At the first hurdle, those delays occurred.
It led European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to threaten to stop AstraZeneca doses, produced in the Netherlands and Belgium, from leaving Europe for Britain, despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson‘s Government already having paid for them.
Many claimed it was unfair that European countries were out of pocket despite the vaccines being produced within the bloc.
Yanis Varoufakis: The Greek politician said the political sphere had been taken over by economics
Ursula von der Leyen: The European Commission President quickly backtracked over the vaccine crisis
However, what appeared to be one of the significant driving forces for the intervention was economics.
German politician Markus Söder, who has been tipped to run for Chancellor in September, summed out what many have said could be the EU’s main concern.
He warned: “The time factor is crucial.
“If Israel, the US or the UK are far ahead of us in vaccination, they will also benefit economically.
“The question of how we get through corona economically is closely related to how quickly we get through with vaccination.”
Markus Söder: The Bavarian Minister warned the bloc of the UK’s potential ‘economic benefits’
Economics dictating politics is a theme that former Minister of Finance for Greece, Mr Varoufakis, has previously explored in his work on how forces like the eurozone have destabilised Europe.
In a 2016 TED talk, the politician drew parallels with present-day democracy and its distant ancient Athenian set-up.
He said a unique point about the historic political framework was that although it excluded too many – “women, migrants, slaves” – it included, “the working poor who not only acquired the right to free speech, but more importantly, crucially, they acquired the rights to political judgements that were afforded equal weight in the decision making concerning matters of state”.
Mr Vaorufakis differentiated between ancient Athenian democracy being purely political, and modern liberal democracy being based on things like the Magna Carta, which was founded in the tradition of “masters” – barons – who owned lands and had monetary privilege.
This, he said, is where institutions of today like the EU and the eurozone have failed.
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Ancient Greece: Athens is regarded as the birthplace of democracy
TED: Varoufakis said present-day democracies are based in works that favoured the ‘masters’
He explained: “Indeed, liberal democracy only surfaced when it was possible to separate fully the political sphere from the economic sphere, so as to confine the democratic process fully in the political sphere, leaving the economic sphere – the corporate world if you want – as a democracy free zone.
“In our democracies today, this separation of the economic from the political sphere, the moment it started happening, it gave rise to an inexorable struggle between the two, with the economic sphere colonising the political sphere, eating into its power.
“Have you wondered why politicians are not what they used to be?
“It’s not because their DNA has degenerated.
British constitution: The closest thing Britain has to a constitution is the Magna Carta
“It is rather because one can be in government today and not in power, because power has migrated from the political to the economic sphere, which is separate.”
He added that the economic sphere had so “dominated” the political sphere that it has started to turn on itself, unaware, causing things like economic crises and financial crashes.
When these events happen, the already poorer countries suffer the most.
After the 2008 financial crisis, Greece, in order to avoid default, reached out to the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) for help.
It was granted €110billion (96.7bn) in loans that came with hefty interest rates.
Greece: Protests broke out across the country following the 2008 financial crash
Germany provided the largest sum, around €22bn (£19bn).
In exchange for the loans, the EU required Greece to roll-out crippling austerity measures and cuts to public funding.
Mr Varoufakis previously said that while holding his ministerial post, “I was told in no uncertain terms that our nation’s democratic process – our elections – could not be allowed to interfere with economic policies that were being implemented in Greece”.
Greece to this day is still paying back that sum.
The country has since suffered the worst youth unemployment in Europe, with 40 percent of those aged 15-24 unemployed.
The average unemployment rate for the same age group on the continent is 14 percent.