A People Powered Movement to Save Europe #diem25

Governments cannot reform the European Union. But citizens can.

Democracy In Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25) is a pan-European political movement to democratize the machinary of the European Union. (diem25.org)

Over the years, the role of the European Union has become warped and confusing. Today, its central institutions serve as mediators between hostile national governments. It is little more than a toy for prime ministers to throw around, misuse, blame and criticize.

And like most abused toys, the union’s political structure is broken and in need of repair.

Earlier in the year, former British Prime Minister David Cameron, swept around the continent, busily calling for a ‘reformed relationship’ and a ‘new British deal’. At last, a political leader, sitting in the Council of Ministers alongisde Alexis Tsipras, making the case for long-lasting structural reform to the system.

Not so fast.

Rather than seeking full-blown reform, Mr Cameron wanted ‘British concessions’. Ultimately, he didn’t have the nerve to call for a fundamental change to the system. The ‘deal’ he rustled up was meant to convince voters that reform was possible. Instead, it had the opposite effect. He missed his opportunity and it cost us the referendum.

David Cameron at the EU summit


Mr Cameron’s deal failed because he went about it the wrong way. Governments alone cannot plan reform, negotiate terms and deliver a successful resolution. Mass movements do this.

History is a series of collective actions, aimed at empowering the majority. The Great Reform Act of 1832 is a good example of this. Without intense lobbying, protests and a network of organised groups (in the form of the Birmingham Political Union etc…), the issue of parliamentary reform wouldn’t have been a priority.

Public assembly made it so.

Mr Cameron’s negotiating style was too clean, slick and robotic. Withought organised cross-party support, what was likely to have been a well intentioned deal, ended up looking like a political fix. The Prime Minister’s motives became questionable and the ‘remain’ vote unfairly toxic.

We cannot make the same mistake again. From now on, the pro-European campaign needs grassroots leadership. Upon the failure of the political system, why can’t citizens take control, enthuse voters, educate one another, share ideas, strengthen communities and stimulate the political imagination?

What’s the problem?

Until the union democratizes, national governments will (quite legitimately in some cases) continue to strip the EU of its powers until it is nothing more than a bare financial trading block. This is dangerous as a ‘bare trading block’ changes the whole nature of the union. Rather than serving citizens, by improving working conditions and protecting human rights, the EU would become subervient to the markets.

Primarily, the EU should serve as a union of people rather than governments. A united Europe is a social project, aiming to pool the ideas and skills of citizens of differing cultures, languages, families and backgrounds for the benefit of all.

To me, the most equiped and accessable movement to reform Europe is DiEM25.

As DiEM25’s founder and former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis explains, the movement’s purpose is:

“One very simple, but radical idea: to democratize Europe.” – Yanis Varoufakis

Politics itself cannot create a functioning European community. Although politicians can help regulate and support a united Europe, we – the 508 million Europeans – share the responsibility of spreading ideas, exploring cultures and learning languages.

The future of the union cannot be decided by a group of thirty bureaucrats sitting around a conference table. History tells a different story. Change occurs when people group together and act.

This group is DiEM25.

I discovered DiEM25 two months after its Berlin launch in February. With over 23 000 members in 56 countries, DiEM25 can offer a third route. Please download and read the manifestos, outlining how we can achieve the largest democratic revolution in human history.

The race to 2025 has begun. Will you join in?


Yanis Varoufakis (left) at the Berlin launch of DiEM in February (SOURCE:diem25.org)


Short Manifesto (ENGLISH) (4 Pages)

Long Manifesto (ENGLISH) (9 Pages)




Why 2016 will not be a Tory Wonderland

Why was 2015 the ‘Goldilocks Election’? Why can’t Osborne succeed as Conservative leader? Why will the Tories be forced to return to the dirty politics of the 1980s?

As 2015 draws to an end, the Prime Minister is sure to look back on the past twelve months with pride. Since January, the Tory leader has managed win a spectacular Conservative majority, secure a European referendum, control his backbenchers, effectively disband UKIP and outlast his two main election rivals. Additional internal conflict within the opposition benches has caused an apparent rise in the Tory party’s approval ratings – sometimes hitting the low 40s – unheard of during an era of recession.

But how is this possible? How has Cameron managed to end the year as the clear victor?
With the Scottish Conservatives having performed relatively badly in 2010, the Prime Minister had little to lose from the SNP’s sweep of the north. Nicola Sturgeon formed a nationalist ‘coup’ with the aim of thumping Cameron’s government at its weakest point – its lack of humanity. Instead, the ‘Scottish lion roared’ [1] (to quote former SNP leader Alex Salmond) and directed its fire towards Cameron’s only alternative – Labour leader Ed Miliband.

Fear with the economy, the increasing influence of the media and Tory myths also had parts to play in providing Cameron with a working majority of twelve MPs.

2016 is likely to be Cameron’s last full year at Number 10. From then, he is guaranteed a smooth exit from office – passing on his role to a loyal colleague such as Home Secretary Theresa May or (more likely) to school friend George Osborne. Gone are the bitter days of Ted Heath, Michael Heseltine and Margaret Thatcher.

Or so the Tories would like to think.

Unlike most of Cameron’s premiership, it may transpire that 2016 is the year when dirty Tory politics returns – the kind of image the Prime Minister has spent his decade at the top trying to hide.
Below are a string of issues which may stump leading Tories in the coming months:

   In the face of an apparently divided opposition, the Conservatives have kept together – desperate not to fall into the lengthy ideological debates which have engulfed the Labour Party for over seven months.
The Tory leader is keen to unite his cabinet around one central issue – the topic which has plagued the party for decades – Europe.
Even though Cameron is yet to declare which way he will vote, it’s pretty clear he doesn’t want the ‘out’ campaign to win. No matter how many times he strides into European summits attempting to appear the reformer, challenger and alpha male, we all know he does not want to leave office as the ‘isolationist’ Prime Minister that ordered Britain to ‘retreat’ from the world. He’s too worried about his legacy to do something as careless as that.

Although every general election is different, Conservatives are likely to examine the role played by key ministers in the run up to the vote of 2015. Party members will want to know the candidates that can successfully carry an image of modern ‘compassionate Conservatism’ and the ones who cannot.

I believe the Tory party won a majority for three reasons:

  • The public’s perception of Ed Miliband as a potential Prime Minister
  • The SNP
  • The existing First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) electoral system.

Like most elections, victory was formed from the collapse of the alternatives. For the Conservatives, the conditions were just right. It was a Goldilocks election.
A Prime Minister and Chancellor who remain loyal and trusting friends is a rarity in British politics – especially within Conservative politics. Most see this as the crux that will fulfil Osborne’s true ministerial ambitions.
Infact, most pundits predict Cameron’s iron chancellor and Etonian schoolmate will become Tory leader and Prime Minister. The Fixed Term Parliament Act of 2011 means that (if elected), Osborne will have over two years to mould his type of Conservatism before standing for election in 2020.
So far, Osborne (like Cameron) was able to shrug off his family background and education without significant damage to his reputation. But a more recent history is likely to stick with the frontrunner. Osborne is the face of 21st century austerity and is well known for missing his financial targets. But unlike Cameron, Osborne would not enter the leadership race as a youthful outsider. Having accepted the title of First Secretary of State, he is effectively the Prime Minister’s de facto deputy. But even this ministerial appointment may be too little too late for the political operator.
Beyond the recession, after the frontbenchers retire and after a new generation of Tories join the fray, George Osborne will be remembered as the Conservative chancellor that privatised, cut and shrank industry and like no other before him. He will live on as the patron saint of Conservatism – but for all the wrong reasons.

Ignore the polls, they tell you nothing
It’s worth noting that a year before his election as Tory leader in 2001, Iain Duncan Smith placed 6th in Ladbrokes’ leadership polls. Michael Howard was 7th in 2002 and Cameron 3rd in 2005. [2]

2016 is likely to be a significant year for the Conservatives. A quick transfer of power seems unlikely for a party that has recently become Britain’s slickest electoral machine. Alliances will be formed and secret deals made – that’s for sure. What remains unknown is what kind of Conservatism will enter the race for Number 10 in 2020.

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-32641223
[2] http://news.ladbrokes.com/politics/tory-leadership-contests-a-betting-history.html

SYRIZA in government: A review

syriza  The 25th January 2015 was a day of great excitement. Across every news channel, the sound of tens of thousands of Greeks shouting for a new government called out to the world. Alexis Tsipras, the young reformer, was on the verge of winning an absolute majority for his anti-austerity and anti-establishment SYRIZA party.
From then on, it seemed European politics was effectively turned on its head.

A brief history of the SYRIZA movement
2004 – 2012

  I, like so many other European socialists, was optimistic at the victory of the ‘Coalition of the Radical Left’.   Although the roots of this movement were based in left-wing populism, it seemed to me to be a movement of great substance. Its meteoric rise is testament to the ill feeling between the majority of Greeks and their ‘Troika’ creditors – EU, ECB and the IMF.
In 2004, SYRIZA formed as a relatively weak coalition of Greek movements, winning just 3.3% of the vote and a handful of seats at that year’s Hellenic Parliamentary election. Three years later, this time under the leadership of Alekos Alavanos, the party increased their share of the vote by 1.7% and took 14 seats. But still, party disorganisation capped the number of seats SYRIZA could realistically win. Soon however, things were about to change.
On 4th October 2009, the thirty five year old Alexis Tsipras took the party into their third successive legislative election and although the party actually lost votes, SYRIZA was undergoing a series of its own internal reforms.
Until this point, it is important to recognise that Greeks were not aware of the full extent of their country’s finances. On 20th October 2009, just days after the election, the finance minister George Papakonstantinou announced that debt was likely to reach 12.5% of GDP. Between October and December, Fitch, Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s each downgraded Greece’s credit rating – further worrying lenders and the ‘Troika’ in Berlin, Frankfurt and Brussels.
In 2010, the Greek government had to ‘swallow the medicine’ and introduce two separate austerity packages. As this still didn’t impress Berlin, a bailout package worth €110BN over a three year period was announced on one condition – that Greece should accept a third bailout package.
Together, these three austerity measures introduced much needed pension reform which increased the age of retirement from sixty to sixty five for women, a freeze in pensions, a rise in VAT from 19% to 21% and cuts of worker overtime. But perhaps the cruellest and most insensitive move was the decision to cut and cap monthly salaries by 10%. This universal measure was a direct attack on the Greek people. It was an attack upon fellow Europeans.
On 6th May 2012, Greeks went to the polls. All sides knew that SYRIZA would capitalise from the political turmoil of the last three years but by how much remained unanswered.
Antonis Samaras, leader of the New Democracy (ND) Party took office as Prime Minister for the first time, returning his party to power after five years in opposition. Winning over double SYRIZA’s number of seats, it appeared at first that Tsipras had failed to seize the moment. This conclusion however, is unfair. SYRIZA came second by just 2.1% of the vote and beat the now former party of government (PASOK) by a clear margin of 3.6%. The party which only a few years earlier was relatively unknown had become the main opposition force in the Hellenic Parliament. SYRIZA was now a direct threat to the establishment.
Tsipras told a crowd of supporters just days before that “Syriza can be the catalyst for great change.”  I think even Tsipras himself failed to overestimate just what SYRIZA were catalyzing. This was a man that had just declared war. He had spoken the words few Greeks had dared to utter aloud. He wanted to fight the ‘Troika’. He wanted to question Greece’s creditors.

(Following the bailout deal under Alexis Tsipras)

  Following the implementation of yet another round of austerity measures, (this time under Tsipras himself) SYRIZA’s Environment Minister, Panagiotis Lafazanis, resigned and attempted to form a new leftist party named ‘Popular Unity’. He was joined by just twenty five members. But this relatively small number was enough to push SYRIZA further into the influence of their junior Conservative coalition partner ‘Independent Greeks’ (ANEL) – further complicating an already bizarre multi-party relationship.
In the September election however, Popular Unity failed to gain the 3% of votes needed to gain any parliamentary representation, causing SYRIZA to lose just 0.8% of their January vote.
From the outset, SYRIZA has refused to play ‘the game’.
It proudly campaigns upon a populist left-wing platform and appeals to many different sections of Greek society. Unfortunately for the political establishment of Athens and Brussels, Tsipras alongside his characterful and methodical (now former) finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis successfully enticed business leaders and wealthy citizens to join their campaign, diversifying their party membership whilst broadening their electoral chances.
One problem however, is how SYRIZA can maintain their party image and selling point. A young and charismatic leader who addresses a sea of roaring supporters waving banners which call for the fall of establishment politics will not last forever – particularly when SYRIZA is the party of government. Instead of calling for the end of establishment politics, the party should make the compassion, understanding and sheer popularity of leftism the new establishment of Greek politics. Tsipras cannot afford to pretend he is still on the sidelines. Fighting an election as the ruling Prime Minister has historically, played as a disadvantage to Greek leaders. For Tsipras and his party however, he can play this to his advantage. For too long, SYRIZA have operated as a small scale party of opposition. Government (and particularly a coalition) is a good test for any party machine – especially if that party has never been in any form of government before.
The party has however, had one major success. Greek politics is relevant once more. Although Tsipras was forced to accept a new package of reforms – he put up a fight and successfully held his party together in the painful few days that followed.
It is too early to say whether Tsipras will be remembered as a successful Prime Minister or merely as a populist failure. On thing however is certain, his administration overcame the odds and certainly delivered a cultural change to Greek politics even if its financial promises have been less than successful. To that, they deserve our credit.