Former Greek finance minister says the monetary union has ‘failed spectacularly’ leaving Europe too fragmented to respond to influx of refugees
Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis. Photograph: Jean-Philippe Ksiazek/AFP/Getty Images
by Martin Farrer
Sunday 22 November 2015
Europe’s stumbling response to the refugee crisis is the result of the divisions caused by the six-year monetary crisis which has fragmented the continent and turned nations against each other, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has told the Guardian.
With thousands of migrants travelling to Europe from Africa, the Middle East and south Asia, Varoufakis said the future of the European Union was threatened by the worst such crisis since 1945.
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European leaders have agreed a plan to share 120,000 refugees through a quota system, but countries on the Balkan route have begun refusing people of certain nationalities as part of a backlash against migrants in the wake of the Paris attacks. The issue has become symbolic of Europe’s inability to act together.
Countries such as Britain were gripped by “moral panic” at the sight of refugees camped out at Calais, Varoufakis said, while countries such as Hungary had erected razor-wire fences to prevent migrants getting in.
“Take a glance at events in Europe over the last 10-15 years ever since monetary union. The project has failed spectacularly,” said Varoufakis, who quit his job in July after failing to win the deal on debt relief that he believed was necessary for the Greek economy to turn the corner.
Policemen walk as people attend a march organised by far-right and nationalists organisations under the title “No! For migrants” in Gdansk, northern Poland. Facebook Twitter Pinterest
Policemen walk as people attend a march organised by far-right and nationalists organisations under the title “No! For migrants” in Gdansk, northern Poland. Photograph: Agencja Gazeta/Reuters
“Europeans are a people divided by a common currency. The euro crisis has fragmented Europe, turning Greeks against Germans, Irish against Spanish etc.
“It makes it hard for the EU to function as a political entity, as a unified entity. The centrifugal force of monetary union has made it harder to deal with the refugee crisis. In a sense, it is the straw that has broken the camel’s back.”
Varoufakis, speaking during a short speaking tour of Australia, admitted that he did not have the solution to the refugee crisis.
“I don’t have the answer. The numbers of people are very large. But if someone knocks on my door at three in the morning, scared, hungry and having been shot at, as a human it is my moral duty to let them in and give them a drink and feed them. And then ask questions later. Anything else is an affront to European civilisation.
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“From a European perspective, we have a lot to answer for. Countries such as Iraq and Syria are creations of western imperialism and the cynicism of the west’s treatment of the region in the past has caused a backlash.
“The invasion of Iraq was a great example of the inanity of the west. Syria and Iraq were very fragile states but by creating the rupture, it propelled a shockwave.”
Varoufakis’s casual dress and outspoken style endeared him to many during his controversial tenure as finance minister.
But he was eventually forced out of government when the Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras decided that he had to accept the unfavourable debt relief terms offered by the nation’s creditors.
However, Varoufakis has no regrets about his time in office and still believes he did the right thing.
“With the benefit of hindsight, one would always alter one’s actions. I could give a long list if I’d known in advance what was going to happen.
“But the general strategy was correct. I took over as finance minister 15 days before we went into bankruptcy. The loan was unsustainable and part of the extend and pretend policy. I was not going to be part of that and we had a tough line.
“But creditors were more interested in the demonstration effect of crashing a government for daring to oppose them so that they could intimidate others such as Spain, Ireland and France.
“Greece was treated like a pawn on a chess board so it was very hard. We had a chance [to default] and we missed it.
“We should have defaulted. They would have come around and we would have a compromise agreement, but I wasn’t allowed to use that weapon. But something will have to give. Unfortunately the resolution as it stands now is not consistent with the interests of European countries.”