Adults in the Room by Yanis Varoufakis: My Impressions

Zeitung für Katzen

A while back, I had dinner with an old friend who works in the Wellington beltway. He had recently gained a small amount of publicity for a study into the then government’s 90 day “fire at will” employment policy. The Tories sold this to the public under the guise that it would create jobs by encouraging employers to take a chance on people.

My friend’s research showed that the policy failed to increase the hiring of workers. We then joked about how then Prime Minister John Key tried to dismiss his findings by  using anecdotal evidence!

I also remarked that it was fascinating that academic economic research tended to support many left-wing policy viewpoints in contrast to the right-wing framing of concepts presented at the level of ECON101. I saw it as a sign of the validity of the political left, much to the amusement of my…

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Germany and Brexit: Berlin won’t put economic interest above its political support for European integration | British Politics and Policy at LSE

If the UK wants to secure favourable terms during the Brexit negotiations, it will be crucial to win the support of Germany. But what are Germany’s key priorities? Luuk Molthof writes that the 2015 Greek debt negotiations offer some insights into the German approach, and that the UK is likely to be disappointed if it believes Germany will put economic interests above its political support for European integration.

A sigh of relief was heard on both sides of the channel when Jean-Claude Juncker announced on 8 December that ‘sufficient progress’ had been made in the first round of Brexit talks, opening the way for the second, and much more important, phase of the negotiations. Some commentators saw the breakthrough as a sign that the British government had finally acknowledged its place as the junior partner. Indeed, to be able to move on to the trade talks, Theresa May had given in to most of the EU’s demands.

Yet the British government still seems fully confident that it will be able to negotiate a bespoke trade deal for itself. At the heart of this optimism is the assumption that some EU countries, such as Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium, have a significant interest in good trading relations with the UK and won’t want to harm themselves economically merely to ‘punish’ Britain for leaving the EU. The British government seems to be particularly counting on Germany, the EU’s central power, whose export sector is seen as being much too dependent on the British economy for it to allow Britain to walk away without a deal.

However, many German politics experts have warned the British government not to keep its hopes up. According to Charles Grant, “Germany’s top priority is to ensure that Brexit does not weaken the EU, and that means the UK must not be allowed any kind of special arrangements that could undermine the European institutions”. In a similar vein, Sophia Besch and Christian Odendahl point out that “politically, nothing is more important to Germany than the stability and integrity of the EU”.

To understand why the British government would do well to heed these warnings, it is useful to be reminded of Germany’s role in the 2015 Greek bailout negotiations. The case is illustrative for two reasons. First, Germany’s decision back then to agree to a third bailout package for Greece, despite the apparent failings of the first two packages, is indicative of Berlin’s willingness to prioritise political over economic ends. Second, Germany’s refusal to soften Greece’s bailout conditions, even after repeated attempts by the Greek government to put pressure on Berlin, suggests that Germany is not one to soften its position at the behest of a junior negotiating partner.

Berlin’s willingness to prioritise political over economic ends

What the British government tends to forget is that for Germany, the EU is first and foremost a political project. In its efforts to further and safeguard European integration, Germany has often prioritised political over economic interests. So too in the summer of 2015, when Germany, alongside the other eurozone countries, agreed to extend a third bailout package to Greece. To be sure, over the course of the Greek debt negotiations, Germany never lost sight of its economic interests, refusing to grant Greece its much wanted Schuldenschnitt and remaining firm in its insistence on a strict reform programme. However, it always kept a larger perspective in mind.

Greece had received two bailout packages before, the first in 2010 and the second in 2012. An important motivation for both bailouts was the concern over a potential domino effect in the case of a Greek default and/or exit from the eurozone. Another – at least in 2010 – was the exposure of German and French banks to Greek debt. In bailing out Greece, then, Germany and the other eurozone countries acted perfectly in line with their own economic interests.

The situation in 2015, however, was markedly different. Not only had the chances of a domino effect been significantly reduced, Europe’s banks had written off most of their Greek debt. The economic argument for bailing out Greece yet another time was therefore not particularly strong, especially since Greece was increasingly seen as a Fass ohne Boden, or a bottomless pit. The reason why Germany ultimately agreed to another bailout was because a Greek exit from the eurozone would undermine the euro’s credibility as an instrument of political integration. Most significantly, a Grexit would mean that European integration would no longer be an irreversible and linear process – note that this was before the Brexit referendum. Speaking to the Bundestag on 19 March 2015, Merkel stated:

I have repeatedly said: If the euro fails, Europe fails. Some found and still find this too dramatic. But I remain insistent; for the euro is much more than just a currency. It is, next to the institutions that we have established, the strongest expression of our willingness to really unite the populations of Europe in prosperity and peace.

Economically, it may well have made better sense to let Greece go. Yet in order to protect the euro’s role as a political instrument, Germany was willing to bear the economic costs. Similarly, Germany is likely to be willing to bear the economic costs of a no deal Brexit should that be necessary to protect the integrity of the internal market.

Germany is not one to soften its position at the behest of a junior negotiating partner

Just like the British government is currently expecting the German government to eventually soften its position and give in to certain demands, so too did the Greek government expect the German government to eventually soften its austerity demands and perhaps even write off some debt. Greece found out the hard way, however, that Germany is not one to soften up when negotiating with a junior partner. Over the course of the 2015 debt negotiations, the Greek government made continued attempts to put pressure on Germany to adjust its position, using delaying tactics, insisting Germany still owed Greece compensation for WWII, and even calling a domestic referendum on the bailout conditions. All these attempts proved futile and in fact only strengthened Germany’s resilience.

Only after Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, started talking about the option of a temporary ‘timeout’ from the eurozone, did it dawn on the Greek government that it had vastly overestimated its negotiating position. In the end, the Greek government inevitably caved, accepting all of the conditions that had been so resoundingly rejected by the Greek population in the bailout referendum. The drawing out of the negotiations had been a costly affair for all involved, but primarily for Greece. The British government faces a similar suboptimal outcome should it fail to come to the realisation soon that it is indeed the junior negotiating partner, that time is really not on its side, and that empty threats to walk away from the negotiations without a deal aren’t likely to change anyone’s mind, least of all Germany’s.

The fact that Germany is likely to prioritise its political interests over its economic interests in the Brexit negotiations, and is unlikely to give in to the demands of a junior negotiating partner, is not to say that Germany does not seek a good trading relationship with Britain. It is merely to say that it won’t agree to a type of deal that undermines the EU institutions simply because it doesn’t want to see a drop in Mercedes’ sales. Indeed, even the German industry itself has let it be known that the integrity of the internal market should not be sacrificed for access to the UK market. The British government would do well to keep this in mind and prepare a realistic vision for its post-Brexit relationship with the EU, instead of waiting for the Germans to lend them a helping hand.


Note: This post was originally published on our sister site EUROPP.

About the Author

Luuk Molthof is a Research Fellow at d|part, a political think tank based in Berlin. He completed his PhD in Political Science at Royal Holloway, University of London. His thesis examined Germany’s role in European monetary history and provided an explanation for Germany’s reaction to the euro crisis.

All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

How to boost European disintegration: admit that you saved the banks

Christine Lagarde, the director of the International Monetary Fund, makes some interesting headlines. In a recent interview, she talked about the consequences arising from the high surpluses in Germany. To put it mildly, this sounded not quite right to some people and they responded. Journalists like fancy big titles and Lagarde criticizing Germany is a hot topic. However, Lagarde also talked about other things and the Greek media spotted something rather interesting: Lagarde admitted that some countries were ‘saved’ in order to save the banks. Even Jeroen Dijsselbloem has recently confirmed this.

The question this poses is what leverage do we have if officials now admit to making the banks a much higher priority than the people of Europe? How do Greeks, Spanish or Portuguese feel when they hear that they were not only misled but also had their wages and pensions severely cut, for the sake of the banks? Obviously, Euroscepticism and anger rise, alongside the levels of mistrust towards EU institutions. In short: thoughts turn to X-exits (X=Gr, Br, It etc.).

At DiEM25, we hope that people will respond in ways that are progressive. We will fight for an EU that makes human values, not banks, its priority. We need your help and ideas collectively  to steer Europe away from its catastrophe. Join us here.

The Hermeneutics of Victimology

The last five days has seen the first week of the inquest into the death of Richard Handley.  The inquest has been expertly live tweeted by George Julian and following the testimonies unfold has been harrowing reading. If you want to catch up on the evidence to date, follow @HandleyInquest on Twitter.

Richard died an appalling death. Constipation had been a problem from birth but his family, and latterly the care home had managed this distressing issue. Things started to go wrong when the owners of the care home deregistered its care home status and rebranded itself as supported living. The level of support that Richard had previously received dropped off alarmingly, all in the name of “independence” and “choice” but was really about saving money for the care company on that pesky thing called “care”. The “flats” became dirty as it was no longer seen as anyone’s job to do the cleaning. More seriously for Richard, his diet, which had been a mainstay in managing his condition changed as it was decided that Richard had the capacity the decide what he should eat. The rebranding was the starting point for the catastrophe that was to follow. Two days before Richard died medics removed 10kg of faeces from his rectum. That was just a small amount in his body as the post mortem revealed much more had become impacted in Richard’s bowel. His abdomen was so extended as to resemble someone “40 weeks pregnant”. Richard vomited up his own faeces. In the end, his heart gave out. We hear a lot about “a good death”. This was a very bad death.

The inquest has been distressing but compelling reading. The importance of George’s work has become more and more evident as the week has progressed. We are learning things of such importance about the coronial process, the state of adult social care, the tactics that professional bodies use to subvert justice and to avoid accountability. I knew some of this stuff through my experience in 2010 and others’ since but this week feels like we now know what the template is. This inquest is so similar to Connor Sparrowhawk’s inquest, it is beyond coincidence. It is data that we must learn, absorb, pass on and use to bring about the change we need. The change to seeing learning disabled people as valuable, as having human rights, in life as well as death.

There are a number of things that families impacted by social care need to learn from the remarkable records that are being compiled. To use that old professional cliche – “lessons must be learned”.

Richard’s inquest is glaringly revealing how dangerous supported living can be when the providers have a different agenda. We know this already from the death of Nico Reed but the evidence this week shouts at us that when money saving/profit making is disguised as person centred independence, horrific outcomes are just around the corner. Barren lives lived because the care provider won’t provide enough staff to facilitate meaningful activities. Good health maintenance jetisoned because “choice” is used to disguise the truth that the provider can’t be bothered to invest in the health of their customers. Lesson one – we have to improve our laser vision. We have to see what is going on behind the person centred, independence smokescreen.

In order to achieve the above, the State and the care providers have to exclude the families. And to be brutally frank, part of the exclusion is to lie to them. Richard’s family genuinely believed that his diet was being followed. They sincerely believed that his toileting routines were being maintained. Why should they think otherwise? Lesson two – we need to think otherwise. We cannot trust that there isn’t an alternative agenda in play.

As sure as night follows day, family blaming follows the exclusion of families. In the cross examination of Sheila, Richard’s mother, the suggestion was made that the family hadn’t told the providers or monitored Richard’s diet and toilet plan. Reading it felt like Groundhog Day. At Connor’s inquest, the psychiatrist’s brief battered Sara with questions along the lines of; why didn’t Sara inform the unit that Connor needed bathtime supervision. It’s nigh on impossible for the person (the bereaved person) not to take this personally. They musn’t. Lesson three – do not be drawn into the blame game and do not take it personally. Obviously when you are under attack, the tactic has more purchase. But as we have learned through following these inquests, the name of the game for the various barristers is to shift blame anywhere than on their client. From their point of view an inquest isn’t a fact finding inquiry. It is a vehicle to avoid any accountability at any costs. Yesterday we heard the testimony of the lead GP in the practice Richard was registered with. In the space of ten minutes, the blame was shifted from the computer system, the trainee GP, Richard’s mother, the care company. It was hard to keep up. It was the most horrid game of non accountability bingo. But that is the purpose of an inquest for the professional “interested parties”.

It still shocks me to my bones, how much the Mental Capacity Act is ignored or abused. One of the witnesses said that they assumed Richard had capacity because he wasn’t disagreeing with the professionals! It became clear very early on that the and the notion of best interests didn’t appear on the radar of most of the medics involved in Richard’s care. I tweeted that I felt that in case after case, the ignoring and manipulation of the Mental Capacity Act must be wilful. It can’t be accidently forgotten about. After all, the law is over 10 years old now. A social care professional who I respect enormously replied that the professionals know their law and tend to ignore it when it doesn’t support their own agenda. This is terrifying confirmation if you have a learning disability or are a family member. The piece of legislation that is meant to protect and enable you doesn’t work unless you are compliant with the State agenda. Lesson four – know your law. You can be trusted more than the State to make a best interests decision without an unpure motive.

The final lesson from this week is utterly bizarre but led to the title of this post (Thanks to my friend Val for the title). As yesterday’s hearing was wrapping up, one of the barristers announced to the coroner that the CEO of the hospital trust who he was represented, reported that he had been “goaded” on Twitter. George was understandably horrified by this accusation & trawled the Twitter feed for any goading tweets. Unable to find any, she tweeted the CEO to ask for clarification & he replied with the following screenshot:

Can you see what the CEO did here? This was evidence from the morning session. If it was “goading” it was done from the witness box. The inference in his complaint though was very different. Does this ring any bells? How about the time that Katrina Pearcy reported that Justice For LB supporters had hacked the Southern Health account? It happened to me in court. As the social work manager took to the witness box he asked if he could make a statement before taking counsel’s questions. He announced that the social worker was absent from the court due to sickness. Her sickness being stress brought on by receiving an anonymous, threatening letter signed by “a friend of the Neary family”. No letter was ever produced to back up the accusation. Thankfully Justice Jackson gave the claim a nanusecond of attention. He didn’t mention it all in his final judgement.

So what’s the point? Nobody is taken in by these allegations. They must be dreamt up by the bodies’ PR departments. They are designed to shift the “perpetrator” into the victim position. Grandstanding for sympathy. It’s not meant to appeal to the court but to the wider audience. After all we have a strong victim culture now, so any claim of “goading” or trolling or threatened violence is likely to resonate. Job done. Lesson Five – do not engage with this game. You are being used as collateral. Just trust that the people who matter will see straight through the nonsense. It’s horrible. A well paid CEO is so brittle he needs to wrestle the Handley family from the victim position (not that once have Richard’s family played the victim card. They have far too much congruence for that).

There’s bound to be more lessons that I’ve overlooked and more to come as the inquest continues.

But we have to get a handle on all this. We’re in this for the truth; our lives. We have to understand the rules of the game that our search for truth takes place in.

Delivered in front of an audience of Labour MP and staffers, at the kind invitation of Chuka Ummuna MP.

via Arguing for a Norway Plus Brexit from the perspective of a committed Corbyn supporter – Audio of address at the House of Commons, 29 JAN 2018 — Yanis Varoufakis

Our bid to build a transnational political party is taking shape! Over a weekend of meetings with potential political partners in France, we took vital steps towards building the progressive political alliance Europe desperately needs.

Over a weekend of meetings with potential political partners in France, we took vital steps towards building the progressive political alliance Europe desperately needs.

Among those we met: Génération-s’, the movement of former French Education Minister and presidential candidate Benoît Hamon. Our delegation also met DiEM25 activists from across the country to get their take on the issues from the grassroots level.

Next stop: March, when we hold a meeting in Naples with our political partners from all European countries to form, pending approval of our members, a council that will govern the transnational party list. By April, the combined forces joining the transnational party will have agreed on a basic European programme. And in June we roll out the party to the peoples of Europe with a series of large-scale events across Europe’s capitals. Read all about it here. Exciting times!