Varoufakis backs France’s Macron, ‘the only one who tried to help Greece’
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Greece’s Yanis Varoufakis has blasted French left-wingers’ “scandalous” reluctance to endorse Emmanuel Macron, recalling his lonely attempt to help the Greek government during its epic standoff with the “Troika”.
Don’t get him wrong. Greece’s flamboyant former economy minister is no fan of Macron’s “dead-end, already-failed neoliberalism”. He will oppose it with the same strength - and panache - that defined his doomed battle with Greece’s creditors. But after May 7, not before.
With just days to go before France’s decisive presidential run-off, the former “rock-star” minister has weighed into the heated debate that is tearing the French left apart, declaring his “unequivocal support” for the man who will face far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
In an op-ed published by French daily Le Monde, and available in English on his own website, Varoufakis explains why the fight against Le Pen’s anti-immigrant National Front takes precedence over the battle to change the Eurozone’s flawed economics.
“The National Front cannot be allowed to stumble into the Élysée due to our misguided tactical indifference,” he writes. “I refuse to be part of a generation of European progressives who could have stopped Marine Le Pen from winning France’s presidency but didn’t.”
Varoufakis, who surprised many by campaigning against Brexit last year, draws a parallel between France’s polls and the recent US election, recalling his stance at the time, shared by Noam Chomsky, that, “in swing states, progressive Americans should hold their nose with one hand and vote for Clinton with the other”.
The founder of the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25) expresses his dismay at the French left’s failure to unanimously call for a Macron vote, just 15 years after uniting behind conservative candidate Jacques Chirac to shut out another Le Pen.
“Is Marine Le Pen genuinely a less unpalatable proposition than her father was?” he asks. “Is Emmanuel Macron somehow worse, from a leftwing perspective, than Jacques Chirac was in 2002? If not, why are some leaders of the left today unwilling to support Macron against Le Pen? This is a genuine puzzle to me.”
A divided left
Varoufakis concedes that left-wing voters have “every reason to be angry with Emmanuel Macron”, starting with “his pursuit of labour market deregulation”, which the former Greek minister likens to “neoliberalism gone mad”.
Referring to his former foe at the German finance ministry, Varoufakis warns that Macron’s stance on the Eurozone “plays straight into the hands of Wolfgang Schaüble’s grand plan for a permanent austerity union”.
The high-profile economist and politician also laments Macron’s proposals to reduce both wealth taxes and support for local government - which, he argues, place him on the “wrong side” of history.
And yet despite these misgivings, Varoufakis warns, “it is nothing less than scandalous for any progressive to keep an equal distance from Le Pen and Macron”.
His op-ed comes a day after trade unions held separate May Day rallies in the French capital, having failed to agree on a common stance ahead of Sunday’s presidential run-off. While all unions oppose Le Pen, some have refused to explicitly endorse her opponent.
The division reflected the dilemma that has gripped much of the French left, torn between its ingrained opposition to the National Front and its deep suspicion of Macron, whose attempts to liberalise certain sectors of the economy and introduce greater flexibility in the job market were strenuously resisted by most unions.
On Tuesday, the hard-left La France insoumise movement, variously translated as Unsubmissive France or Unbowed France, released the results of an internal, non-binding poll on whether or not to support Macron in the second round. It said two thirds of its members had voted to abstain or cast blank ballots.
Its leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who fell just short of qualifying for the presidential run-off, had already dismayed many by refusing to endorse Macron. In so doing, he broke with an almost sacred tradition on the left, where support for whoever faces the far right has always been de rigueur.
When Macron battled Grexit
To those on the left who regard Macron as a puppet of the austerity-preaching Eurozone establishment, Varoufakis offers another, more personal reason to cast their doubts aside, at least for the time being.
“While the troika of Greece’s lenders and the Berlin government were strangling our [...] attempts to liberate Greece from its debt-bondage, Macron was the only minister of state in Europe that went out of his way to lend a helping hand,” he recalls, referring to the gruelling tussle that opposed Greece to its German-led creditors.
By the time that battle drew to a bitter close in July 2015, Varoufakis was out of office and his democratically-elected government pummelled into submission. In return for an umpteenth bailout, Greece was forced to accept more of the punishing austerity that turned its recession into a six-year depression, wiping out a quarter of its economy, pushing millions into poverty, and dramatically increasing the debt-load it was supposed to reduce.
As thousands across Europe took to social media screaming #ThisIsACoup, some in France sought to claim credit for at least preventing Greece’s ouster from the Eurozone. Others argued that while the French government had repeatedly pledged to support its Greek counterpart, when push came to shove it failed to stand up to Germany.
According to Varoufakis, Macron tried to help, but was thwarted by President François Hollande’s reluctance to upset the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.
“I do not want my generation to be the one responsible for Greece exiting Europe,” Macron, then France’s economy minister, reportedly told him in one of several text messages they exchanged amid frenzied attempts to stave off a possible “Grexit”.
Varoufakis says his French counterpart assured him of his efforts to persuade Hollande and German officials of the need to find a “sustainable solution” to Greece’s debt woes, that would give the country a little breathing space and end the vicious circle of successive bailouts.
But the initiative reportedly collapsed after Hollande’s entourage sidelined Macron, following a request by German officials.
“The people around Hollande do not want me to come to Athens. They are close to the Berlin Chancellery,” the French minister is quoted as saying in another text message to Varoufakis.
When the two met again months later, Macron offered an explanation as to why he was sidelined: “He told me that in a summit meeting before his failed attempt to mediate with Alexis, he had used my line that the troika’s deal for Greece was a modern-day version of the Versailles Treaty,” says Varoufakis, referring to the harsh post-World War I settlement that left a defeated Germany ruined and resentful.
He adds: “Merkel had heard him and, according to Emmanuel, ordered Hollande to keep Macron out of the Greek negotiations.”