Sven Giegold: The following open letter was originally published by Sven Giegold, Member of the European Parliament (MEP), shortly before the official launch of DiEM25 on February the 9th 2016. The wohle conversation between Sven Giegold and Yanis Varoufakis is documented here on Sven Giegolds blog (licence n©*).
with great interest I have read several drafts of your „Democracy in Europe Movement 2025“ (5.0, 6.0, 7.0, final). I fully share the basic objective of your initiative: To bring more democracy to the European Union and to replace the failed austerity policies by democratic economic governance in Europe. The experience with European decisions and decision making since the start of the financial crisis has wreaked a lot of hope in the European project. Your movement in the making neither accepts the status quo of the European institutions nor follows Melanchon and Lafontaine, in their call for a “plan B” to move European integration backwards. This could help to reconstruct hope for a better Europe rather than progressive disengagement with the European project which will only benefit from competition between nation states without common democratic rules.
Despite these good intentions I am convinced that the draft manifestos of DiEM25 contain a number of important contradictions and major flaws. In a spirit of critical solidarity I would like to share my thoughts with you. As I do not know who has been involved in drafting the manifesto I am sending you my observations in the form of an open letter.
First, your statements to deny the European institutions all democratic legitimacy denies that ultimately all European institutions are democratically accountable. The finance ministers who have demanded austerity programmes were accountable to their national parliaments. The European Parliament had unfortunately no direct control over these programmes but could control the involvement of the Council, the European Commission or the ECB. That this happened to such a shamefully weak degree was not mainly a consequence of a lack of powers of the European Parliament but because of an unwillingness of the majority in the European Parliament to use the existing powers. This was because the political parties of austerity programmes won a majority in the last two European elections and have a majority in the Council. Obviously majorities in parliaments are not sufficient in order to constitute full democratic legitimacy. Europe suffers from a lack of legal possibilities to control the respect of fundamental rights through its policies. Europe suffers form a lack of transparency in particular of the Council and the Eurogroup. Europe suffers from an excess of influence of powerful business lobbies influencing policies through European and national institutions. Europe suffers from a lack of direct participation of its citizens. Democracy in Europe has to be improved but Europe is not undemocratic. Strong limitations of democracy are to be found and tackled on all levels of policy making – European, national, regional and local.
Second, your statements about the Brussels bureaucracy are disrespectful and populist. It is not the “bureaucrats” who decide in Brussels. Key decisions are taken by the Council and the European Parliament. The worst decisions of the Eurogroup were not taken by bureaucrats but by finance ministers who were not accountable to the European common good but to national parliaments and citizens of their respective country. Where the European Commission, its agencies or the European Central Bank hold important room of manoeuvre they are acting under the control of the European Parliament and the Council. That neither the Parliament nor the Council tried decisively to change course is not to be blamed on the “bureaucrats” but on the interests and convictions of the majorities in these bodies. Equally it is true that we as Europeans failed to convince majorities in civil society to stand up against austerity policies accross borders.
Third, I could not agree more than to tackle the four crises of public debt, banking, inadequate investment and rising poverty on the European level. But, it is contradictory to promise at the same time “sovereign peoples”, “limiting Brussels’ discretionary powers”, “returning powers to national parliaments” and “a sovereign Parliament respecting national self-determination”. Former versions of the manifesto did not contain this contradiction. Obviously, too many contradictory ideas were put into one compromise text. This is unfortunate, as too often solutions to crises fail because of an inability of European institutions to decide in the European common interest while respecting fundamental rights. National egoisms dominate too often and can prevail because of high hurdles or even consensus requirements to take decisions in Council. Europe needs more truly European decisions not less. If problems can only be solved on the European level, democratic accountability and sovereignty has to be organized on this level too. This is not tackled in your draft manifesto but rather confused through its surprising rhetoric of national sovereignty.
Forth, I agree with most of your immediate proposals to bring more transparency and democracy the proposal as well as to create a constitutional assembly in the medium term. But it would be a severe mistake to organise this assembly outside of the existing treaties. The treaties do already foresee a constituent assembly. Inventing a new procedure for such an assembly outside of the treaties is a bad good idea. Refounding Europe outside of the treaties is not only unrealistic but also a recipe to disintegrate the European Union.
Lastly, I agree with you that there is a fundamental lack of transparency in European institutions such as the Council and the Eurogroup and its preparatory bodies. The same applies to the influence of lobbyists in Brussels as well as in the member states when contributing to EU policies. This has to change fundamentally. Unfortunately, the preparation of your initiative does not hold up to the same standards. It is not transparent who asked for the many changes in the different version of the DiEM manifesto (5.0, 6.0, 7.0, final) and who decided which changes were accepted and why. Hopefully, your movement will become more democratic and transparent in the future.
For these reasons I will continue to watch your initiative with interest but reservation. Hopefully, these flaws of beginning can be corrected.
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