Debating the EU: Douglas Murray and Yanis Varoufakis | DiEM25

May 17, 2021 10:40 · 9390 words · 45 minute read

[Host] Hello and welcome! This is Lockdown TV from UnHerd.

00:05 - It’s been a strange year, I think you would agree.

00:08 - As the mists of Covid are beginning to clear, what sort of world are we left with? What does the political landscape look like? And what is the situation on our own continent, Europe? Here to try and work this out with us, are two great thinkers from very different political traditions.

00:25 - Douglas Murray, who no doubt will be familiar to many of you, not only as an UnHerd columnist, but an author, a thinker, a star of many other YouTube channels, as well as ours, I’m delighted to say, and his book The Strange Death of Europe, published in 2017, was a number one bestseller for a very long time.

00:47 - and we’ll be excited to hear what his thoughts are.

00:50 - And joining us from Greece is Yanis Varoufakis, a Greek economist who was for a short but very consequential period the finance minister of Greece, where he attempted to renegotiate the terms of Greece’s financial difficulties within the bloc.

01:10 - He is also the author of a best-selling book.

01:13 - His account of that period, Adults in the Room, is also a must-read.

01:19 - So, welcome to you both. Yanis, let me start with you.

01:25 - Those months that we just mentioned in 2015 now seem like a whole generation ago, don’t they? But in a sense that was the canary in the coal mine.

01:34 - That was the moment when the flaws in the structures began to be really apparent.

01:41 - Looking back now, what do you see as the biggest flaw? What do you see as the mistake in the European project that was revealed then and that has since become apparent? [Yanis] Thank you for the invitation.

01:58 - Thank you, Douglas for this opportunity to exchange views.

02:03 - A small correction, before I answer. The flaws appeared immediately after Lehman’s collapsed in 2008.

02:12 - Because the grand financial crisis coming from the other side of the Atlantic, just like it had done in 1929, exposed the architectural fault lines and faults of the European economy.

02:27 - In exactly the same way the way that it happened after 1929, it happened in 2008.

02:32 - And for reasons that are not too dissimilar - not the same, but not too dissimilar - So what we had was after the 2008 crash on the other side of the Atlantic, the Eurozone banks, just like the UK banks, went bankrupt.

02:46 - The difference was that, unlike Britain, the European Union had…

02:51 - the Eurozone had the rule that the central bank is not allowed to bail out banks or states.

02:58 - So for years, between 2008, 2009, 2010, and so on, they were pretending not to be bailing them out when they were bailing them out by cynically transferring the losses of the banks onto the shoulders of the weakest taxpayers and, of course, the weakest taxpayers happened to be in Greece, by accident, by a historical accident.

03:15 - And so it was a perpetual fraudulent concealment of insolvencies which came to a head when the people of Greece elected somebody like me to go to the European Central Bank or the European Union and to some extent, to the IMF, and say to them: “I’m not taking another credit card from you in order to pretend that I am repaying the previous credit cards!” That’s what really made 2015 substantial, significant, that a government was elected to say “No” to the powers that be who wanted simply to roll over an unsustainable debt.

03:52 - [Host] So at the time, Yanis, you went all the way to the edge with what was then called Grexit, but you stepped short of actually taking Greece out of the European Union.

04:05 - Looking back, do you still think that was the right decision? [Yanis] Absolutely, but I wish we had gone all the way to the edge.

04:11 - I was trying to push our government all the way to the edge, but in the end, as it turned out, behind my back, my prime minister had agreed with Angela Merkel that they wouldn’t go to the edge and that he would capitulate.

04:23 - And I found out later that that was the case when we got a thumping 62% of the Greek people, very courageous people, saying “No, we are going to go to the edge. ” But the prime minister on that night, he effectively overthrew the people.

04:39 - He had called upon them to back the NO vote and that very same night said to me “It’s time to surrender,” and I said “What!? Tonight is the time to push things to the edge. ” And if we needed to get out of the Euro, fine.

04:54 - If we could have a debt restructure within the year - again, fine.

04:58 - What was not fine was the surrender to this permanent concealment of our insolvency.

05:04 - [Host] So I’ve asked you about Grexit. I’m going to come to Douglas in a minute, but I’ve got to ask you about Brexit.

05:10 - Because, again, I actually attended a talk with you in 2016, shortly before the Brexit version, you basically spent 90 minutes bashing the EU and at the end of it you said “But of course we must vote to remain. ” And I remember thinking that was quite an acrobatic stance to take.

05:26 - Looking back now, do you think that Brexit was a good idea? [Yanis] There was nothing acrobatic about that because I was not a supporter of Grexit.

05:35 - What I was saying was that I’m not going to stay in the Eurozone at any cost.

05:41 - And I think that is a perfectly reasonable position.

05:44 - You know, it’s supposed to be a union of not equals, but at least of voluntary members who are in it in order to extract mutual benefits.

05:56 - And membership is not an end. It’s a means.

05:59 - And when those means are leading to unfathomable ends, you get out, if need be.

06:05 - But I didn’t think that was the case for the UK.

06:08 - The UK was lucky enough not to be in the Eurozone…

06:11 - Now, to cut a long story short, to answer your question: Look, as you put it, I was an ambivalent Remainer.

06:20 - I was ambivalent about my support of Remain, but weighing up the pros and cons I thought that Britain was better off.

06:27 - The weaker people amongst the British population would be in the long term better off, and Europe more generally would be better off with Britain within rather than without.

06:39 - But the day after the referendum, I could see that the problem were the Remainers, because they were simply anti-democratic.

06:50 - They treated those who voted with a slim majority - but with a majority, nevertheless - with contempt.

06:56 - And they went into a four-year long path towards the second referendum which I opposed.

07:04 - And my view: was we fought for remain, we argued for remain, we lost, Brexit should take place and that’s it.

07:13 - [Host] So, you haven’t changed your view on whether Brexit was a good idea? If you voted now, you would still be a Remainer? [Yanis] I think I have.

07:24 - Watching the never-ending fiasco of the last 13-14 months ever since the pandemic hit, looking at the way in which, yet again, our great and good leaders in Brussels and elsewhere managed to miss the opportunity to do that which would be right by the majority of people in every country, not in the majority of countries, but in every country.

07:47 - Looking at the vaccine fiasco, the corruption and incompetence of the Commission, I have to confess - but don’t tell anybody who’s watching Let’s keep this between us [laughing] - that I’ve changed my mind.

08:01 - I think that Brexit, in the end, when you’re weighing things up, was probably the right way for Britain.

08:10 - [Host] Okay, well, you’ve heard it for sure there unambiguously from Yanis.

08:14 - Let’s go to Douglas. He’s looking a tiny bit fuzzy on the picture, but hopefully we can still hear him.

08:20 - Your critique of the EU has been very different from Yanis’s.

08:26 - Yours is more of a cultural critique, and it also, I suppose, stems from that same year, 2015.

08:31 - A lot of your book was about the immigration policy and the large number of refugees that were taken then in 2015.

08:40 - What do you think the biggest flaw in the design of the system was? [Douglas] Well, first of all, let me say it’s a great pleasure to be with you both, with all the audience, and I’m very pleased to have heard what Yanis just said, because I think too few people have actually adapted and have been willing to adapt their opinions to the realities that have been going on.

09:01 - Too many people have been holding onto dogmatic opinions about the EU without recognizing that the EU itself is shifting.

09:09 - It proves itself more or often less competent at various tasks, and people’s attitudes should change accordingly.

09:16 - I think it’s been too little of that in recent years.

09:19 - I think if we look back at the last decade, a number of things strike me.

09:23 - One is the fact that if you said the great EU crisis of the 2010s, the immediate follow up question is “Which one?” Which one of these massive crisis after crisis would you be talking about? It could be the financial crisis, the Eurozone crisis.

09:40 - You could be talking about the migration crisis.

09:43 - You could be in the last year be talking about the vaccine crisis.

09:46 - That in itself is a very bad sign. It suggests a bureaucracy that is not limber, at the very least.

09:55 - It is not able to adapt. Is not able to shift, maybe even not able to compromise.

10:01 - What’s more, what strikes me is that on each of the failings that the EU has shown, there are some similar patterns.

10:10 - One of them goes back to - you’re right by the way Freddie, I mean my own major concern with regards to EU in the last decade has been to do with migration, but that’s not the root of my own concern about the EU.

10:23 - My own root, my own concern, was always, as it has tended to be on the conservative right in the UK, an issue of legitimacy.

10:30 - A simple issue of democratic legitimacy. The issue of who governs you? How can you get rid of them? Famously Tony Benn said that five questions to ask of anyone in power: How do you get the power? How can it be taken away? and so on.

10:45 - I think with the EU those questions were never able to be answered.

10:48 - I was very struck by the way when I was reading Yanis’s book Adults in the Room recently ahead of his conversation, I was very struck by a number of things, one of which was his description of the Eurogroup.

11:01 - Completely accurately he says the Eurogroup group…

11:04 - most European citizens have no idea what the Eurogroup is.

11:07 - They don’t know it exists. If you went up to anyone in any capital, an informed person, and said “What is the Eurogroup?” They couldn’t tell you.

11:16 - That seems to me to be a very sinister situation.

11:20 - A democracy has to be predicated on the idea that the public know who is in charge, who makes decisions, when they make a bad decision, the public can get rid of them.

11:30 - When they make a good decision, they can be rewarded.

11:33 - But that’s a fundamental issue. And, somehow, as the EU has grown, it has been able to evade consequences.

11:41 - The people at the very top have been able to evade almost all public opinion.

11:47 - They have been able to sail on without any censure of their own, and I’ll just put one obvious example out there, Jean-Claude Juncker, many things can be said about him, the former head of the European Commission.

12:01 - How is it possible that during somebody’s presidency they lose one of the largest contributors to the EU budget? They lose the UK from the EU and he sails on.

12:14 - There’s no self-questioning. There’s no apparent self-interrogation.

12:19 - This seems to me even more than the issues of the Eurozone crises and the migration crisis, and many more crises that will be to come.

12:27 - This seems to me to be the central issue that must be grappled with: why is this entity so incredibly incapable of responding and adapting, and, most importantly, listening.

12:42 - I’ll just add one other thing to that, if I may, which is that I do think and my own personal policy is that the UK has expressed its attitude towards the EU by leaving and that it’s ungracious of British thinkers, writers, and others to wish the EU ill, as much as it is for the EU to wish the UK ill.

13:06 - And, my own hope is that, as I say, we’ve made our point by leaving, but that, after that, we should wish it well.

13:14 - That doesn’t mean we don’t make critiques of still, but they have to be critiques that aren’t caught up in a sort of desire for disaster.

13:21 - [Host] Douglas, I’m going to come on to the migration point in a moment, but Yanis is anything that Douglas just said something you take issue with? Or are we are we still in the violent agreement stage here? [Yanis] I don’t want to take issue with anything he said regarding the unaccountability…

13:39 - there’s no democratic deficit, as I say, in Brussels.

13:42 - It’s like saying that there is an oxygen deficit on the moon.

13:45 - There is no oxygen on the moon, there’s no democracy in Brussels.

13:48 - It has been ruled out of court by design, it’s a designer feature not to have democracy in Brussels.

13:53 - But I’d like to to to answer the implicit question in what Douglas said as to why that is? And allow me to say that this is to do with the very foundations of the EU.

14:05 - The EU was created, unlike the states, the Greek state, I’m speaking for Greece, the UK, Germany, whatever, yeah, Iceland, states emerged organically as a result of social conflict between different classes.

14:17 - The Magna Carta was the result of a clash between the king and the barons.

14:21 - Then the merchants came in and they wanted their share of the pie.

14:25 - The trade unions represented labor much much later on.

14:29 - And the state is an organic evolution of this kind of social conflict.

14:33 - And as a set of institutions, the purpose of which is to ameliorate these clashes and to find some kind of dynamic dis-equilibrium/equilibrium, call it what you might.

14:44 - But the EU was not created that way. Remember the first name of the EU, the European Coal and Steel Community, It was like OPEC, the organization of petroleum exporting countries.

14:54 - It was a cartel. It was a cartel of coal and steel, then they introduced the automakers, the electrical goods manufacturers and, finally, the French farmers in the treaty of Rome with a common agricultural policy.

15:05 - The whole point was to limit competition between those large economic interests, oligopolies, and to create a bureaucracy in Brussels that would manage, on behalf of big business, this continental market, oligopolistic market, right? That is hugely different to the American, the British, even to the capitalist model in Amsterdam, right? And cartels do splendidly during periods of growth.

15:39 - So when the price of oil is going up, OPEC was working quite well.

15:45 - It’s when they have to share burdens, losses, when the price of oil comes down, that they split and there is all sorts of incongruity within.

15:55 - Similarly, with the European Union, they sailed through various small scale crises until we hit 2008.

16:06 - And then they unleashed a majestic project of suppressing democratic opinion, of suppressing peoples, like the Greek people, but not just the Greek people.

16:16 - Suppressing governments even of the right within the European Union.

16:20 - You see, this is what cartels do. So the question is, for me: we are supposed to be discussing does the EU deserve to survive or not? I mean, who gives a damn? We should not anthropomorphize the EU that neither deserves to survive or doesn’t deserve to survive.

16:36 - It’s a question of minimizing human cost for the majority of Europeans.

16:41 - That’s for me is the main question. And I very much fear - I take what Douglas says seriously - that whether you’re a Brexiteer or Remainer in Britain, you should want the EU not to fragment and to decompose, because Britain is going to suffer immensely if that happens.

17:00 - Just think of what happens if the Euro breaks down.

17:02 - And make no mistake, the euro will break down because Germany will leave the Euro before Italy or Greece, that would be a catastrophe for Britain.

17:10 - [Host] That sounded like a prediction. Let’s go back to Douglas, if I may.

17:14 - I’m keen to talk a little bit about the migration question here, because we’ve heard about the economic structures, but the reason your book in 2017 did so well in a way is that it chimed with this sense of something civilizational going on, or was there a question of European civilization? How was this being affected by the large numbers of new arrivals.

17:38 - In your analysis, is that what perhaps, amongst these other factors, but is that a key reason for why we then saw Brexit, why we then saw these populist governments or movements across the continent? [Douglas] I think that the migration crisis in the mid-2010s was an extraordinarily important moment, but it was not the start of this particular challenge.

18:03 - The Mediterranean countries, most famously Italy and Greece, had been coping with this question for a very long time and had been allowed, I thought, outrageously, to effectively cope with it alone.

18:18 - One of the things that made the migration question, I think, an issue that made so many people effectively see through some of the problems of the EU and not just to see them but see through them, was the talk from Brussels about the common policy.

18:33 - But the reality seen in the frontline countries, the reality of countries being effectively left alone to deal with this question.

18:44 - And all the Italian and Greek citizens I’ve spoken to of whatever political persuasion are aware that this extraordinary burden of how to deal with significant flows of people, significant pushes of people from sub-Saharan Africa, north Africa, the Middle East and the far East, is a very serious humanitarian, financial, and other problem.

19:05 - And for all the talk in Brussels, the reality remained that the countries were effectively holding this burden on their own.

19:15 - And it’s only in 2015 that the reality of what was being expected of the Mediterranean countries was then having to be dealt with by the northern countries as well.

19:27 - And they reacted in a spasm and a policy that was not thought through which they would not by any means repeat if they had the opportunity.

19:38 - It was a demonstration that there was something fundamentally wrong with the procedures of thinking in Brussels.

19:45 - And if I can give one example very quickly, at one point in the crisis in 2015, I went from the Greek island of Lesbos to Berlin in a fairly quick succession, and I was speaking to one of Angela Merkel’s supporters in the Bundestag, who explained why the EU’s policy was worth sustaining, and I said to him: “I’ve just come from Lesbos and there are thousands of people currently stuck on that island and they are stuck there because you have closed the borders unilaterally without telling people.

” He said: “No, no, no. They’re just not coming anymore. ” This is the point where they just slowed the process down.

20:22 - I said “No, they’re not coming because they’re locked on the island,” and he kept insisting this wasn’t the case and I said to him, I said: “Look, if you want, you and I can charter a plane now and fly the thousands of people stuck on the isle of Lesbos right here to Berlin and speed up the process. ” And he said “No, no, no! It’s not the case. ” I thought the simple denial from the, for want of a better word, establishment voices in the EU and in Berlin and Brussels at that point, to me was staggering.

20:55 - And it undermined one of those central issues we have always heard from in the EU, which is the principle of solidarity.

21:03 - And solidarity is a wonderful principle, but it’s a horrible thing if you speak it and do not practice it.

21:10 - And the EU on the migration question for years had spoken the language of solidarity and had resolutely failed to practice it.

21:23 - [Host] I just want to go to Yanis for a minute.

21:25 - We’re trying to get your video back. Yanis, that moment that Douglas is talking about: I keep asking you whether you’ve evolved your views on things, I’m sorry, it’s not meant to be an inquisition, at the time in 2015, you were…

21:40 - broadly supportive of the idea that in one way or the other large numbers of refugees needed to be accommodated within the EU, although you’re critical, as I recall, of the way it was done.

21:52 - Do you now think that was a mistake? Those large numbers coming into countries like Germany, like Sweden.

22:00 - Do you regret that? [Yanis] No, not the slightest.

22:04 - But let me agree with what Douglas was saying by quoting Mahatma Gandhi.

22:10 - The famous quotation when he was he was asked what he thought of western civilization.

22:16 - He thought it would be a great idea. This is how I respond when I hear the words European Union or European solidarity.

22:23 - It would be a brilliant idea, except we don’t have it at all, exactly as Douglas says.

22:28 - Let me remind you that in 2010 the bailout of Deutsche Bank, Société Générale, BNP Paribas, and Finance Bank, the four most stupid banks in the world that went into serious insolvency, that fell into a black hole as a result of their trades of subprime derivatives in the United States.

22:49 - They were salvaged by means of the largest loan in human history - in absolute terms, not relative terms - that was given to the Greek state so that the Greek state could give it to those four banks.

23:00 - And how did Mrs. Merkel pass this through the Budestang, the federal parliament? As a package of solidarity for the Greeks.

23:09 - Whereas it was solidarity for two German and two French banks.

23:13 - So it’s not just that solidarity is not there or the union is not there.

23:18 - It is that they are abusing the terms, giving those terms, beautiful terms, a terrible name amongst the majority of people.

23:26 - Now, let me come clean on the question of migration.

23:32 - I personally have absolutely no doubt that there is no such thing as a migration crisis, especially not in Europe.

23:39 - What there is is a crisis for those poor souls who have to leave their bombed out homes in Syria, in Pakistan, or who abandoned Ghana and Nigeria and prepared to die in the Aegean, to drown in the Aegean, in order to give their kids a chance of breathing and of having a life that is not a constant nightmare.

23:59 - Let me give you an example: Back in 1991, when the Iron Curtain collapsed, Greece was a country of nine and a half million people.

24:11 - Suddenly, as a result of the collapse, we had one million refugees, the vast majority of whom were Albanian Muslims.

24:20 - They came into the country. Greece was not a rich country in 1991, it was not an efficient country.

24:25 - We were not going gangbusters, but we were not in the throngs, in the clasps, of a major crisis.

24:32 - You never heard of that. Ten percent of the population came into the country and how what happened to them? They integrated.

24:41 - At the university of Athens when I was teaching 10 years later, etc.

24:45 - their kids were some of my best students. I wouldn’t even know that they were not Greek kids or kids of Greek descent if it wasn’t for the surname.

24:55 - And Greece became a much better country. Our educational system was improved massively because we had a huge [inaudible] problem because the migrants.

25:04 - What happened in 2015 - and this is how I finish - what happened in 2015 was you had a defeated people, Greece had been turned into a debt colony of northern Europe.

25:14 - Northern Europe had used Greece in order to salvage its own banks at the expense of Greeks who were being thrown out of their homes.

25:22 - Remember: there were 600,000 homes that were earmarked for foreclosure by the same banks that were saved by the same taxpayers.

25:32 - So the people of Greece felt like refugees in their own home when the influx of Syrians, Nigerians, and so on, came.

25:40 - So, that was the problem. It was not a cultural problem.

25:43 - Call me a economic determinist, but in the same way that in 1991 you would not have heard of the refugee crisis.

25:52 - You wouldn’t have heard of it in 2015 if we didn’t have this colonization of parts of Europe by parts of Europe.

26:01 - [Host] Douglas, Yanis says it wasn’t a cultural problem and it wasn’t a migration crisis per se.

26:08 - Do you take a different view? [Douglas] Yes, I mean, we obviously disagree on this.

26:13 - It certainly was a crisis. One of the reasons why we know it is is because they say it is.

26:18 - It is not a policy that the EU has continued with.

26:22 - If it was such a great policy, the EU would not have started to shut borders, try to beef up Frontex agencies, and more.

26:31 - They haven’t done quite enough, as I see it.

26:33 - As we speak the last 48 hours, several thousand people landed again on the island of Lampedusa, just off Sicily, and that’s a little hint of the fact that could yet keep rolling as a challenge for the EU.

26:49 - But I also obviously disagree about the nature of the migration question.

26:53 - I think that, for instance, large numbers of Albanians going into Greece poses different issues than large numbers of Somalis going into Sweden, for instance.

27:02 - And one might debate exactly what those differences are, but they are differences and they do exist.

27:07 - The issues with migration always come down to the same two or three things: who’s doing the moving, what the numbers are, and what the speed are.

27:18 - And clearly the speed and the numbers at the very least of 2015 were unsustainable for the EU, which is why a panic set in from Berlin and Brussels, even from Stockholm, which meant that they pretended that they had meant to do what they did and yet haven’t done it again.

27:37 - You can tell an awful lot about political mistakes by that simple question of would you do it a second time? And even a politician who’s made a mistake once tends to not want to say it was a mistake the first time.

27:52 - But you can tell they think it’s a mistake because they will not do it again.

27:57 - [Host] Can I ask, Douglas? You talk about how there’s now Frontex and there’s much more border control…

28:04 - And actually some of the noises just this morning, we had Michel Barnier, a potential presidential candidate, are talking about how he wants an immigration freeze for a number of years coming up and he’s not happy with free movement as it stands.

28:17 - In the year of Covid we’ve just had the borders have been going up, the nation state has been everywhere, there’s actually been a kind of nationalism in the air.

28:25 - Do you observe those things with happiness and think they are good developments? [Douglas] Well, my own view in the last years is it’s rather amusing at any rate to those of us who’ve talked about the issue of migration, that we’ve always been told that you can’t stop migration.

28:43 - And here we are in an era where it’s been completely stopped.

28:48 - I mean you hear people who have been open borders advocates like Justin Trudeau in Canada suddenly saying “No foreigners allowed into Canada. ” I can’t say I relish that kind of language.

28:57 - I don’t enjoy it by any means, but it’s interesting seeing it.

29:01 - As I say that after a generation of being told that you can’t stop migration by closing borders, we’ve been told that you can stop viruses by closing borders.

29:09 - So clearly, there’s some confusion about this.

29:12 - I’m not persuaded, incidentally, that people like Monsieur Barnier and his interjection this morning are by any means sincere.

29:22 - He is attempting to make a run in a country whose views have hardened significantly in recent years.

29:31 - We see a political terrain able to be grabbed by somebody on the right who, hopefully, isn’t a member of the Le Pen family.

29:40 - There is very clear, open ground in France to Mr. Macron’s right.

29:45 - Mr. Barnier may well be trying to grab it, but I don’t think it’s anything more than that.

29:50 - And by the way, just to make one observation that’s perhaps rather obvious, but I’ll make it anyway, which is that if Monsieur Barnier had talked like this some six years ago, Britain might still be in the EU.

30:01 - It is quite extraordinary hearing the politicians who said nothing could be done about migration and much more, then doing this very reactionary swing to the right.

30:13 - And when they do it, they seem to do it, as Mr. Barnier has just done, in this cack-handed way.

30:19 - They give people what they think people want, and they always just slightly get it wrong.

30:24 - So it’s it’s very nice seeing Mr. Barnier getting something wrong yet again, but it doesn’t surprise me.

30:30 - [Host] Yanis Varoufakis, let me ask you straightly here.

30:35 - You complain about the kind of neoliberal foundations of the European Union.

30:40 - It’s all essentially a big business… [Yanis] No, no, don’t put words in my mouth.

30:44 - [Yanis] I never use the word neoliberalism because I think that it’s meaningless.

30:48 - [Host] So the idea that… . [Yanis]… it’s exactly the opposite… [Host] Sorry…

30:53 - [Yanis]… I have neoliberal friends… [Host] I just wanted to ask…

30:56 - [Yanis]… all that associate themselves with Friedrich von Hayek, Friedman, and they would not support a cartel economy like the EU.

31:03 - [Host] Okay, so do you think… [Yanis] We agree on this as well [laughs] [Host] Do you think that immigration, then, is there an argument that actually the free movement is really a capitalist project and that the reason here in London we have had Greeks, highly educated Greeks, in hairdressers and Pret a Manger coffee shops in the past years is that, essentially, it’s cheap labor for big businesses and that a true kind of leftist solidarity position would be much more skeptical of all of that in an outflow of human beings.

31:42 - [Yanis] Most certainly not. There is no doubt that there have been leftists who have been lured by national socialism.

31:48 - Mussolini was one of them. And others who have not identified with fascism have fallen into this trap.

31:53 - Look, this conversation goes a long way back.

31:56 - There was a letter that Marx wrote, sometime when he was a journalist, to a friend in New York, discussing the Irish question, the Irishmen, mainly men, who were pushing down wages in the docks of New Jersey and New York.

32:11 - And usually what leftists in support of migration controls do is they call the first part of that letter but not the second.

32:17 - The first is a description that, yes, this is what they’ve been doing – the migrants, the Irishmen coming into New York, pushing down wages.

32:23 - But then the second part of the letter where Marx says, but yeah, the solution to this is to organize labor and and to have different labor relations, not to stop the migrants from coming in.

32:34 - Look, I’m a left-winger because I’m liberal.

32:38 - I’m a liberal left-winger. I cannot imagine that the left would ever want electrified fences as a means by which to support wages.

32:49 - And in any case, as an economist, I can tell you there’s absolutely no evidence that in the medium run, let alone the long run, migration is detrimental to the interests of the local proletariat.

33:01 - But this is a long discussion we can have. Allow me to say briefly about people like Barnie, like Macron.

33:10 - They proved that the last resort of those running the cartels in an incompetent and corrupt way is a kind of racism.

33:21 - They always fall back on it and they always try to steal the thunder from the Le Pens and the Salvinis of the world when the Le Pens and the Salvinis of the world get stronger, not because of migration, but because of hopelessness.

33:33 - Look at Italy, for instance. For the last 20 years, the per capita income of the vast majority of Italians has been falling steadily because of the policies of the Eurozone.

33:48 - Every year for 20 years, Italy has been getting richer, but per capita for the vast majority is coming down and at some point these people get mad.

33:58 - They get mad at the political system. They do have – Italy and Greece – we do have a migration crisis.

34:03 - The European Union does not have a migration crisis.

34:06 - Because, Douglas, I have to say, you’re taking that very short space of time, about four or five weeks, during which Angela Merkel said that the Syrians come in and you are making it sound as if that was the policy of the EU.

34:17 - The policy of the EU was always ‘Fortress Europe’.

34:19 - We always had very hard electrified borders not letting people in.

34:25 - It was only during this period because Merkel felt there was a political point to be made by letting the Syrians in particular in – not the rest, right – and we’ve gone back to this ‘Fortress Europe’ thing.

34:35 - It is the policies that have immiserated the many, especially in countries like Italy, southern Italy in particular, and Greece.

34:44 - They left those countries to their own devices to deal with the migration, very large numbers in Lesbos in Lampedusa as you mentioned.

34:52 - In other words, they have dissolved the very notion of a union.

34:57 - You deal with this problem, it’s a problem of your own – and let me just add this – I’m sure you know this, Douglas, but the audience probably doesn’t know it.

35:09 - It’s not just that they’ve closed the Greek borders to the rest of the European Union.

35:14 - They created internal borders. They stopped the migrants from leaving Lesbos to come to mainland Greece.

35:21 - I haven’t heard of internal borders since the Soviet Union, which I’m pleased doesn’t exist anymore.

35:28 - So this is what the European Union has been doing.

35:30 - And their gross failures at the level of investment, at the level of unifying the European Union economically and socially, and bringing about a degree of social cohesion, translates into an adoption of ultra-right-wing, misanthropic, racist narratives.

35:47 - You can see this with Macron now. He’s trying to steal votes from Le Pen.

35:51 - [Host] Douglas, we have a question which is directed at you here.

35:54 - Is Hungary a window into the future of the EU? As the questioner describes it, “increasingly distant from European rules and standards and being drawn into the orbit of China?” What say you? [Douglas] Well, I wouldn’t think Hungary was the obvious example of that.

36:12 - I think there are rather sinister developments pecking away at the external borders of the EU by China.

36:22 - The much more salient example seems to be the case of the Chinese investment in Serbia which of course has been hoping to join the EU and whose president made the most extraordinary announcement last year at the beginning of the corona crisis when he said the EU has not come to help us, our real friend is China.

36:40 - I thought that was one of the most sinister signs on the edges of the EU of a struggle that is is going to be growing in the coming years.

36:49 - It’s certainly coming down the road and which I don’t think enough thought has been given to.

36:54 - It’s definitely the example of the downside of Chinese investment and it is also part of a political project.

37:01 - And I wouldn’t like to see much more of the EU or countries that border the EU involved in effectively an extension of the Silk Road.

37:12 - Hungary has of course gone to China as well as Russia for vaccines.

37:17 - And it may be what the questioner’s thinking of.

37:21 - I’m not fast to condemn countries for doing that within the EU.

37:27 - I think that once Brussels proved so fantastically ineffective in the vaccine procurement and rollout, it’s understandable that countries would have decided to go it alone.

37:40 - Would have decided to procure… And even certain regions in other countries in the EU deciding to go it alone and procure vaccines elsewhere.

37:49 - I think it’s highly regrettable but it’s understandable.

37:53 - And anyone who would condemn it has to say, would have to condemn, a national government for trying as swiftly and efficiently as possible to procure vaccines for their populations.

38:03 - And I don’t think it’s right to condemn a national government for that.

38:07 - I think it’s what a government should do. [Host] Again it has sort of echoes of what Yanis said.

38:13 - This is my experience of this conversation so far.

38:15 - It’s that we have these two thinkers who have both been famously critical of the European Union, albeit from different angles.

38:23 - And to I think a lot of the audience you’re sounding quite similar some of the time in your cynicism about some of the structures and the motives, and yet we come to issues like the migration question and suddenly there’s this drawing apart and there’s an absolute allergy.

38:38 - Yanis could not bring himself to be in favor of those kind of enhanced migration controls, because it would appear that it would go against his values.

38:51 - What is your experience here? Hearing each other think, talk… Is there any hope or any possibility of sort of grand coalitions of the future of people from the left and from the right sort of uniting against the technocracy, or do you think these divisions are just too strong? Let me ask Yanis that first.

39:13 - [Yanis] Well, let me just state it for the record that I believe we should all have a dream that we live in a world where our children live side by side with other children without passing judgment on them on the basis of the color of their skin.

39:34 - Whether they are Somalis in terms of their ethnic background or Albanians or Swedes.

39:40 - And they simply, as somebody said once, are judged by the content of their character and their contribution.

39:47 - And I have absolutely no doubt that – I’m sorry about that, Douglas – but that Douglas is wrong.

39:52 - It makes no difference whether the parents of the children next to my children, come from Albania or Somalia.

39:58 - I think that we’ve seen this in every country in the world where there was mass migration for many many many many decades.

40:05 - On the question of agreement: I think that we can have an agreement on one thing, on one issue.

40:11 - The importance of democratic sovereignty. When I was having the debates in Britain, in 2016, prior to the referendum – and I was often on the BBC, ITV and so on, with Brexiteers, with whom I got on quite nicely, actually, unlike other Remainers – I would say to them, “Look folks, you have one good point: don’t waste it.

40:34 - Stop talking about the great windfall that you’ll get from exiting the EU and the billions that you’ll be able to spend on the NHS.

40:41 - This is all rubbish. “ In exactly the same way that the treasury’s estimates of the loss of GDP were equally rubbish.

40:49 - “Your good point,” I would say to them, “is the question… ” and I think that – not I think: Douglas mentioned that before – is a question of who governs us and what legitimacy they have and how can we get rid of them because you’re absolutely right, Douglas.

41:05 - I mean we have Ursula von der Leyen. Who is a failed defence minister from Germany that is leading the European Commission only because Merkel and Macron had a meeting behind the closed doors in a room and they decided that she would be it.

41:19 - And she has been the most spectacular failure in terms of managing the procurement of vaccines and we can’t get rid of her.

41:27 - The question is not even on offer. So we can agree about that.

41:31 - But the question is this – and this is my question to Douglas if you want – why can’t we have a discussion about creating a democratic sovereignty that goes beyond national borders? I assume… I haven’t googled this, Douglas, I’m not sure.

41:51 - But I assume that you’re not in favor of Scottish Independence.

41:56 - If that assumption is right – and it could be wrong, I don’t know – if the Scots and the English can come to an arrangement, have a union, have a federation which is democratic, I don’t mind having one with the Germans.

42:10 - As I said, I really don’t give a damn about the cultural background of anyone.

42:15 - I’m very much looking forward to being part of the same democratic, sovereign demos as long as it’s a demos that goes into the democracy.

42:23 - The problem with the EU is that it has taken, it has kicked the demos out of democracy.

42:29 - [Host] Can there be a democratic group beyond national borders.

42:35 - [Douglas] I contest what he said about the movements.

42:40 - Most of the people arrived in 2015 were not Syrians by the EU’s own count.

42:44 - And this makes a big difference. The incompetent authoritarianism that Yanis describes at the EU level in relation to the Eurozone is the same in relation to migration.

42:52 - You allow large numbers of Syrians in they turn out to also be allowing large numbers of people from across the world.

42:58 - They don’t know who they are. I think this is an example of wild and reckless incompetence at an EU level and to paint it as just being Syrians fleeing the war is not compatible either with the data we have or with my own experience of being on the front line during that crisis.

43:12 - Yanis asked by the way about Scottish independence, among other things.

43:15 - I just say this: I’m not in favor of Scottish independence.

43:18 - I’m in favor of successful unions. And the United Kingdom has been a successful union, one of the most successful political unions in history.

43:28 - The EU has yet to show that it is a successful union if it ever could be and political let alone fiscal unions are not in themselves always a good thing.

43:42 - It would not seem to me to be a very good idea, for financial or other reasons, if there was a political union, a financial union between say Europe and North Africa.

43:54 - It doesn’t seem to me – it never seemed to me – a very wise idea to try to form a financial union which attempted to let’s say flatten the ground and make German economic habits and Italian economic habits part of the same group.

44:14 - It seemed to me an unwise venture from the beginning and I think we’ve seen that.

44:18 - There isn’t any reason why political union in itself is a good thing.

44:23 - Peace, political harmony, harmony between states absolutely.

44:27 - But I don’t think there’s any reason to regard it, as I say, as just simply a spreading out of political unions as always in themselves being a good thing.

44:34 - [Host] But, Douglas, can I ask, on Yanis’ behalf, does that mean that if the European Union had been more successful you would have been in favor of it? If the definition is, ‘does it work?’ there’s no…

44:46 - you have no principled attachment to the nation state as the largest unit; you’d be happy to go transnational in these democratic organizations if they were successful.

44:55 - [Douglas] Well, not especially comfortable with it but political unions are always unions of intent and they have to be agreed upon by the people.

45:06 - That my baseline on it. And if, again to come back to it, if the British public had been in favor of remaining in the political union of the European Union I would have supported that decision.

45:17 - I wouldn’t have agreed with it. I wouldn’t have loved it, but I would have recognized its legitimacy.

45:23 - It is this issue of whether or not people want to be in a union or not and where the government derives the power and authority from that is absolutely crucial.

45:34 - And that’s the thing that I think people from across the political spectrum can agree on.

45:39 - We have run into a trouble in Europe in recent years, because a certain type of bureaucrat has decided that they are effectively able to pole vault over the inconvenience of public plebiscites, that they are able to pole vault over the disturbing habit of having to go to the public for electoral approval, and I think that that issue of legitimacy, democratic accountability and legitimacy is the thing that people have left and right etc.

46:10 - could agree on. I think we probably already do.

46:12 - There’s an awful lot that we won’t agree on, as we’ve shown tonight, but on that principle of the accountability of the governing to the governed, that must be a principle on which we can agree.

46:28 - [Yanis] Can I come in? Because I want to agree with you, Douglas.

46:33 - Look, this is precisely the reason why, as a young man in 1980, I campaigned out on the streets of Athens against the entry of Greece into the European economic community back then, and why in 1999, as a more mature economist, I was writing fiery articles against our entry into the Eurozone.

46:51 - So if you and I were having this conversation back then, should we go into the EU? I would have voted against going into the EU and certainly against going to the Eurozone.

47:02 - However, saying that we should not have gotten in is not the same thing as saying that should get out because of the difference between dynamics and statics.

47:12 - So, for Greece to get out now of the Eurozone, the cost would be catastrophic compared to the benefits of getting in, which were very short-term and in the end, flippant.

47:24 - So, I agree with everything you said that contempt for democracy is palpable, and I try to explain from my perspective - I called it a cartel which hates democracy - why that is the case.

47:36 - But given where we are, what do we do? My guide is the interest of the majority of people in the majority of countries, completely Benthamite, if you want.

47:50 - And if now, let’s say that we press a button and we dissolve the Euro.

47:54 - Suddenly, there’s going to be a northeast of Europe, east of the Rhine and north of the Alps, that is going to fall into a dreadful deflation.

48:04 - The rest of the European continent is going to fall into awful stagflation - inflation combined with deflation - We will become the sick, even sicker, patient, the sickest patient of the world, we would drag the United States down, China down, the UK down.

48:25 - So what is the only alternative to the constant stagnation? It is for some of us who are stuck in this cartel called the EU to struggle to democratize it.

48:35 - And this is what I’ve been doing for the last six years as part of DiEM25, the Democracy in Europe Movement.

48:41 - It could be that it is a lost cause. But, then again, what is the alternative? Because, you see, it’s not as simple as Brexit.

48:48 - Because, unfortunately, of the Euro. Once you’ve created the Euro, it’s not a question…

48:54 - It’s not like 1992 when you got out of the European exchange rate mechanism with my friend Normal Lamont singing in the bath, famously.

49:03 - Because that’s simply overnight you sever the link.

49:06 - Okay, you have a little bit of inflation for a while, and everything goes back to equilibrium.

49:11 - No, you will need to create a currency from scratch that will take you at least 12 months in order to devalue it.

49:20 - This is a nightmare. I was prepared to go through with that.

49:24 - But it would be a major shock for the world.

49:27 - This is why people like me, who are very critical of the democratic deficit… absence in the EU, are struggling to democratize this thing without having much hope that we will succeed, I have to add.

49:41 - [Host] Since we’re in the atmosphere of political cross-dressing here and violently agreeing with each other, what do you think are the positives of the EU? Did you find Remain arguments persuasive, and would you basically agree with Yanis that if you were on the other side of the channel you’d still struggle on within the union? I agree with what Yanis has just said about the difficulty of leaving the Eurozone.

50:06 - I mean everybody can see this… It’s the most fantastic threat to keeping people in, of course, is how hard it is – – and I’ve done it with friends and colleagues in Italy and elsewhere – how hard it is to imagine what that would look like, floating a parallel currency and much more.

50:24 - These are all very, very difficult processes to go through.

50:28 - That doesn’t mean they’re impossible. I would say, though, that the fact is that at certain points, as Yanis knows very well, in recent years, these ultimate scenarios have had to be contemplated and every time they are contemplated, everyone says it’s impossible to imagine.

50:46 - And I would just go back over to what Yanis said at the very beginning, which is the possibility that, for instance, Germany leaves this before anybody else does.

50:56 - It seems to me that within the EU - we had this problem before Britain left as well - everybody is told that nightmarish problems have no solution to them other than the one that is constantly being offered.

51:10 - And, yet, it seems to me that thinkers, economists, and everyone else do have to work out and better flesh out what these lifeboats might look like.

51:21 - Because what we do know is that if any country was forced out of the Eurozone, it cannot be done in a manner in which everybody arranging that is only just starting to think about it.

51:38 - The work has to have been done… [Yanis] Douglas. Can I for just a second? Because I really need to say this or I’ll burst otherwise.

51:45 - I don’t know whether you know it, but there was a charge of treason tabled against me in the Greek parliament for having that plan, precisely. [Douglas] I know.

51:53 - [Yanis] So, I agree with you, however hard it is, I designed the parallel payment system and I was ready to press the button to get out of the Eurozone.

52:02 - And what you don’t probably know is that this was the charge of treason was substantiated by saying that I was jeopardizing the national currency, which was the Euro.

52:14 - [Host] We will have to leave it there. At that point we actually carried on.

52:18 - We had a number of questions from our live audience.

52:20 - Members of UnHerd can actually attend these discussions and take part so do consider joining.

52:25 - The link is down below. In the meantime, I hope you found those highlights interesting.

52:30 - Two very different thinkers but agreeing on a surprising amount, it almost felt like we were about to witness a breakthrough.

52:36 - Hope you enjoyed it. We certainly did. This was Lockdown TV. .