I’ve finished reading Yanis Varoufakis’s book Adults in the Room, in which he clinically dissects the stupidity and intransigence of those great financial wizards who ensured that Greece remains impoverished for ever and a day. The question that arises is – are there lessons here in the context of Brexit? It’s not as if we are part of the single currency and have to abide by the dictats of the German Finance Minister, but many of the players are the same.
I think many of the lessons from Varoufakis's book have to be learnt in the whole E.U., not just the Eurozone. On the latter, its members may want to consider whether it’s a good idea to continue with a single currency, but that’s up to them. For the wider E.U. there is a clear need to take stock of where the E.U. now finds itself in an open and rational atmosphere of honest discourse. I don’t detect any sign of that, even after one of the E.U.’s largest members has chosen to leave. Perhaps there is a pervasive sense of sticking together, and self-satisfaction. Sticking together because, as in the case of Greece’s potential departure from the Eurozone, there is a fear that others might follow leading to the collapse of the project. So some are arguing for the continuation of an ever closer union, rather than thinking a reflective pause might be a good idea. Maybe they think such a pause signals weakness. But something that is flexible is more likely to last than something that is brittle, and I detect a lot of brittleness, with defensiveness at the core of it. And self-satisfaction because they think they’ve just done such a wonderful job and can’t really understand why anyone would want to leave. They believe their own propaganda.
Some of my thoughts on E.U. reform echo those of DiEM25 in which Varoufakis plays a key role. But I could add one or two extra bits, seeking to enhance E.U. democracy. Judging by the way Greece was kicked about it is clear that lines of accountability are blurred – to put a gloss on it. There needs to be a reform of the structures – I note for example that the European Parliament was not mentioned once (in a relevant sense) in Adults in the Room. There is no direct accountability to this elected body for much of what goes on. That needs addressing. I would also get rid of the multiplicity of ‘presidents’ in the E.U. – most people couldn’t tell their Juncker from their Tusk. Perhaps one directly elected president for the lot would do – with very strict rules on her accountability requirements. Yes, that would mean a mammoth election, across Europe, but it would be an election that forced voters to think outside of their parochial box for once. Then there’s the issue of financial accountability – countries like Hungary, whose president believes that E.U. grants are there to swell his personal patronage fund need to be reined in much faster. The miss-spending of E.U. funds I think is a big issue in people’s minds.
As for a second U.K. referendum, (moving on a bit) some intelligence has to be applied to its design – something that was missing last time. There has to be at least a threshold set on what constitutes a majority. This is necessary to ensure that the result can be lived with by both sides. I would say a minimum majority of 60/40 for whatever outcome, although it may also be a good idea to insist on a sufficient turnout as part of the equation. I’m afraid 52/48 on a two thirds turnout doesn’t settle anything. Should the required bar not be reached, then as we all might say, it’s status quo ante and that should be it for another ten/twenty years. By which, I hasten to add, that means no Brexit.