Douglas Murray and Yanis Varoufakis: the EU is broken

May 14, 2021
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The EU has had a difficult pandemic. A slow procurement of vaccines, followed by a botched rollout, and blame-shifting by its leaders has drawn together critics from all politics stripes. Two of unlikely bedfellows from very different political traditions, Douglas Murray and Yanis Varoufakis, joined Freddie Sayers for a discussion about the bloc at an UnHerd members event.

Murray’s feelings about the EU are well-known, having long been a critic of the bloc and writing a best-selling book on the subject. Varoufakis, meanwhile, has been on more of a journey. Once a staunch proponent of the ‘Remain and Reform’ position of the EU, the former Greek finance minister was a prominent backer of the Remain campaign in 2016. But fast-forward four years and Yanis’ views on the EU began to shift. In an interview with UnHerd during the UK’s first lockdown, he said that was so dismayed by the efforts to undo the result that he changed his mind on Brexit. This week, he made his most unambiguous statement yet, confirming that the EU’s poor vaccine rollout has convinced him of the virtues of Brexit:

The last thirteen months since the pandemic began have been a never-ending fiasco. Looking at the vaccination, the vaccine fiasco, the corruption and incompetence of the [European] Commission, I have to confess that I’ve changed my mind. I think that Brexit in the end, when you’re weighing things up, was probably the right way for Britain.
- Yanis Varoufakis, UnHerd

He explains why he supported Remain at the time, and quickly saw that the Remainers’ refusal to accept the result would be counter-productive:

The UK was lucky not to be in the Eurozone. I was ambivalent about my support of Remain. But you know, weighing up the pros and cons, I thought that Britain was better off, [and] the weakest people amongst the British population would be in the long-term better off. The day after the referendum, I could see that the problem were the Remainers, because they were simply anti-democratic, they treated those who voted with a slim majority — with but with a majority, nevertheless — with contempt. And they went into a four-year long path towards a second referendum which I opposed. And, you know, my view was, we fought for Remain we argued, and we lost. Brexit had to take place.
- Yanis Varoufakis, UnHerd

Varoufakis and Murray agree on the problems with EU’s democratic deficit:

Many things can be said about Jean-Claude Juncker, the former head of the European Commission. But 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 just sails on? There’s no self-questioning. There’s no self-interrogation. This seems to me — even more than the issues of the Eurozone crises and the migration crises and many more crises that will be to come — 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?
- Douglas Murray, UnHerd

As you might expect, Varoufakis and Murray took very different positions on the question of immigration — Varoufakis retains the more universalist ideals of the Left, and confidence that large numbers of immigrants can be successfully integrated. He rejects the notion from some Leftists that the free movement of people is an asset to big business and a way of driving down wages.

There is no doubt that there have been Leftists who have been lured by national socialism, Mussolini was one of them, and others who have not identified with fascism or have fallen into this trap… Look, I’m a Left-winger because I’m liberal — 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. 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.
- Yanis Varoufakis, UnHerd

But on the question of the EU’s democratic deficit the two were in violent agreement:

We have run into trouble in Europe in recent years because a certain type of bureaucrat has decided that they can pole vault over the inconvenience of public plebiscites and over the disturbing habit of having to go to the public for electoral approval. I think that issue of legitimacy and democratic accountability is the thing that people — Left and Right — could agree on.
- Douglas Murray, UnHerd
There is no democratic deficit in Brussels. It’s like saying that there is an oxygen deficit on the moon — there is no oxygen on the moon. There’s no democracy in Brussels. It has been ruled out of court by design. It’s a designer feature not to have democracy in Brussels
- Yanis Varoufakis, UnHerd
When I was having the debates in Britain in 2016, prior to the referendum, I was often on the BBC, ITV and so on, with Brexiteers, with whom I got on quite nicely, unlike [some] Remainers, I would say to them: Look, folks, you have one good point, don’t waste it. Stop talking about the great windfall that you will get from exiting the EU and the billions that you will be able to spend on the NHS. This is all rubbish, in the same way that the Treasury’s estimates of the loss of GDP were equally rubbish. It’s a question of who governs us, and what legitimacy they have and what we can get. How can get rid of them? Because you’re absolutely right. I mean, we have Ursula von der Leyen, who is a failed Defence Minister from Germany, leading the European Commission only because Merkel and Macron had a meeting behind closed doors in a room, and they decided that she would lead. And she has been the most spectacular failure in terms of managing the procurement of vaccines, and we can’t get rid of her, even if we wanted to.”

Our thanks to both Yanis Varoufakis and Douglas Murray for a fascinating discussion. You can sign up HERE to make sure to attend the next members event.


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