Why Greece’s former finance minister is running for the Euro elections in Germany

Labelled the "Greek clown" by German newspaper Bild, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis is now running in the upcoming European elections from the German capital. Why?

Why Greece's former finance minister is running for the Euro elections in Germany
Yanis Varoufakis in Berlin. Photo: DPA

At the height of the Greek debt crisis, he crossed swords with German nemesis Wolfgang Schäuble, who demanded drastic austerity in return for financial aid.

Four years later, the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis is running in European parliamentary elections – in Berlin.

SEE ALSO: The ultimate guide to Germany's top Euro election candidates

The iconoclastic, motorcycle-riding 58-year-old economist is running a political stealth campaign, with few major public events or media engagements.

However, favourable electoral rules may allow him to be elected to the parliament in Strasbourg.

Varoufakis “meets the conditions to be a candidate in Germany, he is registered in Germany where he has a residence,” says a member of his team.

The law here demands that a candidate for the May 26th election must be a citizen of a EU country and have resided in Germany for at least six months.

'Political monsters'

Varoufakis as minister for a little over five months alienated many of his European colleagues with his outspoken style, academic tone and activism on social networks.

Now he leads the list of Democracy in Europe, a German political party that  is part of DiEM25, the anti-establishment movement Varoufakis helped to launch in early 2016.

He says he now has nothing but “contempt” for the head of the Greek government, Alexis Tsipras, whom he accuses of having reneged on his far-left Syriza party's electoral commitments.

His new grouping is “the first serious transnational and progressive movement” in Europe, argues Varoufakis, who has outlined its vision in a handful of interviews, public meetings and short videos on social networks.

Former German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble and former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis in 2015 in Berlin. Photo: DPA

The party demands greater transparency in politics, including live video streams of European summits and meetings of the European Central Bank, the institution many Greeks blame for the biting austerity policies of recent years.

SEE ALSO: Voting in Germany: What you need to know about the EU elections

His party advocates a “Green New Deal” with large investments in ecological projects, and Varoufakis has also called for the establishment of a Constituent Assembly to build a more democratic Europe by 2025.

“As a convinced European, I protest against what the European institutions are doing,” he has told Deutsche Welle TV, pointing to the rise of far-right parties and raising the spectre of the 1930s.

“They create discontent, and this produces political monsters like Matteo Salvini and the League in Italy, the AfD in Germany, or the Golden Dawn in Greece.”

Candidate in Greece

So why is it that the man whom Germany's top selling daily Bild labels the “Greek clown” is running for election there?

Officially, this aims to signal that there is no “struggle” between Germany and Greece, between Europe's “north and south”.

Another consideration may be more pragmatic: Germany's rules for the European election do not have a minimum threshold, heightening chances for a party that is polling at around one percent.

In 2014 European elections the satirical group Die Partei was able to send a representative to the legislature with only 0.6 percent of the vote.

In other EU countries, including Greece, the threshold is three percent – a more daunting hurdle for Varoufakis, whose political star has dimmed in the years since he quit his ministerial post with a simple tweet.

He recently told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that, if elected to the European Parliament, he wants to voice his ideas and then quickly hand his MEP post to a party colleague.

He told the daily that “voters appreciate politicians who are honest and transparent and who say 'Look, I'm not doing this for the career or salary, I don't want to enter the European Parliament for the limousine and 10 staff”.

After bowing out in Strasbourg, he says, he plans to return to Greece and run in parliamentary elections there later this year with the movement he has created, Mera25.

By Mathieu Foulkes

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Norway flirts with the idea of a ‘mini Brexit’ in election campaign

On paper, Norway's election on Monday looks like it could cool Oslo's relationship with the European Union but analysts say that appearances may be deceiving.

Norway flirts with the idea of a 'mini Brexit' in election campaign
The Centre Party's leader Slagsvold Vedum has called for Norway's relationship with the European Union to be renegotiated. Photo: Gorm Kallestad / NTB / AFP

After eight years of a pro-European centre-right government, polls suggest the Scandinavian country is headed for a change of administration.

A left-green coalition in some shape or form is expected to emerge victorious, with the main opposition Labour Party relying on the backing of several eurosceptic parties to obtain a majority in parliament.

In its remote corner of Europe, Norway is not a member of the EU but it is closely linked to the bloc through the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement.

The deal gives Norway access to the common market in exchange for the adoption of most European directives.

Both the Centre Party and the Socialist Left — the Labour Party’s closest allies, which together have around 20 percent of voter support — have called for the marriage of convenience to be dissolved.

“The problem with the agreement we have today is that we gradually transfer more and more power from the Storting (Norway’s parliament), from Norwegian lawmakers to the bureaucrats in Brussels who are not accountable,” Centre Party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum said in a recent televised debate.


Defending the interests of its rural base, the Centre Party wants to replace the EEA with trade and cooperation agreements.

However, Labour leader Jonas Gahr Store, who is expected to become the next prime minister, does not want to jeopardise the country’s ties to the EU, by far Norway’s biggest trading partner.

“If I go to my wife and say ‘Look, we’ve been married for years and things are pretty good, but now I want to look around to see if there are any other options out there’… Nobody (in Brussels) is going to pick up the phone” and be willing to renegotiate the terms, Gahr Store said in the same debate.

Running with the same metaphor, Slagsvold Vedum snapped back: “If your wife were riding roughshod over you every day, maybe you would react.”

EU a ‘tough negotiating partner’

Initially, Brexit gave Norwegian eurosceptics a whiff of hope. But the difficulties in untangling British-EU ties put a damper on things.

“In Norway, we saw that the EU is a very tough negotiating partner and even a big country like Britain did not manage to win very much in its negotiations,” said Ulf Sverdrup, director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.

While Norwegians have rejected EU membership twice, in referendums in 1972 and 1994, a majority are in favour of the current EEA agreement.

During the election campaign, the EU issue has gradually been pushed to the back burner as the Centre Party — which briefly led in the polls — has seen its support deflate.

The nature of Norway’s relationship to the bloc will depend on the distribution of seats in parliament, but experts generally agree that little is likely to change.

“The Labour Party will surely be firm about the need to maintain the EEA agreement,” said Johannes Bergh, political scientist at the Institute for Social Research, “even if that means making concessions to the other parties in other areas”.

Closer cooperation over climate?

It’s possible that common issues, like the fight against climate change, could in fact bring Norway and the EU even closer.

“Cooperation with the EU will very likely become stronger because of the climate issue” which “could become a source of friction” within the next coalition, Sverdrup suggested.

“Even though the past 25 years have been a period of increasingly close cooperation, and though we can therefore expect that it will probably continue, there are still question marks” surrounding Norway’s future ties to the EU, he said.

These likely include the inclusion and strength of eurosceptics within the future government as well as the ability of coalition partners to agree on all EU-related issues.

Meanwhile, Brussels is looking on cautiously. The EEA agreement is “fundamental” for relations between the EU and its
partners Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, according to EU spokesman Peter Stano.

But when it comes to the rest, “we do not speculate on possible election outcomes nor do we comment on different party positions.”