Yanis Varoufakis: The EU Is Becoming a Union for War

Yanis Varoufakis

Faced with Israel’s war in Gaza, several European states have slandered and silenced protesters. Ahead of next weekend’s elections to the European Parliament, Yanis Varoufakis tells Jacobin how a militaristic policy is taking over the EU.

Yanis Varoufakis speaking to supporters ahead of the European elections in the Peristeri area in Athens, Greece, on June 1, 2024. (Nicolas Koutsokostas / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Interview by
Ferdinando Pezzopane

In recent months, mobilizations in solidarity with the Palestinian people have grown around the world. But not everywhere are they welcomed — or even tolerated — by the powers that be. In April, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis was meant to appear, via video link, at a congress for Palestine in Berlin. Instead, the meeting was broken up by police and he was barred from entering the country.

Ahead of next weekend’s elections for the European Parliament, Israel’s war in Gaza is, for many leading parties, an issue they’d rather not talk about. But Varoufakis’s pan-European party, DiEM25, is surely an exception, taking a strong stand for Gaza. In an interview with Ferdinando Pezzopane, he spoke about the West’s complicity in the war, the protests against it, and the prospect of building a different kind of Europe.

Ferdinando Pezzopane

European Union member states are repressing popular dissent over Israel’s war and their leaders’ support for it. Germany’s government, which is supposedly center-left, has been breaking up all sorts of demonstrations for Palestine. They even arrest Jewish anti-Zionist activists like members of Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that had its bank account frozen.

In April, both you and the rector of Glasgow University were banned from Germany, after baseless accusations of spreading antisemitism. Such allegations have also been targeted against anyone voicing criticism of Israel and its apartheid regime and calling for a stop to the genocide, even as establishment Islamophobia is ever rising. What is really happening here?

Yanis Varoufakis

A couple of months ago, I didn’t think it likely that the German state would ban me from the country, and especially because of my participation in an event for peace and the stopping of a genocide. The fact that that ban extended to even my digital participation in events in Germany only adds to the absurdity of the lengths they are willing to go to ban pro-peace pro-Palestinian voices.

It is now evident that there are no limits to the lengths this Europe will go to silence any voice that doesn’t play along. The reason for that is the transformation of the European Union into a War Union, the transformation of the EU into a puppet of NATO.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign affairs chief, gave us a whiff of the shift from cosmopolitanism to ethno-regionalism when he described the EU as a beautiful “garden” threatened by the non-European “jungle” lurking outside its borders. More recently, French president Emmanuel Macron and Charles Michel, the European Council’s president, asked Europeans not only to prepare for war but, crucially, to rely on its arms industry for the EU’s economic growth and technological advancement.

Having failed to convince Germany, and the so-called frugal nation-states, of the need for a proper fiscal union, their desperate fallback position is now to argue for a War Union. Our MeRA25 parties in Italy, Germany, and Greece, and our allies Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, who are all contesting these European elections, consider our opposition to these plans to be one of our main political struggles in the coming European Parliament.

Ferdinando Pezzopane

Your most recent studies focused on the relationship between technology and the economic system, also coining the concept “technofeudalism.” Israel in its military occupation of the Palestinian territories is using military technology, complex software, and even artificial intelligence on a massive scale. All of this is produced mainly by Israeli universities, which have been founded on the expropriation and occupation of Palestinian land, and have a mandate to uncritically support Israel’s constant expansionism. In this way, knowledge, from engineering to archeology, but also the hard sciences, legitimate and fuel the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and the genocide. What does your analysis have to say about these technologies and knowledge production in Israel?

Yanis Varoufakis

I beg to differ with your premise: Israel has not developed its high-tech weapons independently, just as it has not developed its bombs, fighter jets, tanks, and missiles independently. Every important technology that Israel has deployed in suppressing and killing Palestinians has come from the United States.

Yes, Israel has developed its own impressive R&D capabilities that allow the IDF and other state agencies to modify, develop, and evolve the US-sourced technologies. And, yes, Israel has specialized in algorithmic, or cloud-based, surveillance. However, there is no doubt Washington, DC, could shut down Israel’s high-tech [systems] at the flick of a switch — exactly as Elon Musk, if he chooses to, can switch off your gleaming Tesla.

This is why in Technofeudalism, my latest book, I dwell little on Israel: it is not a player in the clash of the two countries that duopolize cloud capital — the United States and China.

Ferdinando Pezzopane

The knowledge sector is not the only one with ties to Israel. Western fossil fuel companies see Israel as the most reliable partner in the Middle East. They continue to have business agreements for fossil fuels research and extraction, even in the territorial waters of Palestine. The European Union, with its RePower EU plan, considers Israel a crucial strategic partner for the energy sector. This energy neocolonialism fuels and reinforces the dominant structures of oppression. You always say that Europe will either be democratized or else implode. Surely, the EU cannot be a “garden,” as foreign affairs chief Borrell claims, while we are burning the future of entire communities?

Yanis Varoufakis

Without peace and environmental justice, there is no future. In past decades, we allowed energy to be privatized, to become a privately owned monopoly. Energy is an essential good, we cannot live without it. This in turn means that the private entities who own the energy sector amass great power and are able to impose on governments deals for drilling our seas for fossil fuels and deals with genocidal states like Israel.

The answer is simple but demands a great struggle: energy should become again a public good, owned entirely by the public sector, operating for the common good, not for profit. Capitalists don’t care about the environment. They only care for profit. We should reclaim the energy sector.

Ferdinando Pezzopane

The genocide in Palestine seems to encapsulate a whole series of crises. Around the world we are seeing mobilizations supporting the Palestinian people and calling for an academic and economic boycott of Israel. You are also a university professor: What do you think is the importance of these campus protests?

Yanis Varoufakis

They fill me with hope and optimism. They bring to mind memories of the historic antiwar movement in the US against the war in Vietnam and of course, the May ’68 rebellion. The wave of persecution and censorship unleashed by the US, but also by EU governments supporting Israel’s war machine at the expense of intellectuals, protesters, and every voice that speaks for peace, is not going to bend the Palestine solidarity movement. On the contrary, the student movements are gaining momentum worldwide and the key element for the necessary escalation lies the participation, along with the students, of trade unions and grassroots movements for peace.

Regarding the boycott of Israel, it is fundamental. DiEM25 and me personally, have close ties with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement [BDS]. It upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity. To demonstrate this principle, BDS calls for the boycott of Israeli goods, services, etc., by all of us, as citizens, consumers, academics, to put pressure on Israel to comply with international law. We only have our class to rely on: our governments are fully compliant with the interests of the oligarchs, the EU establishment, and NATO.

Ferdinando Pezzopane

In Italy, the dockworkers of the CALP [Autonomous Collective of Port Workers] have taken an anti-militarist approach, refusing to load weapons onto ships. Another grassroots union, SiCobas, is boycotting major retailers like Carrefour and other companies with ties to Israel. The Collettivo [di Fabbrica] GKN — a group of laid-off autoworkers near Florence, calling for a worker-led, green reindustrialization strategy — are creating mobilizations with the Palestinian community and climate movements. How can we fuel these different flames of resistance and try to bring about a counter-hegemonic agenda in Europe different to the ruling class’s one?

Yanis Varoufakis

By standing side by side with the grassroots movements that are emerging right now in Europe demanding peace and environmental justice, and of course with unions. The ruling class is using fear to control the masses. We, as the true radical left, must break this fear with a vision of a tangible utopia.

Our revolution must use the technology that Big Tech is developing now. It can provide us with the means to communicate, to cooperate, and to strike blows at the empire of capital far and wide. All we need do is use it to come together and turn the impossible dream into an obvious plan.

But what does it mean in practice to topple the empire of capital? How can humanity reclaim its plundered commons, on land, in the oceans, in the air, and soon in outer space?

In two ways: by legislating so that corporations belong to those who work in them on the basis of one employee, one share, one vote; and by denying banks the monopoly over people’s transactions.

Banks and profit will then wither as our economies’ driving forces, because the banks will be defanged and the distinction between profit and wages will no longer make sense: everyone would be an equal shareholder in the companies they work for.

The simultaneous death of the market for shares and of the labor market, along with the defanging of banks, will automatically redistribute wealth, make it possible to offer a basic income to everyone, and — as a magnificent byproduct — remove the incentives to wage war.

The end of capital’s power over society will allow communities collectively to decide health provision, education, and investment in saving the environment from our viruslike growth.

Genuine democracy will at last be possible, to be practiced in the citizens’ and the workers’ assemblies; not behind closed doors where secretive oligarchs gather.

This twin democratization, of capital and of money, sounds like an impossible dream. But it’s no more impossible than the ideas of one person, one vote, or of ending the divine rights of kings, sounded in the past.