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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Germany’s far-right AfD ahead in regional poll with anti-shutdown stance

Best known as an anti-migrant party, Germany's far-right AfD has seized on the coronavirus pandemic to court a new type of voter ahead of regional elections in the state of Saxony-Anhalt on Sunday: anti-shutdown activists.

Germany's far-right AfD ahead in regional poll with anti-shutdown stance
Björn Höcke, party chairman in Thuringia, at an election event in Merseburg, Saxony-Anhalt on May 29th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Willnow

“Sending so many people into poverty with so few infections is problematic for us,” is how Oliver Kirchner, the AfD’s top candidate in Saxony-Anhalt, views the measures ordered by the government to halt Covid-19 transmission.

The anti-shutdown stance seems to be paying off in the former East German state. The party is riding high in the polls and even stands a chance of winning a regional election for the first time.

READ ALSO: Germany’s far-right AfD chooses hardline team ahead of national elections

Surveys have the AfD neck-and-neck with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU, with the Bild daily even predicting victory for the far-right party on 26 percent, ahead of the CDU on 25 percent.

In Saxony-Anhalt’s last election in 2016, the CDU was the biggest party, scoring 30 percent and forming a coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens.

But the CDU has taken a hammering in the opinion polls in recent months, with voters unhappy with the government’s pandemic management and a corruption scandal involving shady coronavirus mask contracts.

Social deprivation

A victory for the AfD would spell a huge upset for the conservatives just four months ahead of a general election in Germany — the first in 16 years not to feature Merkel.

They started out campaigning against the euro currency in 2013. Then in 2015 they capitalised on public anger over Merkel’s 2015 decision to let in a wave of asylum seekers from conflict-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The party caused a sensation in Germany’s last general election in 2017 when it secured almost 13 percent of the vote, entering parliament for the first time as the largest opposition party.

Troubled by internal divisions and accusations of ties to neo-Nazi fringe groups, the party has more recently seen its support at the national level stagnate at between 10 and 12 percent.

READ ALSO: Germany’s far-right AfD investigated over election ties

The party is also controversial in Saxony-Anhalt itself. In state capital Magdeburg, posters showing local candidate Hagen Kohl have been defaced with Hitler moustaches and the words “Never again”.

For wine merchant Jan Buhmann, 57, victory for the far-right party would be a “disaster”.

“The pandemic has shown that we need new ideas. We need young people, we need dynamism in the state. For me, the AfD does not stand for that,” he said.

Yet the AfD’s core supporters have largely remained unwavering in the former East German states.

For pensioner Hans-Joachim Peters, 73, the AfD is “the only party that actually tells it like it is”.

Politicians should “think less about Europe and more about Germany”, he told AFP in Magdeburg. AfD campaigners there were handing out flyers calling for “resistance” and “an end to all anti-constitutional restrictions on our liberties”.

Political scientist Hajo Funke of Berlin’s Free University puts the AfD’s core strength in eastern Germany down to “social deprivation and frustration” resulting from problems with reunification.

The party’s latest anti-corona restrictions stance has also helped it play up its anti-establishment credentials, adding some voters to its core base, he said.

Other east German states in which the AfD has a stronghold, such as Saxony and Thuringia, continue to have the highest 7-day incidences per 100,000 residents in the country. Saxony-Anhalt’s 7-day incidence, however, currently is below the national average (31.3) as of Wednesday June 3rd.

READ ALSO: Why are coronavirus figures so high in German regions with far-right leanings?

Hijab snub

Funke predicted the AfD would attract broadly the same voters in
Saxony-Anhalt as it did in 2016, when it won 24 percent of the vote.

“Some have dropped off because the party is too radical, some radicals who didn’t vote are now voting and some of those who are anti-corona are also voting for the AfD,” he said.

The Sachsen-Anhalt-Monitor 2020 report, commissioned by the local government, found that the main concern for voters in the region was the economic fallout from the pandemic. But the AfD’s core selling point — immigration and refugees — was number two on their list.

According to AfD candidate Kirchner, many people in Saxony-Anhalt still view the influx of refugees to Germany “very critically”.

“And I think they are right,” he said at a campaign stand in Magdeburg decked in the AfD’s signature blue. “Who is going to rebuild Syria? Who is going to do that if everyone comes here?”

When a young woman wearing a hijab walked past the stand, no one attempted to hand her a flyer.

By Femke Colborne