Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis
Economist and the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis spoke to Richard Crowley on RTÉ’s News At One on Friday.
It followed the European Commission’s threat last Wednesday to suspend Greece from Europe’s free-travel Schengen area – claiming the country is not carrying out its obligations in regards to the refugees and migrants arriving on the Greek islands.
It also came after Greece’s Immigration Minister Ioannis Mouzalas claimed on BBC’s Newsnight, last Wednesday evening, that Belgian authorities told the Greek authorities to “push” refugees and migrants “back to sea” as a means to stop those arriving.
Readers may also wish to note weekend reports, following the leaking of confidential documents, that the EU is drawing up plans to criminalise charities, volunteers or tourists who help migrants arriving on Greek islands.
The Times reported:
“Previous EU legislation has given exemptions for “humanitarian assistance”, to protect charities and voluntary or non-profit groups from accusations of helping smugglers.”
“Draft rules being discussed in secret talks between EU officials remove that exemption and require any volunteer or rescuer to register with the police or face arrest as smugglers.”
The interview with Mr Varoufakis started with Mr Crowley asking if Greece had a case to answer.
Yanis Varoufakis: “Look let’s be clear on this. When, in the middle of the night, somebody knocks on your door and they are flooded, they are wet, they are desperately frightened. What do you do, as a moral person, is you open the door and you let them in. And any other discussion flies in the face of basic humanism.”
Richard Crowley: “But, and they would say, specifically, whatever about giving them a home to look after them initially, that there is a process here that involves fingerprints and that that’s not being done systematically. Travel documents are not being systematically checked for their authenticity or against crucial security databases. And that’s, I presume, the primary concern of many in Europe.”
Varoufakis: “Well it’s the concern of people who really do not care about reality. When you are on an island like Lesbos with a police station of 10 officers and a couple of Customs officers and then suddenly, in the middle of the night, during a storm in winter, you’ve got 60, 70 bodies arriving on your shores and 3,000 to 4,000 very tired, desperate refugees coming off, at that point what you do is you find as many blankets as you can and you take them in. And if you have the capacity to fingerprint them, you do it after, you make sure these people don’t die of exposure in your hands.”
Crowley: “Sure, but Brussels, Brussels says you’re not doing it after you look after them either. That you’re simply allowing them to move on, that you’re not registering them because, if you did, it’s your country that they are entitled to stay in.”
Varoufakis: “Allow me to say that this discussion is particularly depressing to anyone who has a single humanist fibre left in his or her conscience. Remember, these are small islands. They have very few officials. It’s extremely difficult, they don’t even have the capacity to fingerprint. Brussels should, instead of pointing these fingers of demoralising accusations, they should simply do their duty and equip those islands with whatever it is necessary to do, in order to register these hapless human beings. On the question of what we do with them, the very notion that a country like Greece – which is having serious trouble feeding its own population given the devastating spiral in which we’ve been caught up over the last five or six years – should be turned into a concentration camp, a halting station because the Slovaks and the Germans and the Czechs do not want to be molested by refugees. That very notion is reprehensible to anyone who cares about the European Union.”
Crowley: “Is it a problem or to what extent is it a problem of finance or resources, are you getting any help, is Greece getting any help from Europe in terms of providing those facilities that you so badly need to be about to process these people?”
Varoufakis: “A pitiful amount, a pitiful amount.”
Crowley: “Under the system, as it is, and as imperfect as it is, Brussels accuses Athens of serious errors and, from what we hear, they’ve given you three months to get it right. And that that has been accepted by the Government in Greece. Now is that a realistic timetable?”
Varoufakis: “Of course it’s not. Why don’t Brussels get on their bike, metaphorically speaking, and come to Greece, with resources and help the Greek government cope with what is a European problem.”
Crowley: “Do you believe that this threat by Brussels to eject Greece from the passport-free zone, from the travel zone, from Schengen, unless or until you meet their requirements and put a system that is to their satisfaction in place. Do you believe that’s an idle threat or that they would go ahead and do it?”
Varoufakis: “I think it’s simply reflective of the way in which, after the economic crisis caused the transplantation of our monetary union, the Eurozone, the Eurozone is not what a singular currency should be like, that this economic crisis has created the circumstances for overwhelming and comprehensive disintegration of Europe. You can see that Schengen is dying everywhere, you can see that Angela Merkel is under extreme pressure to abandon Schengen. You can see that, between Austria and France, between Austria and Switzerland, between Switzerland and France, there are increasingly borders being reconstituted. The way I interpret it is that Brussels is using Greece, yet again, as a scapegoat for the disintegration of the European Union.”
Listen back in full here