Adults in the Room: My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment
by Yanis Varoufakis
Published by Bodley Head, £20
(Buy at Amazon)
Even after being pushed out of office in July 2015, the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis continues to polarise opinion. To some, he is a heroic fighter against austerity; to others, a poseur who peddled empty threats.
In this book, Varoufakis puts forward his side of the story. He claims he was the first to spot, as early as 2007, that Greece was bankrupt, with the subsequent backlash forcing him to leave for an academic job in Texas. He then returned to Greece, becoming an MP and finance minister as a result of Syriza’s election victory in January 2015. But once in office everything quickly went wrong.
Instead of accepting Syriza’s mandate to soften austerity, Greece’s creditors did everything possible to undermine the new government, including reneging on previous agreements. They refused to entertain any of Varoufakis’s proposals for long-term debt relief, even though some of them had previously agreed with them. Constant pressure from creditors eventually forced the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, to get rid of him.
It’s a powerful narrative, and Varoufakis backs it up with a detailed blow-by-blow account. However, his outrage is undermined by the fact that he refused to seriously contemplate Greece defaulting and leaving the euro. Not only was Grexit the only thing that would have grabbed the Troika’s attention, it was perhaps the best solution for all concerned. His heart was clearly not in such a bold (but necessary) move.
Indeed, Varoufakis boasts that before the 2015 election he was instrumental in getting both Tsipras and Syriza to move away from the idea of a Grexit. Interestingly, one of the few European politicians Varoufakis still admires is Emmanuel Macron, the new president of France. Macron is likely to push Brussels to deliver some sort of debt relief, but the sky-high level of unemployment in Greece today is testimony to the costs of not acting sooner.
What the press said
“Varoufakis has had his revenge, or perhaps catharsis, by writing a riveting hiss and tell,” says John Kampfner in The Guardian. While it’s not perfect, “the strengths of this account far outweigh the weaknesses” as it is “an admirably believable depiction of a Greek and European tragedy”.
The former finance minister turned “global anti-austerity rock star is the John Lewis of economic punditry – he and his views are never knowingly undersold”, scoffs Michael Gove in The Times. However, despite that “this book is an important, terrifying must-read” in that “it anatomises the way in which EU leaders operate with a brutal clarity”.