We are in Madrid, 17 people (and two wonderful trainers) from seven cities of the Iberian peninsula, in a civil disobedience training. And we are talking about limits, particularly our limits in action.
It reminds me of other limits, limits as to what we can achieve in Portugal right now. It makes me think of how flexible (or not) the legal and institutional structures are.
I remember an interview in New Statesman with Yaris Varoufakis. It was after the Eurogroup negotiations, after the referendum, and after the introduction of new austerity measures. Varoufakis had resigned already, and this was his first interview afterwards.
What does Greek debt have to do with climate politics?
I recall the following bit of the interview:
“There was a moment when the President of the Eurogroup decided to move against us and effectively shut us out, and made it known that Greece was essentially on its way out of the Eurozone. … There is a convention that communiqués must be unanimous, and the President can’t just convene a meeting of the Eurozone and exclude a member state. And he said, “Oh I’m sure I can do that.” So I asked for a legal opinion. It created a bit of a kerfuffle. For about 5-10 minutes the meeting stopped, clerks, officials were talking to one another, on their phone, and eventually some official, some legal expert addressed me, and said the following words, that “Well, the Eurogroup does not exist in law, there is no treaty which has convened this group.”
So what we have is a non-existent group that has the greatest power to determine the lives of Europeans. It’s not answerable to anyone, given it doesn’t exist in law; no minutes are kept; and it’s confidential.” (my emphasis)
This honest revelation is, I believe, crucial to understanding the world we live in. So please read it again, and read it carefully.
To sum up, what happened? Troika wanted the Greek government to introduce more cuts. They had no legal tools to achieve it. In fact, they didn’t even have the necessary institutional tools! The European state apparatus couldn’t lead this process.
So what did they do? Ministers, bankers, lobbyists, government officials, big people… they IMPROVISED! They created a non-legal, non-state, informal, unaccountable entity to deal with it. Varoufakis says he “was on 2 hours sleep every day for five months,” mostly working with this thing.
No one asked: “Wait, is there a convention for Eurogroup?”, “What do we base our discussions on?”, “Is it actually compatible with any law or constitutional article somewhere?” No one asked. They had a problem. They wanted to solve it. They solved it. Period.
When I first read the article, I was talking to everyone around me about it. I guess I read it more than ten times so far. The point being: Do you see how flexible they can be when they want to?
Okay, going back to Portugal.
What does civil disobedience have to do with climate change?
There are contracts, concessions, and laws on which these are based.
Then, there is climate change.
There is obviously an essential difference: We have a problem with the climate chaos, they don’t. So they don’t want to solve it, we do. But even so, I think there are at least two points I want to make about what Varoufakis’ words made me think.
First: If they don’t cancel the contracts and related law decrees (not only in Portugal, but in all of Europe), it’s not because the legal system doesn’t allow that, it is because they actually do not want to cancel the contracts. If they had to, they would find a way.
Second, and now coming all the way back to the training I’m participating in now: They are quite flexible. They introduce sanctions, they declare and extend states of emergency, they even create non-legal, non-state, informal, unaccountable structures when necessary!
For them, the maintenance of the current socio-economic system is not negotiable.
And what about us? How flexible are we in our personal limits? (How flexible am I?) And the maintenance of a livable planet, how negotiable is it for us?
They were ready to do whatever it took to “solve” the Greek debt crisis. How ready are we to solve the climate crisis?
We are now in Madrid, with activists involved in 12 organizations. We are exploring ourselves – sometimes more explicitly, sometimes more implicitly – in relation to all these questions. And we will come back to our collectives and our hometowns, and re-open all of these discussions with you.
PS: And this is a European example. So it takes place in a rather democratic system. Then there are also other parts of the world, like Middle East or Africa…