01-02 July 2011
Speech by Prime Minister George Papandreou, President of the Socialist International
at the Council meeting of the Socialist International, Athens, 1 July 2011
Welcome. Let me welcome so many friends, and I am so happy to see you here and the warmth you have given us and the support you are expressing. I welcome you to Athens, to Greece, to a proud country, with a proud people, and I welcome you on behalf of the Greek people, and I wish you a constructive and good stay here.
I welcome you also on behalf of the Greek government and, as you heard, the PASOK party.
We have taken difficult decisions in trying times. These decisions were patriotic decisions to save our country. These decisions were socially necessary decisions, to save workers’ wages, pensioners’ wages, small and medium-sized enterprises from default.
These were painful decisions, but decisions to give us both the time, the opportunity and the hope for real and deep change in our country, in our society.
And your presence is a show of solidarity, of solidarity to the Greek people, and I thank you. I thank the members of the Socialist International; I thank the members of Socialist International Women. I thank you all for your presence here, as your presence here is a vote of confidence in the potential of our people, in a way in the potential of all peoples of the world, when they face difficult crises. That is the spirit of our international movement.
And you well know, as in your societies, that Greece has great potential. You can look around: the beauty, the resources. We have given you, as a small gift, awarded some olive oil and honey, traditional products of Greece, just to show some of the potential that we have.
We have human potential, a younger generation which is the most educated in our history.
We have our traditional Mediterranean diet and produce, our potential for tourism, our new potential for renewable energy – sun, wind, geothermal; our seas, our shipping, our aquaculture; our hospitality, our tradition and our struggles for democracy.
So yes, Greece is not a poor country, but it was a mismanaged country. And speaking to many of my comrades, whether they are from Latin America, whether they are from Africa, whether they are from Asia, there are some similar experiences, where there, there is great potential, great potential, great resources, however often squandered and mismanaged.
But mismanagement is not simply a technical term. It is a highly political term. At the heart of the crisis, whether it’s Greek, whether it’s European or global, is the question of democracy, of how we democratically manage our societies and our economies, in an equitable way, in a just way.
Questions of who have the power to decide, how is power distributed in our world, how do we manage the huge potential we have, as humanity, whether it is technological potential, knowledge, expertise, financial potential, energy potential. Whether it’s renewable or nuclear – look at how the example of Fukushima has put into question the issue of nuclear power.
How do we manage the strength of media, which is concentrated in the hands of a few? Is that democracy? How do we handle the growth of military power, the investment in military power, which could have been invested elsewhere?
How do we use, therefore, all these resources? Who controls it and to what purpose? Are we creating more just societies, or more impoverished and unequal societies?
And in Greece today we are paying for, I would say, to use an ancient Greek word, our hubris, or arrogance, of political practices deeply conservative in managing our resources and our fate. Rather than transparent, accountable, open governance, which is the basis of our democratic societies, of what we want in democracies, we had clientelism, we had patronage, we had waste, we had graft. We had benefits to the rich and powerful, but inequality for the weaker.
We had, because of this, this stifling of our creativity, of our potential, or growth, this stifling of employment, and even of competitiveness.
So if today people are demonstrating in our streets, it is not only the pain of austerity. It is the pain of injustice, and a vision that many have for a more accountable, more democratic path to change, social change, economic change, institutional change.
And if this is a Greek demand, it is also global in its nature. We, PASOK, our government, have made the decision to change both ourselves and our country. We have also taken on responsibilities beyond our share of our burden, as we took over after a conservative government, five and a half years of a conservative government that had made a mess of both our deficits and our debt.
But we took on our responsibilities, and we have decided – and the votes yesterday were a strong confirmation of our will to fight, fight against the difficult winds, but fight for a better Greece, a better society.
Because we know we can, and we know we deserve to have a better, a more just and more prosperous Greece.
And Europe has also given us a vote of confidence, a major package of support, to continue these changes, to have the time to make Greece viable. And I would also like to express my appreciation to the citizens, the parliaments, the governments of Europe for their solidarity, and obviously for the socialist forces in Europe that have been very strongly in alliance and solidarity with what we are doing.
But the Greek crisis also has highlighted a wider crisis, in Europe and in the world. Again, it’s a crisis of politics, it’s a crisis in democratic governance, and it is a crisis that poses the question: Do we have the will, do we have the power to determine, democratically determine our future, face up to challenges effectively, use our resources to the benefit of our citizens?
And I believe Europe, conservative Europe today, does not realise the strength that we have, the potential that exists. And this is a political challenge.
Let me say a few words about Europe, because I think Europe, even though sometimes we Europeans speak too euro-centrically, it also has a relevance for what is going on around the world.
Initially the European project began as a project for peace and prosperity, after the Second World War, between France and Germany, particularly the decision to unite in a common market. But it continues to be a peace project, a project for democracy between the east and the west, for democracy and peace and uniting peoples and societies, conflicts such as in Cyprus, in the Balkans.
But today Europe has another potential, which it has not realised. And it is to humanise globalisation, to humanise the globalising economy. And this is a challenge for us progressives around the world. In order to pool our sovereignty, and that’s what we have done but we need to continue to do this, to deal with new crises we have around the world: the financial crisis, of course, the energy crisis, the environmental crisis, the crisis of poverty, growth, good jobs, employment, competitiveness.
Yet Europe is stuck. Rather than moving ahead, at this point, unluckily we are moving behind, into more nationalism, more entropy, rise of racism and xenophobia, stuck in very conservative politics of fear.
And this we saw how difficult it was to deal with some of the systemic problems we have, for example the single currency, very important for us. However, with the single currency we have no real single governance of our economies or strong governance of our economies.
And this hid many of the problems. It hid problems even in Greece. We were able to borrow cheaply, not make the necessary changes that we should have made, but also when the crisis struck then we could not borrow at all, while others could. And the differences in the rates of borrowing, the interest rates of borrowing, do not allow us to be competitive. These are systemic problems we must deal with, and find the will to do so.
But as I said, Europe could and should become a model, a progressive model, for how we should structure governance on our planet. We talked about this yesterday in the Presidium also. Whether it’s in Africa or in Asia or in Latin America or other parts of the world, regional structures can be strengthened, to represent peoples and countries, and together face, in a more democratic and representative way, the difficult challenges we have.
But I believe a conservative Europe today is still building on the politics of fear, while we have so much potential, if we had a progressive Europe, to deal with many of these challenges.
So we need to change Europe, and Europe needs to live up to its potential.
Greece has delivered on a very difficult challenge. So it is time not only Europe to deliver, but I would say also the international world must also deliver.
And not for Greeks alone, but for all our peoples, both in Europe and around the world. Because we are facing powers beyond our borders, powers beyond our scope of control, beyond the scope of our democratic institutions, but powers that affect us daily, our citizens, our youth. And that’s why we need to unite in dealing with them.
I’d like to mention some of the questions that I have been facing these last months, which I think are democratic challenges that we should answer. They are simple but difficult questions, difficult answers possibly, but we could deal with this. And of course we have felt the effects of many of these issues on Greece daily.
While we are living up to our responsibilities, I often ask: Are we too weak to deal with our banking and our financial system? In 2008 we had a crisis because of the financial and banking system. Yet still today we have not dealt with the difficulties and problems of the financial system, the inequalities, the lack of transparency, the fear of risk, and the fact that in many countries they are not investing any more in the real economy and they are only looking at their accounts.
Are we too weak to improve transparency on the financial markets and in areas such as the credit default swaps? That has become a household word in Greece. Maybe others may not know it, but it is a way where people can bet against you. It’s like someone betting that his neighbour’s house, taking insurance that his neighbour’s house, if it’s put on fire, he will get the benefit.
Well, there are many therefore that are betting and hoping that Greece will fail, and there are not billions but even trillions in this market.
Are we so weak that we cannot deal with this issue? Are we so weak that we cannot deal with the rating agencies?
The Greek parliamentarians, the majority of the Greek Parliament, took very difficult votes the last few days. And they took the votes because we wanted to create trust in our programme, in our decisiveness to move ahead. Trust not only here but also in Europe and in the international community.
But we know that if a rating agency comes and degrades us one more notch they will have more power in their decisions than the Greek people and the parliamentarians in the Greek Parliament. And that is unacceptable in a world, if we want to have a democratic world.
I’d like to quote a Nobel Prizewinner, Amartya Sen, who said recently, “Financial institutions have a place in a democratic dialogue. But that is not the same thing as allowing the international financial institutions and rating agencies the unilateral power to command democratically elected governments.
Are we too weak to fight tax evasion and tax havens? Is there no sense of justice around the world? When we are putting taxes on our peoples, on our pensioners, on our wage earners, and they cannot escape. But yes, there is an established class that can take out their money and hide it around the world, and they are robbing our peoples of resources we could use, for growth, for social cohesion.
Are we too weak not to be able to stand up to the media hype that often predict catastrophe every day? We have lived for the past ten months with daily analysis and propaganda, if you like – maybe not, but fearmongering at least – that we will default, that Greece is going to fall apart. We are still surviving.
But we need to see how our democratic institutions can stand up to these new challenges.
Are we too frightened to create a financial transaction tax, which would put, yes, some of the burden on those who created the crisis in 2008, the banks and the financial system, and use that money, that potential, those resources, for growth, for jobs, for changing our economies, for supporting this difficult transition of crisis?
Are we too fearful for stimulating our economies and rekindling our economies? We cannot do so at the national level, where we have difficult programmes of austerity, but we can have this at the regional level, such as in Europe with the Eurobonds, with big projects that can create jobs, move us to green growth, or maybe even add to that a CO2 tax to help our environment.
Are we too fearful to make these decisions, which will help us to move both to growth and jobs but also to a sustainable economy?
These are democratic challenges. They are not economic, they are not financial, they are not technical issues. They are democratic challenges for a progressive movement, for our societies.
And it highlights the importance of our movement. It highlights the importance of our international movement, because yes, we can do things at the national level and local level, but we also must do things at the regional and global level.
And we have done so. We have commissions successfully coming up with proposals on global warming, where we were in Copenhagen. We had the Stiglitz Commission on the financial crisis coming up with very relevant proposals. We have had commissions discussing the issue of nuclear power and proliferation. And we need to keep up this work, to maintain a vision for the younger generation.
But I’d also like to say that these are questions which pose a very deeper fundamental one: What kind of economies and societies are we going to create?
We have a choice, and I sometimes like to say that it’s a choice between an economy based on inequality and an economy based on quality.
Is competitiveness, where we talked about competitiveness a lot, going to be based on the lack of labour laws or lack of collective bargaining or lack of women’s rights, or cheap migrant labour or lack of democratic processes, or the plundering of the environment? Or is our competitiveness going to be based on an educated labour force, creativity, participation and innovation, openness and meritocracy, solidarity and equality and social cohesion?
And this may sound utopian, but we do in fact, our tradition, our movement, does have examples. And it is the Nordic welfare state. Yes, they have been able to show us the way, even though they are often threatened, that you can have social cohesion, you can have equality, you can have education, you can have participation, you can have democracy, and be of the most competitive in the world.
So our major problem is a question of equality and inequality, and it’s not simply in our societies or between our societies; it is also between our citizens and our nations and a new global establishment, which is able to amass great riches, great powers, capital, media, potential, but can go beyond our borders, our democratic institutions, with very little or no controls, and no regulation.
Tahrir Square, the Arab Spring – also a desire for democracy. There of course they are founding their democracies. They are building anew their democracies. In our societies, where we have had democratic institutions for many years, we are looking to renew our democracies, and I think this is despite the violence which no one of us can accept. The peaceful demonstrators, I believe, in Greece do want to see the renewal of democracy. And this is a democratic challenge.
Because there is a paradox, dear friends, in our societies and in our world, we have a younger generation that know the problems. With their Internet they know the global problems and they feel these are problems in their societies, in their lives, and lives around the world.
But at the same time, because they are global problems, they are more difficult to deal with. The institutions are lacking.
They also see that there is great potential, yet this potential is harnessed not by the peoples but by special interests, and concentrated in the hands of few.
And this is also a huge frustration for the younger generation. No wonder they question our systems and our democracies, and no wonder we have the great task of renewing our democracies in a different way and seeing what democracy does mean today for our societies in a globalising economy.
But regarding the Arab countries, the Arab Spring, we are committed, as the Socialist International, to stand by the fight, the struggles of the democratic forces of the Arab world. We will be supporting, and are supporting, this process. We will be hearing in the next two days voices from the Arab world, the protagonists, many of them, in these dramatic changes. And we will be with them and act accordingly, the help them in their fight for democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
These revolutions have given the opportunity to all the voices and forces of society to express themselves. Obviously a lot of things are still at stake. New political parties need time to develop. In Egypt, new constitutions, questions about new constitutions are very prominent. Should they be drafted by a nation’s parliament that may not represent all the powers of society? Should they have representatives from civil society? Should there be a constitution protecting general principles, so that in the future we cannot have non-democratic or absolutist practices, policies? Should we not defend women’s rights in these societies, as a basis in these new constitutions?
So there is a need to construct societies that will avert sectarian clashes, religious, ethnic or gender divides.
The Arab revolutions obviously were a culmination of deep frustration created by regimes that initially started with ideas of liberation from foreign domination and economic progress, and ended up with distorted policies, ruling classes embedded in corruption, entrenched bureaucracy and skewed concentration of power.
And our organisation is here to help and to strengthen this movement, as we are rooted in the culture of internationalism, founded on the idea of mobilising at a global level in order to change national realities. And these ideas remain more relevant than ever.
Willy Brandt was a leader of rare insight and foresight, who understood the necessity of internationalism. He understood that a global organisation can only be managed, of course, through consensus. And that is what we try and continue to build in our movement.
And he said at the 80th Socialist International Congress in Stockholm, he said, “As an alliance of independent parties which share common ideals and work on the principle of consensus, we continue to be taken seriously as a political force. And if we manage to be opinion leaders on key issues that are now on the world agenda, there is no reason why this should not be the case tomorrow.”
I believe prophetic: We today and tomorrow are and will be more and more relevant for our world.
Today in the SI we will continue to operate on the principle of consensus-building. We have the task of setting up a working group for further strengthening our movement, making the necessary changes for the new times we have ahead, and certainly we will do so, taking into account the different, the diverse national and transnational terms and challenges to strengthen our democratic institutions, in our movement and in our societies, and deal with the global economy in complex times.
As I said, we are living in Greece through very rough, extremely rough times. And this means that democratic governance must make hard choices in the name of protecting their people and moving the societies forward.
This is a tough task, which challenges our strengths and our democratic institutions.
Again, internationally we have to go far to make changes. But I also know – and I would like to make a pledge here in finishing my speech – that, as we fight as a movement and for justice internationally, and I appreciate all your solidarity and cooperation in fighting for justice and change internationally – I also know, and we also know, that these struggles are difficult and may take time, hopefully much shorter than longer, but in the meantime we need, we all need, as national parties – and I pledge this to Greece also – to guarantee that our countries and guarantee that in Greece we make quick and decisive changes that will strengthen our citizens, stand by them, make them allow us to stand on our own two feet without borrowed powers, and develop our great potential which we have. And yes, we can.
In Greece, we do cherish democracy, not only because we are an ancient culture, a cradle of democracy, but also, as an historian wrote today in one of the international newspapers, Mark Mazower, because our people have fought for democracy in recent history, against fascism, against authoritarianism, from the Second World War to the dictatorship in the sixties, today Greece is again in the front line of the battle to tackle critical challenges, and our crisis is only an example of the crisis in our democratic societies and communities, and the challenges for our political family.
Whatever may happen, whatever may happen around the world, we are present with our voice, and I am determined in Greece to make sure that we strengthen our country, our peoples and our democracy.
But again, in helping empower our citizens, your presence here, your solidarity, your warmth, your smiles and expression of understanding of what we are going through, is certainly the strength that we need to continue on a difficult path. And this, I think, is also the strength of our movement, the strength that we have in solidarity, the strength that we have as comrades, as friends, to fight together in difficult times and have the strength to continue against all odds.
And we will, and we will survive and we will win. Thank you very much.