Audience questions after a speech to the LSE
Audience questions after a speech by George A. Papandreou to the LSE, on “Progressive Governance: Greece and the new international order”
Speaker: George Papandreou
Chair: Professor Kevin Featherstone
Kevin Featherstone: One gets the sense that the left is on the defensive. You are suggesting that the left should promote a new agenda of new global financial institutions, to establish security against the recent economic crisis.
What is needed, beyond the G20 conclusions, and why should we be optimistic that in the current climate the left is in a position to help set that agenda?
George A. Papandreou: Well, thank you, Kevin. First of all, talking about the left, the left is changing, and the left went through, in Europe particularly, a period where the dominant neo-liberal theory actually very often subsumed many of its policies.
We were also, in part, taken up by much of this mythology that the market will work wonders by itself.
But, as head of the Socialist International, I have often said, and once I had a protest from a US ambassador, I said that, well, we represent social democracy.
Unluckily, socialism had got a bad name from the USSR, but democracy also, under the Bush era, lost a lot of its shine. And we are seeing of course, with recent events in the US around the Abu Ghraib issue and Guantanamo what an impact this has created for the largest – or maybe not the largest because India I think may be the largest – one country that is considered the proponent of democracy throughout the world.
So what I am saying is that our agenda is to restore these values of democracy and of social solidarity.
Kevin Featherstone: That means going beyond what the G20 declared.
George A. Papandreou: And that means seeing what this means at the local, national, I would say European of course also, but also global level.
If we want to talk about the global level, and we have two commissions which I have created as head of the Socialist International – one is the Stiglitz Commission, the other one is on basically the energy crisis and the green economy, headed by Göran Persson, former Prime Minister of Sweden, and Ricardo Lagos, former President of Chile – we are saying that we need a more representative world body, when we talk about financial structures, and in general we need more representative structures for governing this planet.
Who is governing this planet? How are we going to, together, manage this planet? The G20 is only 20 countries, albeit they are the largest economies. But there are many other countries around the world, and some of the poorer countries, that have no voice. There are many other countries of medium-sized range, such as Greece, that also have no voice. Or we of course have a regional voice, through the European Union, which participates in the G20.
So what we have said is we need to find a structure at the global level which will allow for greater representation, particularly of the regions, so that we could have the African region, the European region, the Latin American region, the Asian region and so on and so forth, in this structure, and that this should also be in the confines of the UN, strengthening the UN and not as sort of an arbitrary ad hoc kind of a body.
Obviously the G20 has made a move forward in expanding from a G7 and a G8, but we are talking about greater democratic change in our global institutions. That’s why we have come up with ideas, such as a world financial organisation, making sure the IMF is more representative, changing the policies of the European Central Bank, which will look at issues not only of inflation but also of development, green economy, employment and so on.
Kevin Featherstone: OK, thank you. No doubt there will be questions on that theme a little later.
Could I now then switch to matters related to Greece? You finished with a bold claim that, if you were to form the next government, you would like to make Greece “a model of democratic governance, fighting corruption and nepotism,” as you put it. And you made this very interesting proposal about transparency, that every document signed by a minister or a high public official would be placed on the Internet.
Can I just explore what are the limits to that? For example, you have long experience of being Minister of Foreign Affairs. Presumably, there would be aspects of diplomatic negotiations or draft documents switched between Athens and Skopje, for example, which might be not placed immediately on the Internet.
George A. Papandreou: Thank you. First of all, we have a system which is very non-transparent in Greece, so there is much room for change. Secondly, what we are saying is, particularly when we are dealing with the public’s money, where a minister signs a document to give money somewhere, whether it is a procurement or whether it is an employee, that this immediately goes onto the Internet, it goes online, otherwise it’s not valid, it’s not legal.
And we may have a question for example of military procurements, but what we have said here is let’s take military procurements at least to the parliament, to be checked by inter-party, if you like, or all-party parliamentary committee, so that there is greater transparency there.
We also would like to see that if we do this at the ministerial level we would slowly move down to all other levels of government, such as local government, where there also seems to be quite a bit of corruption also.
So we would see that local government decisions would have to be on the Internet, where neighbours can check and say, well, where did this money go, who did it go to?
So this would, I think, be one way, not the only, but one way to check where people’s monies go. I have suggested this again and again in parliament, when I talk to the Prime Minister and we have a debate. I have suggested it when I have met him personally. And I have said we could together sit down and work a number of proposals, to change the way our public system works, so that we have meritocracy, so that we have transparency, so that we have accountability, evaluation of our practices, and really promote a more modern public service.
And unluckily he hasn’t accepted. Not only did I say this in 2004, five years ago, but then in 2005 and in 2006 we came up with very specific proposals. And now we have put to the public very specific, I would say, commitments, to what we will do as government tomorrow.
So I just find that there is not the political will from the other side.
Kevin Featherstone: OK. I can see this would be a highly innovative step. I can’t think of parallels in other governments at the moment.
George A. Papandreou: I think Denmark and Holland are doing some of this. And we have worked with Transparency International on this also.
Kevin Featherstone: OK, but I was particularly interested in what the limits might be, what might not be made available, for example in foreign affairs. Surely there would be documents there which would not be made public, whether they are signed or not.
George A. Papandreou: It is true that international affairs, and some very sensitive issues, would have to be possibly exempt. However, even there, there is a process where other parties can ask for documents, and in confidence can usually get most of them.
So we would do this and this would be a trust which we would of course have to develop between the parties, and which we, I think, have been able to establish over the years, for the most, even in areas of foreign affairs.
Kevin Featherstone: OK, that’s impressive. Could I ask another question about coming into government as Prime Minister? One of the things that strikes me in the Greek context is very much that the system of governance emphasises the power of ministries, rather than the Prime Minister. In other words, coordinating this large machine of governance seems to be an enormous task.
One fact: The Prime Minister’s office in Ireland employs something like three times the number of staff of the Prime Minister’s office in Greece, Greece being something like three times as large as Ireland. In other words, the number of staff around the Prime Minister in Greece seems to be unusually small.
Given the task of trying to coordinate government, given the task of accountability, given the task of trying to set new priorities, I wonder what innovations you might make, as Prime Minister, managing the government machine, in addition to the point about transparency.
George A. Papandreou: First of all, one of the problems, I believe, we have in Greece is that – you mentioned it: it is that we have a, even though a strong prime ministerial office, but not necessarily with the capacities to actually follow up the priorities and make sure that there is accountability by the ministers.
So what happens in the end is that power is given to ministers and then they end up being a little bit like feudal lords with their own feudal territory, where they have followed their policies, may clash with other ministers and other ministries and really not have a consistent view of where things are going.
So we do need a stronger prime ministerial office. But I also would like to say that we need greater capacity at the higher level of governance in our political system, in our government. When I say higher capacity, I don’t mean that we need to create a bigger government. We have a huge government in Greece, a huge public sector. But it’s so big and it’s so bureaucratic, that in fact it’s ineffective.
So we in fact would say we would like to decentralise power to local government, so that most of the services that people need are delivered directly through local government, which is what most other democratic European countries have, whether it’s the UK or whether it’s Germany or whether it’s Sweden or some other country.
And therefore central government has to be much slimmer, if you like, but much stronger in capacity, to monitor, to understand the type of problems, to research the type of different policies we could follow, to develop the necessary alternatives, to train the public servants in the new capabilities, the new needs, the new technology and so on.
So that’s why what I am planning to do, if I am given the mandate by the Greek people, is to make sure that we choose, at the highest of levels, the people that are advisors and general secretaries in a meritocratic way. We have excellent professionals in Greece and around the world.
Kevin Featherstone: Many of them graduates of the LSE.
George A. Papandreou: Many of them graduates of the LSE. We need to use this capacity. We say in Greece, you know, usually you put in your koumbaros. That’s not the policy I’ll follow. I want to find the best we have, and we have good people, and we need to use our good people, men and women, from around the world and in Greece.
And then we can say that yes, of course, we will have a government which knows what it is doing, a government which will bring in innovation, a government which can bring in research and development, a government which can serve the people in a better way.
Kevin Featherstone: OK, on the theme of bringing people in, it seems to be the appropriate time to open things up to the audience. There are people around the theatre with roving microphones to pick up the questions. There are microphones both upstairs and downstairs. Could we ask you please to ask questions, rather than speeches, but could you also identify who you are. Could we take the gentleman with the spectacles here first, please?
Question (K. Tsoupras): Thank you very much, Chair. My name is Kyriakos Tsoupras. I am a journalist, the London correspondent of the Cyprus News Agency. Very, very noble aims of this very commendable lecture. I wonder whether there is a need to distinguish between what is good wishing, theoretical, and what is, or could be, a realistic target. Like for instance you refer to specific aims of a new PASOK government. And, Chair, I wonder whether you allow me to ask also which is outside the strict limits of the subject, could I, on Cyprus?
George A. Papandreou: Go ahead, please.
Question (K. Tsoupras): Well, thank you very much. What is the PASOK position on Cyprus, vis-à-vis Turkey’s ambition for the European Union? Thank you.
Kevin Featherstone: Could we take a couple more?
George A. Papandreou: Sure, fine.
Question: Basically what I would like to say is, OK, it says on the wall New International Order. Now, I was here a few weeks ago when George Soros was speaking, and he basically had his own vision of a new international order, and I questioned him about the new liberal policies of him and, say, people that are representative at the G20. And he gave me a very interesting answer. He basically told me that the proposals of, say, the left in this fight are very idealistic. And not only that. Human nature, whatever that means, prevents people from doing things of a progressive nature, because it’s not in their self-interest. Now, what I am interested in knowing is what do you think is the human nature of people in this regard. Can socialism function in the way… …He’s putting his hood up. So I would like to ask Mr. Papandreou: What are you going to do to reform this organisation that is called the Greek Police?
Kevin Featherstone: So we have about the Greek Police.
George A. Papandreou: Well, first of all, before we get to Cyprus, you did imply that what we are saying is wishful thinking, Mr. Tsoupras. But I don’t see why it’s wishful thinking. If you look around, you will see people that are very capable, in this room, as in many other universities in and outside Greece. I don’t see why it’s wishful thinking to say that we can set up a process whether we use the high-quality human capacity of Hellenism to run a country, and run our public services.
That is simply a question of political will. It is nothing else, and I have the political will to do this.
And it is a question of political will to reform the police. When PASOK came to government in 1981, I remember, and our generation went through, I remember, military service where, if you were on the left you were sent to very specific areas of Greece. You were, as they said, φακελωμένος. You had – what would it be called? – your file on you about what your political beliefs were.
So we had a task to change as much as possible the Greek police, and to make it not an enemy of the people, because the people were seen as an enemy by the authoritarian regimes we lived through, and they used the police, of course, as one of their arms, in order to keep control. And that was of course all through from the Second World War, the Civil War, beyond the Civil War to the sixties, and then the dictatorship into the seventies.
So it took a while. But we were able to turn this around, and I think when we left government in 2004 – I’m not saying things were perfect, but we did have a police which was respected, which people felt safe in their neighbourhoods, people felt that, you know, the police would respect people, they wouldn’t shoot a young boy, they wouldn’t sort of get into these types of activities, or they wouldn’t beat up an observer of a demonstration in Salonica and then be promoted for doing so.
I feel that the Greek Police has been used by this government, as unluckily traditionally has been done by the right, as sort of seen as one of their political arms, if you like, a privileged area of patronage and clientelism.
And this has destroyed, I think, both the morale and the workings of the police, and we need to bring back meritocracy in the police system, planning, police going to the neighbourhoods to help the family, normal day-to-day crimes that take place, training, more education. And people who are employed in the police will be employed after strict examination.
So I think that this is something we need to, unluckily, return to again, which we I thought had made a pretty good job of doing by 2004.
Now the idea of you protested, rightly so, by putting a hood on your head. We have this, I think, quite absurd law – I am sorry that Sarkozy also thinks that this will work; I don’t think it will work – saying that we will stop the violence or the stone-throwing or the youth protests if we make wearing a hood illegal.
Well, I think that this is just an expression of the inability of this government to really deal with these problems, and the depth of some of these issues.
Now, going to Cyprus and Turkey, I have, you know very well, worked on this issue for a large part of my political life. And I have fought to come up with a decision that the European Union made in 1999 in Helsinki, which stated that all countries who want to become members of the European Union must respect European law, must respect good neighbourliness, good neighbourly relationships, must respect all other members of the European Union – that would include of course Cyprus and Greece – and that we would be very much, and we are very much in favour of a European prospect for Turkey, and I have been very clear on that, but that there is a very specific roadmap of obligations.
And I feel that this government, our government, our Greek government, has not used this opportunity to really negotiate within the European context solutions on, for example, the continental shelf or on Cyprus, as much as it could. I feel that it has not developed a real strategy, and just left things to fate. And that has made things more complicated and more difficult.
What I want to send as a message is that yes, I will stand by this pledge of wanting to see Turkey move towards Europe, but that Turkey should not take Greece for granted, and that the issue of Cyprus is a major issue which we must see solved.
And I want to remind many who many not know in this room that the issue of Cyprus is not an issue of a problem between the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots. It is an issue of an invasion of a country, Turkey, a military invasion, into an independent country, the Cypriot Republic, the Republic of Cyprus. And today we still have thousands and thousands of Turkish troops occupying the northern part of Cyprus, illegally.
So I would say one first important move that Turkey could make is take out the troops. It wants to be in Europe. Cyprus is in Europe, Greece is in Europe. We don’t need a military presence on Cyprus. That would be one first move which would really help in developing a new dynamic for the solution of the Cyprus problem.
Finally, on a more philosophical issue, well, yes. Neo-liberalism has been based on the idea that people work and think only for their individual interest. And that in fact issues, or feelings such as empathy or solidarity or communal life are nothing more than simply maybe an aggregate of individual interests.
And through this has come the theory that, well, then we need free markets, where we allow everybody to have a free choice.
Well, first of all, it’s not true that everybody has a free choice, because some people have better choices than others. Some people have more money, some people are born in better environments, and therefore there is great inequality, which does not allow for free choice.
But secondly, even recent biological studies of the human brain have shown that the idea of community, the idea of human empathy, is in fact part of our hardwiring of our brain.
So I would say that if we are talking about human nature, our community, living in a community, living amongst people, feeling a sense of solidarity, yes, that is part of a human being which we cannot negate.
So I would say yes, there are individual interests, but we also feel very much part of a society. And unluckily neo-liberalism has made us individuals very much alone. We need to bring back this humanity into our societies, this sense of solidarity and human relations.
Kevin Featherstone: OK, let’s take some more. Could we take a question from the gentleman?
Question (Keith Raffen): Thank you very much for a very interesting discussion. You mentioned President Obama and his famous election call, and you also talked about the co-creative system. He would never have gained the nomination, had it been from simply within the official party system itself. And I know that you have experimented with a degree of using open primaries in Greece. Could you say: a) something about what those experiments are, and whether there is a public will and belief in Greece that they could be effective? And could I just add, as we have a party, the governing party, that I think is in the Socialist International, here, that … …critical remarks about putting money into rescuing the banks. I think the remarks ran along the lines of: rather than putting money into rescuing the banks, put it into healthcare reform, education reform, and so on. Wouldn’t you agree that we are not going to get the international economy going again until we… It’s why putting money into the banks is so crucial, and it’s crucial we do it urgently.
Kevin Featherstone: Thanks. Sorry, could you just identify who you are?
Question (Keith Raffen): Keith Raffen.
George A. Papandreou: This is a worrying development, which is undermining our democratic institutions, and it’s undermining something even deeper: our sense of confidence in justice.
And if our citizens do not feel that there is a sense of justice, that those who are in power or those who are powerful or those who have the means and the ways can influence, or get away, or even bend the laws, then why will our citizens want to abide by laws? Why will our citizens feel that they belong to this society?
We immediately create a sense of rupture, a sense of alienation, a sense of lack of cohesion.
So if we are talking about a real unity within any society, we need to base this on basic principles. We need that a national level; we need that a global level. We need the sense of justice to be there, if we want to be able to feel that people feel that they are a part of society, that if something goes wrong there will be justice, which will be meted out.
This is a big issue in Greece, as there have been a number of issues of alleged corruption, of high political officials. The government has continued to deny due procedure in Parliament, to make sure that these issues are out in the air and we actually examine them.
And they have found a number of allies in the justice system, which have colluded, whether it is openly or in another way. They have colluded, however, in covering up these issues.
So that’s why we have said that we feel that this is something that is undermining our democratic system.
What will we do? Well, obviously, if you want in Greece to make major changes in the justice system, so that it becomes more independent, much more independent, we also need to change the Constitution. And that takes many years, particularly since we just did in this session of Parliament.
However, what we do, or we can do, is: As you know, in Greece it is the Cabinet that appoints the leadership of the justice system, the judiciary. What we can do is, rather than having the Cabinet appoint, we can have public hearings of Parliament for the candidates for the leadership of the judiciary system.
So in fact the transparency, the public hearings which you will have, will be an important guarantee, maybe not an absolute, but an important guarantee, that we choose the best that we have, the ones that have the cleanest of records, the most independent, the most loyal to their profession and to the goals of justice.
So I think this is one thing which we can do, and I think there are many others also.
Now, if we go to the issue of democracy and primaries, and I have talked with Anthony Burnett over the years on this issue, we decided in Greece to elect the leader of our party – I was elected twice – through primaries, through a national primary.
I believe that has strengthened us, not weakened us, even though in the second election I didn’t have an opponent. In the first one I had two opponents. And of course it can be a bitter battle within a party, and within families you can have some of the most bitter of battles.
But I think what it has shown is that again on the basis of principles we have a much stronger unity of a party and a much greater participation and understanding of our positions, our policies…
Kevin Featherstone: Just to supplement that – sorry – how do you prevent someone in Canada who is not Greek voting in such an election? How do you control for non-PASOK voters voting to elect you?
George A. Papandreou: For non-PASOK voters we cannot control. For non-Greek we can, because they would have to have a passport. But for non-PASOK, no.
And as a matter of fact we did primaries for my election or for our leadership election, but also we did it on an experimental basis for local elections, too. And I do remember going to one of the primaries for a local election in Megara, and I had a number of party cadres coming to say, “But you know, there are these right-wing voters and they are coming to vote in our primaries.” I said, “That’s great! That is great.”
Now, some people are saying they will send these armies of voters to change the… No, people are not armies. People are not soldiers in politics. Maybe some may do this in a fanatic way.
But in general if you trust the wider population – you will have very small groups that may want to do this – in general, you will have people who genuinely want to participate, and say, “If this party opens up the doors for me, and I can go vote and influence this party, I’ll go and do it. And maybe even support this party, and maybe even support the candidate afterwards.” And I think that’s what happened.
So I think what we are saying is, we are saying yes, of course, our members, our basic core, but we are opening it up to friends, and even non-friends, non-party supporters, if you like.
But there are other areas of deliberation which we need to work on, too. The Internet we are trying to use, as Barack Obama did. And the Internet of course is not yet a real electronic demos, and not a real electronic democracy, although it is developing new forms.
But can you imagine, for example, I’m sure most of you, or all of you, know Wikipedia. Well, think of Wikipedia as an amazing human experiment of people collaborating with each other throughout the world, this planet, to develop a project. I don’t think humanity has ever witnessed something like this in the past.
Well, why can we as governments do this, not only for our citizens in Greece but also bringing in expertise from around the world?
For example, we had fires in Olympia, in the Peloponnese, last year. We put on the Web a contest for ideas of how we would change and restructure the whole region, to make it a prototype of a green economy, of tourism, of education, athletics, culture and so on. And we’ll be getting the final results I think in April, by the end of this month.
Kevin Featherstone: I am conscious of the time. Andrew’s point was about citizens’ responsibilities and rights. To what extent are rights dependent on responsibilities?
George A. Papandreou: Well, I think we would agree. I don’t know if it’s maybe an obvious point, but I have felt that the more people feel that their rights are respected, the more responsible they feel. If you can give them the possibilities for participating, then in general – that’s my feeling – they will be taking on more responsibility.
Now, you need a political system also that educates. I think this is where politics has to change, because we have often created an image of a leader that knows everything and will bring solutions to you, and all you have to do is pay your taxes, sit at home, obey the law, and everything will be solved. I don’t think our complex world will work that way any more.
And politicians don’t have all the solutions. But they do have the way, the possibility, to democratise our societies, to bring in ideas and solutions, and participation, and co-creation, as we were talking about, in order to deal with the issues.
Kevin Featherstone: About the banks, the rescue of the banks, you were not implying that the bailout of the banks was wrong…
George A. Papandreou: …these toxic assets, without really knowing what the prices of these toxic assets were and are, and the risk would not be going to the hedge funds or the banks that will be buying these up or the investors that will be buying these up. They will in fact get a stipend. The risk will go to the taxpayer.
So the question is: When we have these bailouts, there is a real redistributive effect of wealth. Are we redistributing to help our national economy? Are we redistributing to help small and medium-sized enterprises? Or are we simply redistributing to fill out the black holes of the banks?
And I think this is what criticism has come in. Read Joe Stiglitz. He has a whole article on this.
Kevin Featherstone: OK, thank you. I think we have time just for one last question, and I am going to disappoint about 90 people in the room waving at me at the moment. The gentleman right at the back.
Question: If you become Prime Minister in the next few months or the next couple of years, your government will be responsible for the appointment of over 1500 key public-sector employees, outside the jurisdiction of ASEP. Can you give us here a public commitment that all these posts, all 1500 posts, or perhaps more… What are your ideas for twenty-first-century grassroots campaigning, given that we’ve got a very demoralized electorate, who don’t trust either the left or the right? How are we going to get into power?
George A. Papandreou: Some good and provocative questions.
Grassroots organising. Well, let me just put it this way, that parties will organise to try to get their message across in many different ways, and I think people have organised in very different ways over the years. Now, I’ve heard very often that we parties pollute by throwing paper around, and so on.
Well, if you have other ways of access to other media, I think that will change. And as television has come in, and radio, that has somewhat slowed down.
I think what we have also done is we have much more organised billboards, which by law allow parties specific areas to put their posters and so on.
But I don’t think that one can really contain all the different types of ways grassroots will organise.
But I think a bigger threat to grassroots politics is how representative our parties really are and how much we can really capture the spirit of grassroots organising.
And in Greece and in many other parts of the world, the question of political money is a very big issue. That’s why we have made very specific proposals of electoral reform, not only for the campaign money but also for how we run our own finances in the party.
And we have said all our finances are soon to be on the Internet, all our finances. We also have said we want our money, any donations, to be given through a bank in a transparent way and on the Internet.
So I think this is another area which we need to look at to make sure that citizens really feel that they are represented, and not simply have parties that have been captured by big money or big power or media, and so on.
On the issue of what I would do in the case of being Prime Minister and appointing high-level, I mentioned it in my speech, or I mentioned it actually in one of your questions. But I’ll be more clear on this.
It will be for every top-level seat, and there are, as you said, thousands of them – the government appoints a large number of people for the councils, from hospitals to public works, electricity companies, banks, and so on – not all are private; some are semi-private – we have in many areas the competency to appoint people.
What I have said is that we will have an open process, an open announcement of interest, call for interest by people, again through the Internet, where people can be evaluated, whether they are in Greece or whether they are outside of Greece.
And I say this because you’ll say well, you’re saying this now; you won’t do it afterwards. Well, one thing I did when I was in the Ministry of Education some years ago, I remember when we were to advertise for a position in the university, when the university was to advertise for a professorial position. The law said that it had to advertise in two newspapers, one Athenian and one local, regional newspaper. What happened is that they would choose a date and a newspaper in Athens and in the region, which was very non-transparent. And someone in Greece, much less in London or in the United States or in Australia or somewhere else in the world, would never find out that there was a position open, that a professor could find a job.
So I did something very simple. And this was in 1994, when the Internet was not as developed as it is today. I put into law that there will be no legal announcement of a position for professor if it is not put on the Internet, and you don’t have at least a period of time – I don’t remember if it was two months or what – for it to be on the Internet before it would close the candidate list.
And that allowed, that very simple decision allowed for many important and good professors to be able to come and compete with others to get the position.
So this is what I will do. I will do it from the general secretaries to the councils also. So this is my commitment, and I will do this.
Finally, on the Greek church, a big issue. I have, again and again, said that we need to have two very distinct roles between state and church. This will be healthy both for the church and for the state. I recently met with Archbishop Ieronymos. I was very glad that, when we made a public statement together, he also talked about the distinct roles of church and state, and I think that’s a very important move.
So I think this will be an important move of modernisation for Greek democracy.
Thank you very much. Thank you.