George A. Papandreou (born June 16, 1952) is Former Prime Minister of Greece, current President of Socialist International, a Member of the Hellenic Parliament and former President of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK). He served as the 11th Prime Minister of Greece from October 6, 2009 - November 11, 2011, after PASOK’s victory in the October 2009 national elections.

George A. Papandreou

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Speech at the Progressive Convention of the PES

“Dear friends, let me begin by thanking Poul Rasmussen for his inspiring words. You represent, Poul, what we socialists and democrats are fighting for: an inspiring vision, a different vision, a more just vision of our societies and our economies, a more humane society.

And you have shown both courage and wisdom, knowledge and foresight, because today we need what you have said more than ever. Today we are asked, many ask me, well, is socialism, is social democracy, our progressive politics, are they relevant to this crisis? Where is the socialist presence?

And I think the answer you have given, Poul, is very clear. And our answer is very clear. Europe today would not be in this crisis if today we had a socialist, social democratic, progressive Europe.

Because today Europe is dominated by the conservatives, and it is the conservatives that have failed. They have failed Europe, and they have failed their people. They have failed our people.

As in Greece, where we, the socialists, we have been prudent, we have been courageous, even patriotic, we have not flinched in front of the difficulties of the markets and our duty to our people, to take difficult measures, sacrifices by our people, in order to put our house in order.

But also to make major reforms, to fight against tax evasion and create a just Taxis that was to blame for what had happened.

And to clean up the mess we inherited – and people sometimes forget this – from a conservative government. And yet we even sought out and were able to have the goal, make the goal a reality, of a wide grand coalition, even with the conservative party, who was to blame for much of the situation we were in. But we did this because this was our duty to our people.

But it was also a conservative Europe that turned a blind eye, did not check the previous Greek government when its spending went up to 16% deficit in 2009, when the total debt of our country almost doubled in the five and a half years of the rule of the conservative government.

But dear friends, we know, as socialists, that we must be fiscally responsible. And we have shown this in Greece, we have shown this in Portugal, we have shown this in Spain.

We also know that this alone will not solve the crisis. Fiscal discipline alone will not solve the crisis.

And my dear friends, I may not be prime minister any more, but I am much freer to speak right now.

If every member state of the European Union simply cut their budget, and there was no stimulus for growth from anywhere, we would simply spiral into a deeper and deeper recession all together, and this is close to where we are going.

This is why we have said, we socialists have said, from the beginning, that we need a European growth strategy. Yes, fiscal responsibility at the national level, but a responsible growth strategy at the European level.

We don’t say throw away our money or throw money at the problem. We say invest in a Europe which is going to be competitive, invest in a Europe of quality and competitive products. Invest in green energy. Invest in Europe-wide energy grids. Invest in broadband. Invest in transportation projects that will unify and strengthen Europe. Invest in people, invest in our youth. Invest in our training. Invest in our innovation. Invest in jobs, jobs and jobs again.

And yes, we do have the funds, if we have the will, if we adopt a financial transaction tax, if we use project Eurobonds, if we adopt a CO2 tax. These proposals have been our proposals over the past years.

The conservatives, they pay lip service to these proposals, but in practice they have done the opposite.

But we socialists have said more. We have said that in this globalising economy competitiveness has been based on inequality and not quality. Emerging economies, while impressive and hopeful for the world, do take advantage of these deep inequalities. Lack of labour laws, lack of collective bargaining, lack of social welfare, low wages, often even lack of human rights, lack of the environmental protection: this is what we are competing against. And all the above give a temporary competitive advantage to these countries.

But is this the model we want to emulate? Is this the model of Europe we want?

So we say no. We want growth and, yes, we want competitiveness, but based on quality and not inequality. That is our difference.

We also say we need regulation. I would call it something deeper: democratic governance and democratic oversight. Because the rise in inequality in our societies and between our societies has created a concentration of power, huge concentrations of money, of media, of power, in the hands of a few around the world.

We have created an uber-class, a super-class, that is beyond democratic control of our nations. And this is a deep democratic deficit. A super-class that is stronger in money and in power than our own democratic institutions, that can even capture – whether it is lobbies or whether it is through corruption – it can capture our democracies.

And this has happened, even in the US, notwithstanding in many other parts of the world, where now people are taking to the streets and are saying, “Let us reoccupy our democracies. Let us rejuvenate our democracies. Let us bring democracy back, because it is lost to the hands of the few that have the power.”

And they say, “Let us redistribute wealth, in order to redistribute power.” or let us say maybe “redistribute power in order to redistribute wealth”.

And this inequality of power is what many intellectuals and Nobel Prizewinners today are saying. It was at the core of the financial crisis, as it was in 1929, as it is today.

And in my country I called for a referendum. In fact, I called for a referendum in order to redistribute power. Yes, to give power to the people, to voice their will, to go beyond vested interests and strong conservative establishments that did not want change and reform.

Because yes, the first two years was a big toll on the worker, the pensioner, the average man or woman in the street.

But now we are making deep changes in an establishment that does not want to change. And this is very progressive.

So I wanted to allow the people of Greece to decide our future and the ownership of this major reform programme. And to make all parties, and in particular the conservatives, accountable, accountable and responsible, beyond the simple populisms and rhetoric.

And of course it did work, because now we brought them into a grand coalition.

Yes, I called for a referendum because I said, “Beyond anyone else, beyond vested interests, beyond bankers, beyond media moguls and barons, beyond the closed-doors politics, there is our citizen.”

And I believe in our people, in the people of Greece, as I believe in the people of Europe.

And if we are to fight inequality and injustice, we must mobilise our citizens by giving them a voice, bringing them to create this new Europe we want to make.

But we socialists in Europe, and you, Poul, years ago warned of this inequality and this injustice. From hedge funds to rating agencies.

But where is conservative Europe? All talk, no action.

Where is the transparency for banks and the financial system, which we have talked about, at least since 2008 and even before? We talked about this even before the crisis of 2008.

Where is the financial transaction tax? Where is the transparency for the credit default swaps, the CDSs, the speculators? Where is the democratic oversight of rating agencies?

Where is the transparency for tax havens that are robbing revenues of our countries and our peoples, when we are paying back to banks, but these banks also, this financial system also gives loopholes to the rich, so that they are not paying their taxes, but the people, the worker, the pensioner is paying his or her tax.

And where is Europe in this? Europe has lost its role and its potential under conservative rule. Europe has lost its potential and value, and even moral standing, worldwide under conservative rule.

Where is Europe when the world around us is changing? Where is Europe in helping the Arab Spring, the Middle East conflict? Where is Europe with the bricks? Where is Europe on climate change, which at one point, yes, we were in the forefront, but our voice was lost somewhere along road?

Today we could solve so many crises, and we could be a contributor to a very different global society.

We have the power. If we are not divided, we have the power. And this is what Poul said and I want to stress this. If we do things together, together, together – the three T’s as Poul said, and not the three A’s (Alone, alone, alone).

And the conservatives have this wrong also, and it is very dangerous. They have created new divisions and new prejudices in this European family.

They fostered the idea that this crisis was the bad PIIGS – you know the PIIGS, who the PIIGS are – that they were to blame, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain.

And I said some months ago in Warsaw, “We are all PIIGS.” Because this is a crisis which is systemic. We may have, each of us, our responsibility, but this crisis is systemic.

And I also said, “I am proud to be a PIIG, as I am proud to be Greek, as I am proud to be French, as I am proud to be German, as I am proud to be Dutch, as I am proud to be Italian, as I am proud to be Polish, because I am proud to be European.”

And this is why we must go beyond our petty nationalisms, our prejudices and our politics, these politics of fear that the conservatives are promoting.

We are, yes, a multicultural Europe, and we are all European. We share basic values.

And that is our strength; that is not our weakness. We can, together.

And when we said we need to pool our efforts, conservative Europe did too little, too late. And now the crisis has hit us all. It is widening and it is spreading.

And yet there is still hope. But we need to move fast, together.

For example, Eurobonds, or stability bonds, pooling our strengths, not simply pooling our debt, but pooling our strengths will create a strong euro and a strong reserve currency in the world, where many emerging economies and others will want to invest in.

But we cannot do this three or two or even one year in the future. The crisis is upon us, and it is upon us now.

You see the difference between conservatives and the socialists or democrats. Our policies are based on real cooperation, coordination, pooling our powers, respecting each other, in order to deal with the markets, whether it is climate change, whether it is migration. We want to work together to deal with these issues.

The conservatives, while talking about a strong Europe, have divided us, have created new fissures, new fears, new nationalisms and new scapegoats.

And this is tearing at the foundations of this Union, and this is dangerous, this is very dangerous.

And this is why our struggle is not simply to find the right tools or the right techniques. Ours is a deeper struggle. Ours is one for values we cherish.

As Jürgen Habermas said only a few days ago, after I had called for a referendum, he said there is an urgent need to save the dignity of democracy, hence to save the dignity of our citizens, to save the democratic and social values Europe was founded on, and to create a Europe capable of facing the challenges of globalisation, a Europe where our citizens participate and are not left out, are not in the margins, where decisions are not taken behind closed doors by a few, by a few powerful actors, but where Europe becomes a Europe both of the people and for the people.

Dear friends, in these battles Poul has been at the forefront. Battles for the Eurobonds, the financial transaction tax, the role of rating agencies, and so much more. Poul, we share a vision, we all share your vision, and the efforts that you have made are highly appreciated.

So I have no doubt we will continue, and you will continue to offer your wisdom, your experience, your knowledge to our family.

I wish you the best, and I am looking forward, we are all looking forward to our continued cooperation and continued struggle.

And the struggle will go on. And yes, vinceremos. We will win.”

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