- George A. Papandreou - https://papandreou.gr/en/ -

The crisis is an opportunity to bring up our values

Address at the session of the Council of the European Socialist Party in Madrid

George Papandreou: Dear comrades, first of all I am bringing, as you can see, the enthusiasm from Greece. We are doing much better as a movement. As a Greek, as a European, but as the head of the Socialist International, I very much endorse the manifesto.

And this says one thing, that our local agenda, our citizens’ agenda in our towns, in our cities, in our rural areas, our regional agenda, as in Europe, but our global agenda, is now one for us socialists. And it is to empower our citizens. That is why we say citizens first.

If we do not empower our citizens, they will look for power elsewhere, and that is where the right will take advantage, by creating fear, insecurity, and by offering populist, racist or fear-mongering solutions. We need to empower our citizens, to give them the strength.

And this crisis is also an opportunity, an opportunity and a responsibility for us all, in our countries, in Europe and in the world, to bring up, as you have said, our values. In fact our values are those, and when implemented, we do empower our citizens. We do give them the necessary strength in our societies. We empower our community. We empower our institutions.

I will speak of four values which I think are important, for our manifesto and for socialists around the world.

The first is democracy, democracy and freedom. We have seen in this crisis the failure of our democratic institutions, because of the huge concentration of power by but neo-conservatives, the neo-conservative policies, in the hands of the few, whether it is economic power, whether it is media power, whether it is political power, whether it is the capture of our institutions by the few.

So what we want is redistribution of power to our people, where they see that our institutions are accountable, where we don’t have this crisis again, where they see that the international institutions, the European institutions, our national institutions, our local institutions do reflect, do represent, truly, our people, our citizens, their needs, their rights, protecting their rights, protecting the right to speak out, to create networks, to be able to be empowered. So democracy is the first value.

And this crisis, I think, has shown that we need to reinvent democracy around the world, rejuvenate, give oxygen to our democratic institutions.

Secondly is social justice and solidarity. If we want to empower our citizens, they need to feel secure. They need to feel that they are protected. They need to feel that they are not going to fall through the cracks. And this means making sure that our pension systems are more strong, not less strong, in the crisis, that the unemployment benefits are better, stronger, more effective, not less effective in this crisis. That health is more effective, gives greater security, and particularly for those that need more empowerment, our youth, women, pensioners.

But I will also mention one very important category for Europe, and that is migrants. We must not allow the issue of migration to be taken up by the right. We must be aggressive in saying that migrants are, for us, not a problem of fear, but a solution and a help for the European Union.

And we must be aggressive. And I know Jose Luis Zapatero has been very strong in this.

Thirdly, as Alfred Gusenbauer has said, green development. Empower our people by giving them the possibility to create energy. True power in that sense also. Renewable resources, renewable sources of energy.

Invest. We must invest, not only for today, not only in dealing with the crisis of today, but invest for the future. Investing today will be investing for the future, and that is green development.

And this is where I also believe that whatever measures we are taking in Europe, I think we have made one step ahead, but we could make more steps ahead, and particularly if we were a majority in Europe we would be taking more steps ahead on this issue. And we need to make whatever changes we make to be focused on the infrastructure for green development, for education, for research, for innovation, to bring all the talents we have, that Europe has, and give it the strength, empower it, to make the changes that are coming for us, the climate change and so on.

And this is, I think, a very important point. The new steam engine of our economic growth must be green development. And here Poul and the PS manifesto has talked about this bond, a very important idea. Congratulations. I think this is something we socialists can very much put at the top of our agenda. The left agenda is also a green agenda; we have to say that very clearly.

Finally, peace. Obama is an historic change in the United States. But who are the partners of Obama? It should have been a progressive Europe. Europe is now dominated by neo-cons or by neo-liberals. And we are losing an opportunity. As humanity, as a planet, we are losing an opportunity for peace.

Because what we are bringing is a different culture of dealing with problems around the world. Not fear, but dialogue. Not threat, but negotiation. Not preventive wars, but preventive diplomacy. This is the difference.

And in this way Europe can play an important role, but the Europe of the socialists, the Europe of the democrats, the Europe that will be able to help solve problems like Cyprus, that will be able to help strengthen South Eastern Europe, that will be able to deal with the issues of nuclear disarmament, Iran, but will be able to deal with the issues of terrorism, in a very different way.

In our Socialist International, President Zardari of Pakistan – he is a member; he is the Vice President of the Socialist International – I talked to him yesterday. He wants to create a commission on terrorism, bring in Pakistanis, Indians, Europeans, others around the world, for a new approach to how we deal with this issue. We can bring solutions.

As Obama has rebranded the United States, we can and must rebrand Europe. Europe was born on the idea of peace on the European continent. Now we must reinvent Europe as peace in a globalising world, as a socialist project of humanising globalisation.

And we can do that if we win these elections and we win in our countries and we win in our cities, and we make sure that this crisis is a real opportunity for our citizens, for Europeans, for the whole world. And this is our task, and I am optimistic we can do this. Thank you.

Question: Thank you so much. I’ll try to be very brief. I think that this crisis, this failure, of neo-liberal and neo-conservative capitalism, does not mean automatically a victory of the social democracy, and I think that we can agree on that.

In order to transform what we can see as an opportunity for the social democracy to win into a reality, I believe we have to be more authentic, more clear, and to go back to our electorate, which is our traditional electorate.

So my question is how can we do that, in transforming our manifesto from a minimal denominator paper into a maximal list of social democratic solutions addressed to the actual challenges. We don’t need a minimal denominator, I believe. Could we go further?

And my second point is: This crisis proved that we need more Europe rather than less Europe. How can we get more Europe, if we are always looking to our traditions as obstacles towards more Europe? How can we have more Europe, since we do not understand that the threat for national ideals is not the European unity but the oligarchic fragmentations of our nations? So how can we transform traditions into bases for change, and not to keep them…… ……. providing security and safety.

We must not leave these topics of them, but instead of our activity, and I think the activity promotes our own solutions.

And my question is what do you think about this development to be talking about security issues and safety issues as well? Thank you.

George Papandreou: It’s a good question, I think what we are seeing maybe for the first time, not only in Europe. I think Poul has worked very hard to bring the Socialist Party together, and the different traditions we have.

But even on the international level we are seeing for the first time a common consciousness, a common consciousness of our peoples around the planet, about the types of problems we have. The financial crisis has brought this to the fore, but the climate crisis was there, the energy crisis was there, the food crisis was there. We see that there is a global agenda.

We also see that we can, as humanity, make huge changes, if we want. We have amazing powers, so much wealth in our planet, so much technology and knowledge, so much possibility to do research and find solutions.

But our citizens feel disempowered. They do not feel that this is being managed, that this is being governed in any way, and they do not feel that they have a voice.

So I think what we can do is not to create a centralised, top-down, as Caroline said, type of party, but to be able to create, as we are creating, a manifesto, strengthen it, enrich it, but based around our basic values.

And they allow our parties – and I think this is what we have seen in all the developments – allow our parties to really open up their doors, and create the networks of participation of our societies.

We have been doing it in our party, for example by creating networks, by using the Internet, by having primaries for the election of candidates such as the president of the party.

You said you are doing this in Belgium. We saw what Obama did with using the Internet in organising grass roots around the United States.

So I think what we have to do also, as parties, is give the values, be strong and steady on the values and the framework, but then allow the greater freedom for participation, at the local and the regional level.

If we can do both, then we will have a very strong movement, a united movement in Europe – we need more Europe and we need more of a social democratic Europe – a strong movement around the world, but a very activist movement at the local level, and at the cyberspace level also. And I think this is very important for our democracy.

It will be, in fact, rejuvenating in empowering our citizens in a very democratic way. Thank you.