Speech by George Papandreou, President of the Socialist International and Prime Minister of Greece
SANTO DOMINGO COUNCIL - At a turning point for a sustainable future - the Social Democratic Way Forward, 23-24 November 2009
Dear friends, dear comrades,
I am very happy to be here with you today, in Santo Domingo, at this Council hosted by our member party Partido Revolucionario Dominicano (PRD). I would like to thank the President of PRD Miguel Vargas Maldonado, as well as our dear friend Peggy Cabral and all the members of the party who have worked very hard to make this meeting possible.
Allow me now to speak in English, and also to thank you all for your support and solidarity for the struggle for change, also in my country, in Greece. The people in Greece, the people of Greece decided to open up a new chapter, a new path of democratic change. And I am honored to have been given the task of leading our nation, after the recent elections.
Your support, your ideas, your experience have been invaluable to me, and will continue to be a source of inspiration and knowledge, both for me personally, but also for using the best practices we have amongst us, best practices in changing each of our countries; I will also use this in changing my country, Greece, for the better of our people. So many thanks to you all for the support.
We progressives do have a big, a great responsibility, the responsibility to make things happen, the responsibility to be the agents of change. We need democratic change, as the system of today has failed us. In the past years we have seen the failure of our democracies as our political institutions, our democratic institutions were captured.
They were captured by big business, corporations by the lack of transparency of the banking and financial system and in some places even by authoritarian forces. This is why we speak of democracy.
We need social change, as we see that today’s global economic system has not delivered social justice. More and more, we face inequality, poverty, so many seeking escape from their conditions in their countries through migration. We face rising unemployment and the alienation of our younger generation. This is why we speak of equality, we speak of redistribution of income.
We need green change, the change of our model of development, one that protects our environment, our traditions, our cultures, our people. Climate change, greenhouse gases, deforestation, desertification, floods, the melting of the polar ice, the loss of so many diverse species in our planet are only the early signs of the looming danger.
And here we witness one of the biggest market failures, a market driven by the forces of capital that cannot take into account the public good, the common good, our common wealth of humanity as well as of our planet. A market failure which has created an environmental apartheid between the haves and the have nots, those who have access to water, those who have access to oxygen, those who have access to clean environment, for as long as the climate change does not affect them also.
And those on the other hand that have become the dumping ground for our waste. This is why green development for us is linked both with democracy and with social justice. This is precisely why during the past few years of predominantly conservative leadership around the world, our problems have become deeper.
They, conservatives, see that people must serve the market. We see that the market must serve people. They see the state must bail out banks. We see the state must bail out families. They hide behind their dogmas of free markets. We believe in the real freedom of our citizens.
We put the human being at the center of our politics. “People first” is our slogan and our belief. And it is this case, it is this core belief that today will allow us to deal with some of the most complex and difficult problems humankind has ever faced.
It is our core values that must become the force for change in our global society, in a global society where we are all today interdependent, a global society where we need global governance. Yes, we need to govern our planet. This is what historically we must do today.
But how? And this is where we need our values. We need a global governance which is democratic. We need a global society where social justice must be paramount. We need a global society where a new partnership exists of respect, and is developed between humanity and our environment.
And in our global society, in this global society today, local issues, regional and international issues form a common agenda. Yes, this is why our international movement, the Socialist International, is so important, is so relevant. Because our agenda today is an agenda for local politics.
Our agenda today is an agenda for national politics. Our agenda today is an agenda for our regional politics. Our agenda today, the same agenda, is our agenda for our global politics.
For example, take the region we are in today. From a Caribbean and a Latin American perspective, the Caribbean and Latin America have been directly affected by the economic downturn, even though they had nothing to do, really, with this economic crisis in Wall Street.
Key areas, such as international trade, tourism and remittances, have been affected. According to available statistics, the Caribbean region will grow about only 0.1%, with recession affecting many countries of the neighbourhood.
On international trade, there are serious implications, in terms of both trade balances and fiscal revenue. We all know that the Caribbean is the most tourism-intensive region of the world. Yet the weakening of the US, the European and the Canadian tourist market has been affecting your economies deeply.
In addition, the rate of growth and remittances from migration to the Caribbean during 2008 slowed, slowed considerably. So if the global recession continues, particularly if we have more unemployment, these remittances will diminish even further, undermining prosperity in the region.
These realities underline what I, what we have been saying, from the outset of this crisis, that we are all in this together, that we are all affected by this crisis. There is a link, an immediate link, between the global, the national, the regional, the local. There is international interdependence.
And we share this new reality. We share the consequences of the crisis. That is why we must share the solutions. We must have a strong voice. Our movement must have a strong voice. Our people must have a strong voice, in sharing, the solutions for this crisis, so that we can share the recovery of this crisis and we can be together in guaranteeing that we do not have new crises looming in the future.
We must do this for the benefit of all of us, for the prosperity of our citizens, for a real exit from the crisis, not an exit strategy which leaves our citizens behind. On our agenda today and tomorrow, we will further our thinking and our proposals on these crucial areas. And we have worked I think very effectively and very importantly on these areas.
We are only a few days before a very important UN climate change conference that will take place in Copenhagen. And therefore immediate action is needed, action to establish a framework of our policies for the next years, I would say the next generations also.
It would be unfortunate and a global failure if Copenhagen were not able to agree on important framework and policy agendas. This is, if you like, to paraphrase; this is an issue too big to be allowed to fail. And it is true that different countries do have various different concerns and interests. This is legitimate. It is expected. And we have to be very sensitive to all of the concerns.
Particularly we have to know that developing countries are vulnerable, much more vulnerable, over time, to the adverse impact of climate change. Phenomena like droughts, desertification, floods have been obvious and detrimental to the effects on the developing world.
Therefore, there is a need for cooperation, in order to support developing countries, emerging economies, to face the consequences of climate change.
Developed countries, on the other hand, are also affected. But they must and can effectively help, by providing sound financial and technological support. Transferring technology, assisting in capacity building is critical in bridging the north-south technological and economic divide.
Education, educating the people, both on a national and a local level as well as on an international level, will be crucial. And our youth, the younger generation, can and will play a key role in transforming our world to a green economy.
These differences between different regions and economies cannot on the other hand be an excuse to avoid action. We need to talk seriously about the necessity of adopting, for example, a global carbon tax, a carbon tax which will be redistributive, which the proceeds from this tax will be given to those countries that need the technological transfer, and the investment, to become low-carbon economies.
We need to talk about measures at the national and transnational level, as for example the adoption of green bonds, to get the financing for this transformation and to combine the ways that we respond both to the financial crisis, as we will have funding for investment, but also investment in environmental protection and a low-carbon economy.
We also need to look at new forms of providing for revenue, such as the Tobin tax, the transaction tax, which will help us in getting revenue both for the green economy but also for aid to the more poverty-stricken parts of the world.
These are important ideas, some of them newer and some of them older, but they are ideas which we have begun to develop and be promoted also in the Socialist International. Because we see that green development can bring new investments, strengthen our economies, address deforestation, improve the quality of tourism, create quality products, and of course provide ways to tackle unemployment.
So therefore, as we move towards Copenhagen, as we are getting closer to that point, there is still much difference amongst different countries and regions in the world. We can be proud, we in the Socialist International, can be proud that we have been able, through our work, to bridge important differences and concerns, different approaches, and to arrive at common conclusions on how to tackle the climate change.
And therefore I would like to commend the Commission we have established for a Sustainable World Society, headed by two important political personalities. Ricardo Lagos and Göran Persson who prepared last September a detailed report, which unfolds the path from a high-carbon economy to a low-carbon society. And we were able to present this report at the United Nations in New York only a few weeks ago.
This is a very important exercise, which shows the capacity we have as a movement to create a new consensus and bring ideas, political ideas but also innovative ideas, to the debate around the world. One of the first priorities is to set criteria for carbon emissions reductions in each country.
Time is short, but the moment must be utilized, and our movements, our parties, must use this moment, this short time until Copenhagen, to show real progress. We can, and I say we must be at the forefront of this debate, as we as socialists or labor parties should make this issue on the new model of development one which is our issue. It is not an issue only for the green movement.
The green movement has provided much help and ideas and impetus, but now I think it is our time to incorporate these ideas into our thinking, so that they link with the issues of democracy, social justice and a new model of development which is equitable. And I think that in doing so we will give new strength to our movements.
The financial crisis, the food crisis, the energy crisis, the environmental crisis are all factors that threaten global stability. They are becoming major factors for new conflicts in our geopolitical reality, conflicts which do not necessarily have to do with neighbouring nations, but conflicts which are global.
In fact, most developing countries were hit not only by the financial crisis but by a succession of crises. They were hit by the food crisis, by the energy crisis, by pandemics. And these crises have been undermining the already deteriorating national economies and threatening to completely derail the path paved by the UN Millennium Development Goals.
The International Labor Organisation, the ILO, warns that world unemployment in 2009 could increase between 18 to 30 million people, in comparison to 2007. The worst-case scenario would show us that 200 million workers originating mainly from developing economies could be pushed into extreme poverty. Needless to say that women and young people will suffer mostly from this situation. Needless to say we have more and more economic refugees. Needless to say exploitation and inequality will be the consequence.
The IMF predicts that growth in developing countries is expected to slow sharply to 3.3 in 2009, from a 6.3 in 2008. That means that more will suffer from poverty. The World Bank estimates that one per cent, a one per cent only drop in growth in developing countries could lead to another 20 million people into poverty.
To face the consequences of the financial crisis in the developing world, obviously major global actors must honor their aid commitments and improve aid effectiveness. This effort should aim at sustaining economic activity, sustaining employment, revitalizing agriculture, investing in green growth, stimulating trade and private investment, but also protecting the most vulnerable.
These are some of the conclusions that our other commission, the Commission on the financial crisis, headed by Joe Stiglitz – also Alfred Gusenbauer has been crucial in moving this along – these are some of the conclusions we have come to. And again, our movement has been playing an important role in this debate, in bringing out ideas and proposals.
One political objective to which our progressive movement is committed is full employment. Employment is a high priority for us all. We must not forget that the crisis has been used by many conservative governments to reduce social rights, to decrease work safety, to decrease welfare benefits and rights to the working class movement, to workers around the world, the working class movement that has gained these through long and painful struggles. And this we cannot allow.
This brings us also to the third theme on our agenda. Factors that threaten world stability and security make it even more urgent to coordinate our efforts for international disarmament, for peace, for non-proliferation. Next May the review conference on the Treaty of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons will take place in New York. We need to see a successful conclusion.
And there are some positive signs that this could be achieved. The Security Council Resolution 1887, as well as the ongoing negotiations between the US President Obama and Russian President Medvedev to cut American and Russian nuclear arsenals by a third, will allow us to be optimistic. This latest development lays out the path to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, so-called START, that will expire in December 2009.
In the coming months, the Socialist International will step up its efforts to contribute in this process of achieving a nuclear-weapons-free world. The construction of the necessary framework for global security and stability is a prerequisite for promoting our other goals, because conflicts are always used. Conflicts are always used as a pretext for authoritarian governance and social inequality.
The election of Barack Obama as President of the United States has generated certainly new possibilities for constructive global cooperation. This has been his stated purpose. The first year of the Obama administration showed important and positive signs.
Still, the greatest challenges are ahead of us. We need to bring together all the major actors of this increasingly interdependent global economic order, to achieve consensus and make progress in resolving pending issues.
Brazil, Russia, India, China must be part of this process. And we, in the Socialist International, have been in contact with these countries. For example we were recently in China to discuss the global warming issue, the climate issue. So it is important that we get all these actors involved.
But at the same time we must provide for a voice for all, for the small and medium-sized countries, if you like, for all our peoples, in having a say in this global crisis. To promote a just society with equality of opportunities, we need democratic and open societies. And democracy is a main theme of our agenda.
We have the responsibility to show solidarity with all our friends and comrades who are suffering from repressive regimes in all continents. Even in cases where democracy is consolidated, we must engage in an ongoing effort to improve, to give new life, new oxygen, if you like, to the quality of our democratic institutions.
As our societies are changing, we need to see how democracy continues to be viable. For us, democracy is not simply elections every four or five years. It means many things. It means that our parties represent the people, not the few, not the rich, not the powerful. And very often our parties are aimed at to be captured by the few, the rich and the powerful, and the media.
It means we represent the liberation of the oppressed. It means that if one individual is suffering, suffering injustice, we all suffer with him or her. It means we find solutions through dialogue, not through violence. It means we empower everyone to participate, not to hide in passivity.
It means we want to see women strongly involved. We want to see youth, we want to see migrants, we want to see all involved in our parties. It means, our democratic tradition, that we have an aversion, a condemnation of dogmatism, of fundamentalism, of authoritarianism. It means we seek the human being in all of us, and that is our core for our values.
But let’s take the example of our parties. We need to find innovative practices that can help us open up our parties to more democracy, to our societies. And I think we can learn from each other. I think that for example the primaries that the PRD organized a few months ago to elect its leader, are primaries which give wide participation to the people.
We did the same in Greece; other parties also have taken this, as a new concept to develop and to implement. I was elected through open primaries, with the participation of close to one million citizens. More and more parties all over the world are adopting such practices, to become more participatory.
Also in using electronic media, Internet, for more deliberation and participation in something which we have begun in Greece, even in governing our country, in putting out the problems and asking for the views of our citizens. In our big family of the Socialist International, we have a chance to share our experiences, as parties with very different historical, geographical, cultural and political backgrounds. But we share our values.
And that is why we can use these experiences as best practices – or bad practices, if we want to learn from our mistakes too – so that we can become a movement which can be helpful for us all, in our countries but also for the world. A movement which can understand the complexities, but also look through these complexities to our core values and our core goals.
This is why the Socialist International must have a real presence in different parts of the world. And that’s why we are proud to be here, in the Dominican Republic, today.
Internationalism must show that we are at every locality, in every part of the world, and that we are aware and sensitive to the problems of our fellow human beings throughout our planet.
Internationalism can be persuasive and convincing only in practice, and not simply in theory. It is our duty, our tradition, the bond that makes us today a vibrant and powerful organization.
Through this process, we can learn from each other, and together we can make a difference. And today we are becoming more and more relevant for the problems of the world.
So I wish us success in our meeting. Muchas gracias. Thank you very much.