Georges A.


Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic

Speech made to the Assembly

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Thank you for your kind words, Mr President.

We often underestimate and undervalue both the uniqueness and the importance of our common European institutions and practices. I myself have come to this building and this institution wearing different hats, yet I do not cease to marvel at what you are doing, and what we Europeans are attempting to accomplish, or even achieving, here. So many different nations, so many different cultures, so vast an array of traditions and languages, so much history that has poisoned our relations in the past; yet we have established a common court and a common Assembly of representatives from our Parliaments. I could add to that the establishment of a Commissioner for Human Rights, a Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, a European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance, and the Venice Commission. All those organisations are doing an extraordinary job in defending human dignity.

What that means, very simply, is that we have voluntarily taken a common vow to accept supra-national institutions which guarantee that we can live together, abiding by common values and common practices involving democracy, respect for human rights, respect for each other, and respect for our common humanity. We cannot and must not take those institutions, practices and achievements for granted. I agree with the Secretary General, Thorbjørn Jagland – and congratulations, my dear friend Thorbjørn, on your recent appointment and your determination to revitalise the Council of Europe.

“The world needs more Europe today, not less”

Let me insert a small parenthesis. I knew Thorbjørn when I was much younger, and a refugee. At that time, we did not have democracy in Greece. I would visit Thorbjørn in Oslo with my father, who, being a refugee, had a Norwegian passport because he could not have a Greek one. For that reason, this is also a sentimental and an emotional moment. Thorbjørn is not only a friend, but one who has fought: at the time of which I am speaking, he was an active member of the committee for democracy in Greece. He has fought for democracy in my country, and has helped to change the face of Europe to what it is today. I wish you well, Thorbjørn, and in particular I wish you well in your determination to revitalise the Council of Europe and make it even more relevant to the challenges that we all face across our continent and, indeed, beyond.

What can the Council of Europe, one of the oldest European institutions, offer today? Some may say that, after 60 years of defending human rights, parliamentary democracy and the rule of law, we have reached maturity and accomplished our aims on our continent, but that does not seem to be the view of our citizens. Let me give a simple example. The unprecedented case load of the European Court of Human Rights as a result of the explosive growth in the number of individual applications over the past 10 years is testimony to the strength of that unique institution and its legitimacy in the eyes of our citizens, but also to the need for it to continue to function properly and effectively. In that context, let me say that I look forward to the forthcoming Interlaken conference, and take this opportunity to thank the Swiss Presidency for the initiative.

The application of the principle of subsidiarity – both at national level and in the Court itself – and recognition of the importance of individual applications are, of course, essential, but I would go even further. I believe that the Council of Europe, along with the European Union, faces a renewed and daunting task: to defend democracy at a time of globalisation, and to humanise and democratise the process of globalisation.

Let me try to present a picture to the Assembly. It may be simplistic, but it is easy to understand. Let me explain how I see globalisation. In my view, it is similar to the wild west. We see a new frontier filled with opportunity – opportunity for wealth – as new resources are discovered. In the wild west the resources were oil, gold, water, forests and wildlife; today’s resources are digital communications, new technologies and other new possibilities. However, in the wild west there were also few or no rules. Resources were plundered, tribes were wiped out, and outlaws became sheriffs. There was no rule of law, but only the rule of the survival of the strongest.

Today, our globalising world is also a new frontier providing great opportunity and great wealth, and yet with few, if any, rules. Whether we are talking about the financial crisis, the struggle for energy resources, the menace of climate change, or poverty and inequality, what we lack at global level – although we have tried to strengthen institutions such as the United Nations, the International Labour Organization and the World Trade Organization – are the necessary rules and regulations, the necessary common understanding and values, and the necessary institutions to deal with those important challenges in a collective, just and effective way. The recent meeting of so many heads of state and government in Copenhagen was a case in point. It highlighted the lack of processes and institutions and even the will to regulate and humanise our model of growth and development in front of a terrible menace – the most difficult challenge humankind has ever faced.

This lack of necessary regulation and co-operation at the multinational level has allowed the process of globalisation to become more like what the wild west was – those who survive are those who have the power. However, it is not simply a matter of survival. We are witnessing such a concentration of power in the hands of the few that our democratic institutions as we know them today are being threatened. These are our new challenges and the new threats to our democracies which we must face up to.

Let me give you a few words on the nature of these challenges as I see them. The capture of our democratic institutions by the powerful in our societies and around the world, the huge concentration of money and very often the huge concentration of the media in the hands of a few, have made our democratic institutions vulnerable. Politicians are lobbied by the powerful, and more and more politicians become dependent on huge budgets or the favours of those who own the media if they want to be elected. If necessary, even politicians are bought off.

The same goes for many of our other institutions that uphold the rule of law, whether it be judges or the police. They are also targets of corruption. As inequality and huge concentration of wealth increases, so does the corruption of our democratic institutions. A lack of transparency and democratic control and the huge strength of the financial sector in the United States were behind many of the reasons for the Wall Street crash just a year ago. We are all feeling the effects, very much in Greece today, of this crisis.

This brings me to another aspect of our global challenge – the fact that many local issues today are global issues. So, climate change may exist around us but it is a global issue. While this has given our citizens a sense of planetary consciousness that may not have existed before, they have also become conscious of the fact that nation states, national governments and national parliaments cannot solve these problems alone. So our citizens feel more and more powerless rather than empowered. This brings on fear and frustration. It undermines the sense of power that democratic institutions give to our citizens. It also brings on extremism and defeatism. It brings on the desire to look for solutions in a populist leader who promises magic or to find scapegoats – those who are different, foreign – for our problems. It is very dangerous for the fabric of our democratic society.

This brings me to a third challenge: we are becoming ever more multi-ethnic. While we feel less empowered, we also see our societies changing, and changing rapidly, and more fear rather than solidarity is created. Racism and xenophobia become tools in the hands of some politicians to splinter their societies at a time when we need to muster our strength, work together and use this diversity to be creative and to create new bonds of solidarity in order to meet the major challenges faced by Europe and the world today.

If we do not meet these challenges and face up to them in a way that strengthens human rights, the rule of law and the sense of justice and security for all, particularly for those who are weaker, we will see massive competition at the global level between the differing geopolitical interests whether it is over energy, water resources or whatever else, and we will also see great insecurity and fear at the societal level. So we either humanise and democratise globalisation, or globalisation will become synonymous with violence and barbarism.

Is there a model or a way out? I would say that there is European model. However, before I conclude on the importance of this model, I would like to say a few words as a Greek. Like all European peoples, we like to look to our traditions to mine them and to look for solutions. If you stand next to the Parthenon on the Acropolis and look down on Athens, you will see the ancient Agora. Agora means not only market but public speaking. So politics and the economy were united at that time. Today, we have separated the market and the economy from the polity in a way that allows the market, rather than our democratic institutions and our citizens, to make policy. We need to bring back politics so that our decision in our economies are informed and regulated by the democratic will of our peoples.

Again, if you look across from the Acropolis you will see a hill called the Pnyx, where a citizen could stand on a rock and speak and be heard by all. Today most politicians can speak only through a filter called the media. So here again we need to see how we can democratise this by giving greater access to all. The new cyberspace and digital world are providing us not only with new possibilities but with new democratic challenges regarding how we see democratic participation in this new cyberworld.

Looking at the columns of the Parthenon, one marvels not only at the architecture but also at the labour that went into moving those tonnes of marble. One realises that ancient Greece – the Polis – was a democracy, but also that it had its flaws. Yes, there were slaves and barbarians. However, one could become free and become a Greek. How was that done? Being Greek was not a question of DNA. As Issocratis, an ancient Greek philosopher, said, being Greek meant simply sharing in Greek education. In fact, what he was saying was that anyone who shared the values of Greek society could be Greek.

Is this not what we are trying to do, and are doing, in the Council of Europe and the European Union? Should we not use this principle in integrating our new migrants and refugees into our societies? This can be attained only through reinforced democratic participation and active engagement in civil society, which are two key factors of good governance that we must actively promote. That is why my government has introduced a new bill to grant citizenship to the children of immigrants born and educated in Greece.

Finally, if you glance towards the Aegean sea, you will see a great number of islands. In ancient Greece, in ancient times, these were separate cities in their own right but they were also bound by a common alliance, common traditions and common values, something that we are accomplishing in Europe today.

So my conclusion is simple: in this globalising world, the world needs more Europe, not less. If Europe was a peace project after the First World War and Second World War, today it is also a project in how to deal with a globalising world. We can and must become a model for a globalising society – one that provides that different nations, different cultures and different languages and traditions can partake and share in the same fundamental values and the same core practices and, in doing so, guarantee the rule of law and a democratic and humane globalisation.

This is why it is so important that all member states of the European Union have signed up to the Charter of Fundamental Rights. This will help enshrine human rights at the institutional level and ensure that there will not be different national standards across Europe that will weaken one of the most important pillars of European integration. Of course we need a clear allocation of responsibilities so that we can collectively be more effective in our responses to these new global challenges – climate change, sustainable development, terrorism and violence, organised crime, migration and racism. Those are all pressing issues that test our traditional values and threaten the social fabric of our countries.

These complex issues affect different countries in different ways, but they all affect us in many ways, and we can all deal with them with common principles. We must tackle them with both delicacy and determination and strike an equitable balance between conflicting interests, but base this on fundamental principles on which all our negotiation must be based – such as the respect for human rights, which is non-negotiable. So Europe has come a long way, but we can still go much further. We face new challenges, but we are still dogged by conflicts of the past. Unacceptable dividing lines still persist in some corners of our continent. In the region I come from, we must move ahead. The enlargement of the European Union, particularly in south-eastern Europe, can, and must, create new opportunities for the exercise of the rule of law and bring lasting peace. There must be solutions to festering problems, such as in Cyprus, the Caucasus and Georgia, that continue to threaten security and stability in Europe.

More than 35 years have passed since the Turkish invasion and occupation of the Republic of Cyprus, yet the island’s two communities remain segregated. The rights of thousands of Greek Cypriots are being violated – by evictions and enforced exile, for example – and these violations have been recognised by the European Court of Human Rights. Turkey must implement its judgments in full.

In this region and many other parts of Europe, minorities have often been used as a Trojan horse for irredentist aspirations. Frequently, minorities have become double victims, both of the countries where they live, out of fear, and through exploitation by those with whom they have cultural ties, owing to irredentist aspirations. This is why the protection of minority rights goes hand in hand with stable borders, and respect for territorial integrity and international law.

It is my belief, of course, that the best medicine for avoiding such exploitation of minorities is to guarantee the respect of human rights for all. That is why the Council of Europe has been so important in recent years. It has been a global pace-setter in the protection of human and minority rights, particularly in south-eastern Europe, a region that historically has been torn apart by ethnic conflicts.

In respect of the Muslim minority in Thrace, let me start by stating the obvious: these people are Greek citizens, equal before the law, who enjoy the same rights as all their fellow citizens. I also cannot stress too much the importance that we attach to the European perspective on the western Balkans. This is the best way to consolidate regional stability and development, which, in turn, will alleviate ethnic tensions and enhance internal cohesion and security. In this context, Greece has undertaken a number of initiatives over the years. Assembly members may remember the Thessaloniki agenda during our presidency of the EU in 2003, and there was also the recent agenda 2014, which aims to provide the western Balkans with a clear and tangible framework for EU membership. Of course, 2014 is a symbolic year, marking 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War. I hope that this agenda will provide an incentive to these countries to speed up necessary reform, and that it will also enable us to create a dynamic for helping to solve the bilateral and regional problems that continue to undermine our cohesion and co-operation.

In this context, Greece is actively engaged in negotiations with “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, under the auspices of the United Nations. Despite Council of Europe and UN Security Council resolutions, we have yet to resolve the FYROM name issue. We believe that international law is the most appropriate framework within which to address such issues.

Similarly, we are trying to address the concerns of the sizeable Greek minority in Albania from the perspective of European and international human rights law, in close co-operation with the Albanian authorities. Greek-Albanian relations are constantly improving, and I hope that Albania’s EU perspective will be a catalyst for ironing out any outstanding minority issues as Albania moves closer towards European norms and values.

In August 1949, Greece became the 11th member state of the Council of Europe. Today, we remain committed to our obligations to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms for all our citizens. We are proud to be a member of this great Organisation, and you should be proud of what you are doing for Europe and its future. This Parliamentary Assembly continues to do a remarkable job, particularly in helping to strengthen the rule of law and deepen democracy in new members states from central and eastern Europe. You parliamentarians play a crucial role, not least in international election observation. As chair of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in 2009, Greece made a conscious effort to promote complementarities with other key players. I know that the Assembly worked with Mrs Dora Bakoyannis when she was Foreign Minister in terms of co-operating with the OSCE, and with our government, too. The Assembly has been a valuable partner of the OSCE in this respect.

I also want to congratulate you, Mr Çavuşoğlu, on your election as President, and to wish you every success. I am certain that you will fulfil the pledges that you made in your opening speech, and I am delighted that one of our neighbours from Turkey will hold this office for the first time since the foundation of the Council of Europe in 1949.

Let me assure everyone that Greece today is redoubling its efforts to promote good neighbourly relations and to enhance European integration. I thank you all very much for your attention.


Thank you very much, Mr Papandreou, for your most interesting address. Members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to put questions to you. I remind them that questions must be limited to 30 seconds and no more. Colleagues should be asking questions, not making speeches.

The first question is from Mrs Bakoyannis from the Group of the European People’s Party.


Mr Prime Minister, you mentioned the 2014 initiative to keep the enlargement process alive for the western Balkans, but, as you also mentioned, Greece has an open problem with “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”. There has not been any progress in the negotiations through the UN. You had two meetings with Prime Minister Gruevski. Did you notice any change in his views that would allow you to feel some optimism?

Mr Papandreou, Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic

Thank you, Mrs Bakoyannis. The 2014 agenda is intended to address the so-called enlargement fatigue in the EU in recent years and fears to do with enlargement. We must move to incorporate the western Balkans, as they are part of Europe, not only historically, but geographically. It is a powerful incentive for doing so that that would provide a very strong basis for stability, the rule of law, democracy and human rights. By having this target, we will create a new dynamic, both for internal reform and for the European Union to help these countries move ahead. It will also create the dynamic for us in the region to deal with problems – bilateral or otherwise – and to address thorny issues such as those that Bosnia and Herzegovina faces, the Kosovo issue, and our bilateral issue with “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”. One of my first moves as Prime Minister was to call Prime Minister Gruevski and express the political will that we should move forward as soon as possible to deal with that difficult issue. I will not go into the history of it, as we are aware of it – much has been written and said about it. It is time that we took a step forward, however. You know, Mrs Bakoyannis, about the possibilities that we have for a mutually acceptable agreement. We have what we call the red lines. We need a composite name that differentiates between Greek Macedonia and “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”. They are two different regions and two different cultures. We need that differentiation; we need it in a geographical way but also it needs to be ergo omnes. That is a basis on which we can find a solution and I have already expressed my determination to move forward to help “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” in respect of both its NATO and European Union membership. I hope that this expression of will on my part will be reciprocated.

Mr GROSS (Switzerland)

Dear Prime Minister, on behalf of the Socialist Group, I would like to congratulate you on your great speech, especially those parts dealing with how to humanise globalisation and build democracy. Will you share with us the surprise you had this morning when you saw the article of Mr Stiglitz in The Guardian, which supported Greece? Will you share with us your reflections on the part where the article says that Greece has been a victim of double standards in the Maastricht Treaty, as the small countries are treated very differently from the big ones when it comes to currency and economic development?

Mr Papandreou, Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic

Thank you for the question. First, I do not want to avoid taking responsibility for my own country when it comes to the economic situation. Obviously, there was over-spending, and I have said this publicly, and unfortunately we saw the development of clientism and even corruption. We know that we have to put our house in order and we will do so. This is a commitment that we have made first of all to ourselves, but also secondly to our partners.

At the same time, it is right that Greece has been viewed as a weak link in possibly other agendas that have little to do with Greece, but probably more to do with the eurozone and the fact that some people are not happy about that eurozone or the fact that we have a European currency. The debate has highlighted some things that we need to do in the future to create the sort of institutions that allow for a unified monetary zone and to develop the necessary tools to deal with circumstances like these.

I think that Joe Stiglitz made a very interesting comparison between the federation of the United States, where one state may have difficulties but solidarity remains when it comes to growth or deficit issues, and the federation of the European Union, where we also need the right tools and the political will. In my view, we need deeper integration in the EU. We have moved and enlarged, but that has sometimes been to the detriment of the deepening of integration.

Today, in our rapidly globalising world, we need much more solidarity and much more co-operation. Everyone must, of course, assume their own responsibilities – as I said, we are not trying to avoid them – but at the same time we need to work together. We still do not know how long it will take to move out of this recession, so we need to understand that in Europe, as in the rest of the world, there must be investment – investment in growth, investment in jobs, investment in green technology.

This is a double solution: on the one hand, we deal with societal and economic problems in circumstances where banks and investors are risk averse, so fiscal help and stimulus moves the economy forward; on the other hand, we can invest in areas that are sustainable. That is where Copenhagen could have been more successful. If the conference had sent out the message, saying, “We are moving towards a sustainable economy”, that would have increased the amount of private investment going into that sector, creating greater stimulus.

I believe that Europe has a huge challenge in front of it. We have particular and special challenges that we have to meet, but as the Greeks are Europeans, we will be working with our European partners in meeting those wider challenges, thereby creating growth, sustainable development and solidarity.

Mr ZERNOVSKI (“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”)

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe welcomes Greece’s decision to have a road map in place by 2014 for the integration of the western Balkans. You mentioned that in your speech and we welcome it. At the same time, however, Greece is blocking the integration of its neighbour, the Republic of Macedonia, into both the European Union and NATO. Is that not rather contradictory, Mr Prime Minister, and is it not in contravention of the core values of the Council of Europe and the European Union?

Mr Papandreou, Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic

First, as I said, we do not want to block; we want to solve the problem. Secondly, I believe the 2014 agenda can provide a new dynamic that allows us to see that we have a common future and that we will always be neighbours. We are working towards that common goal. The 2014 agenda allows us to be clearer, and more specific and to work to a tight time schedule, which I believe will be helpful in creating a rapprochement between our two governments and particularly between the citizens of our two countries.

I would like to add – this is a message to you and to the citizens of your country – that we have much to share. We should not make this an issue that divides us. It is a difficult issue, but we must move towards a greater understanding of where we come from, of where the problems are and why this issue is a particular problem – and then we need to find a common solution that is mutually agreeable and will allow us to turn the page and move forward to a common European future. I hope that we can do that and I hope that we can do it soon.

Mr BENDER (Poland)

Prime Minister Papandreou, it is an honour to talk to you, especially as I know that you are related to the Polish Mineyko family. What will you do if the European Court of Human Rights decides to attempt to ban crucifixes in Greek schools and public places, as in Italy?

Mr Papandreou, Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic

Thank you for mentioning my Polish background. I think this shows what Europe is. My great-grandfather was a refugee who came to live in what was then part of the Ottoman empire – later the Greek state. He became a Greek and wrote as a journalist and sent back to Polish newspapers his article on the first modern Olympic Games. This shows how diverse we are in Europe. Our Europe of today is changing much more. Some years ago, we would not be sitting together, but now we are. That is a big change

There are, of course, some major issues and the issue of religious symbols is a highly controversial one. Where there are issues of conflict, rather than heightening them and polarising our societies, we need to find ways of understanding each other. This issue has not been raised in Greece. There is a tradition of having religious symbols in our schools, but it has not been a problem. As modern societies become more multi-ethnic and multireligious, the responsibility of politicians is to deal with these issues with respect, acknowledging both tradition and the rights of all. Getting the right balance is not easy; that is why we are here.

Mr PAPADIMOULIS (Greece) (interpretation)

said that for years there had been support for Turkey joining the European Union but there were still difficulties in Turkey with regard to human rights and the law. The Prime Minster had written to Mr Erdoğun, the Prime Minister of Turkey, about possible territorial claims made to the International Court of Justice at the Hague.

Mr Papandreou, Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic (interpretation)

said that in his letter to Mr Erdoğun he had referred to the need to assess relations between Greece and Turkey in the past decade. Ten years ago, a dialogue had been opened between Greece and Turkey, focusing on their common interests. A decision had been made about support for Turkey’s membership of the European Union. Trade relations between the countries had increased: 10 years ago trade was worth several million euros, now it was worth €3.5 billion. There had also been agreements in strategic areas such as energy, although bilateral arrangements were still not completely satisfactory. He hoped that a joint solution could be found through the International Court of Justice to resolve issues such as incursions into Greek airspace. A better relationship between Turkey and the Republic of Cyprus was also needed. He had invited Mr Erdoğun to Greece and hoped that it would be possible to make some progress.

Mr MacSHANE (United Kingdom)

Thank you, Mr President. I wish Mr Papandreou all good luck as he steers Greece through turbulent times after the awful experience of the previous government and the terrible corruption and economic and fiscal problems that were bequeathed to him.

Tomorrow is International Holocaust Day, and in the past few weeks there have been five serious attacks on synagogues in Greece, even though Greece’s Jewish community of 8 000 is rather small. Is this a sign that anti-Semitic politics is back, sadly, in our European political culture? What is the Government of Greece going to do to stamp this out?

Mr Papandreou, Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic

Thank you, Mr President.

Thank you, Mr MacShane, for mentioning this because you give me the opportunity to be very categorical in condemning these acts. No democratic society can tolerate these acts, and we certainly cannot do so. There were two attacks, and we were able to arrest the attackers – one Greek and some foreigners. We have been in touch with the Jewish community in Greece and assured them that we will take every measure not only to restore these monuments, but to protect as well as we can the religious and historical monuments that pertain to the history of the Jews in our country.

You may know that, unluckily, we suffered a terrible catastrophe during the Second World War. Thessaloniki was a multicultural city, but 90%, or even more, of its Jewish people were sent to concentration camps and most of them died there during the Nazi occupation.

My grandfather was then in exile. He fled Greece because of the Nazi occupation. He fled to Cairo and became prime minister in exile. It so happened that the Jewish community was the one that had the boats that took many Greek politicians to Cairo. He was taken by Greek citizens of the Jewish religion. There is a close bond, so I want to say that we condemn such actions in every way. Thank you.

Mrs UKKOLA (Finland)

Thank you, Mr President. Mr Prime Minister, the UNHCR recommended in 2008 that the government stop the return of so-called Dublin cases to Greece. Furthermore, many human rights organisations have reported human rights violations against illegal refugees and asylum seekers in your country. Has the situation in your country changed so that so-called Dublin cases can be returned to Greece without fear of human rights violations?

Mr Papandreou, Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic

Thank you for raising that issue. Yes, that is a high priority for us. Of course, Greece is in a region to which a very large number of migrants and refugees come, from all around the world, depending on the conflicts in conflict areas – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran and Somalia.

As it has thousands and thousands of islands, my country is easily accessible by those who trade illegally in human beings through Turkey or other countries. Therefore, I invited the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Antonio Guterres, to Greece. He was with us last week. We had a whole day of discussions on these issues. We pinpointed the problems that we have – and I agree that there are problems in how we have organised our detention centres and how we have been able to screen for refugee status.

We are going through a complete revamping of our practices and policies to make sure that we are within the boundaries and limits of international law – respecting international law and everyone’s human rights and making sure that those who need refuge will get it in our country. At the same time, we also need to see that there are certain problems that need greater solidarity.

As Greece is an entry point and as we are small compared with the rest of Europe, we cannot accommodate everyone and we need to see burden sharing in the European Union as an important area of co-operation. We need to see bilateral agreements between the European Union and Third World countries concerning repatriation or readmission. Furthermore, we need to take into account the development policies with Third World countries so that we can help develop jobs and growth in countries that are exporting migrants, so that those people can live a viable life in their countries. That is where we have many areas of co-operation. We will be strengthening the rule of law – strengthening our borders and also strengthening the rights of those who need refuge to find such refuge in our country and in Europe.

Mr VOLONTE' (Italy) (interpretation)

said that he had a short question. Would Mr Papandreou comment about the fact that protests in Greece and other countries had been against a social crisis rather than against the government?

Mr Papandreou, Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic

You put it in a nutshell, although you put it as a question. It is very much a result of the social and economic crisis that we are going through. The younger generation particularly – not only in Greece, but around the world – sees a contradiction. On the one hand we have great potential as societies and economies, given our technologies and even our capital; it seems that we have a lot of money around the world as well. On the other hand, there is a sense of powerlessness and that we are not dealing with the major issues.

We are not dealing with the climate issue as we should and we are not dealing with the issues of joblessness, inequality and poverty. We are not dealing with pandemics and migration as we should and as we could. We could “make poverty history”, as many have said, but we are not. That frustration, that lack of a prospect for the next generation, has affected many of our countries, particularly those that see that as we are ageing societies, there is a further burden of taking on the burden of social security, which is being thrown on the backs of the next generation.

All those factors together add up to an education system that has not been able to follow the great technological strides that we are making. It is very anachronistic; some of our countries have not been able to give the necessary tools to our younger generations so that they can find jobs and fulfil prospects of their lives. All those factors together have created a deep sense of a lack of hope – often of despair – among the younger generation.

What we need to do as politicians is to give hope. Hope is not only theoretical, but practical; we need to focus on these issues and have the political will – particularly in Europe – that is in our tradition, to create the social cohesion among ourselves and a sense of solidarity between generations, and to strengthen our growth potential by investing in new technology and particularly in innovation and green technology. In doing so, we must make sure that Europe can be competitive in a very different and changing world. I believe that Europe can face up to that challenge.

Again, however, that means that we must work as 27 in the European Union together – here, in a much wider organisation, we are all together again – in making sure that the principles of democracy, participation and human rights are strengthened. We must make sure that we give a voice to our citizens because very often it is a question of giving a real voice to our citizens who feel that they do not have that. They need to have that voice and we need to strengthen our democratic institutions. Our institutions are democratic officially, but as things are changing they are undermined, as I mentioned in my speech. Once we give that voice we will also allow for many of the social crises to be solved through open dialogue and mutual understanding.


Mr Prime Minister, given the anti-Turkish sentiments that I felt from your speech today, I cannot help asking this question. There are eight – I repeat, eight – rulings from the European Court of Human Rights regarding the ban on the use by Turkish Muslim minority non-governmental organisations of the expressions “Turkish” or “minority” in their titles, and the non-recognition of the elected Muftis of the Turkish minority in Greece. When will your government take action to implement those Court decisions?

Mr Papandreou, Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic

I believe that we should implement all the decisions that the Council of Europe and the Court decide upon. Obviously, there have been complications concerning the differences and the issues in respect of the rulings that Greek courts have made on this issue.

I also want to answer another part of your question. You said that my statements were anti-Turkish. First of all, I have been very much a proponent of Turkish membership of the European Union. Secondly, I have nothing against Turkey or the Turkish people, so my statements were not anti-Turkish. All I am saying is let us create a good relationship – a better relationship – based on international law, a common vision, our European prospects, our European participation, our common values and our practices. That is why I have been so much a proponent of Turkey’s prospects in the European Union. I believe that is a strong incentive for Turkey to make its internal reforms and to create a good neighbourliness framework for the region, whether with Greece or Cyprus, in solving issues that have been longstanding.

Over the past 10 years, particularly when I was in government, I promoted something that we called people’s diplomacy. People’s diplomacy may have been one of the very important aspects of creating a new relationship between the Greeks and the Turks. It has broken down many taboos, dogmas and superstitions between our peoples and it is one of the strongest bases for the future of the relationship between our two countries. That is why I think that democracy is so important; in the end, citizens themselves can take these issues into their hands in a positive way and see that such things are in their mutual benefit. They can work together and help leaders; they have already helped them in many parts of the world and in our two countries of Greece and Turkey, sometimes making further steps in benefiting and making our relations much better.

I remember the times of the earthquakes, when we sent our firefighters, for the first time, to an area outside Istanbul. They pulled out a young Turkish boy. A month later, when we had an earthquake, the Turks sent firefighters to Athens and helped us to save lives there. The emotion, the understanding, the feelings changed so much that it must have seemed that we had the political will to solve, at that moment, the huge crisis and problems that have dogged us over the years. As I said, I have sent a letter to Prime Minister Erdoğan, and I am hopeful that we will be able to move forward. I am hopeful that the time has come to make progress in improving our relations, and, in doing so, to strengthen further the prospects of Turkey’s membership of the European Union.

Finally, let me say something about the Muslim minority in northern Greece. When I was Minister of Education, I worked closely with those people, and I perceived that there was a problem relating to language. Because the mother tongue of most of the Muslims was Turkish – as it is today – they found it difficult to get into Greek universities. I created a specific law to allot places for them, so that they would have an equal opportunity to become university students in Greece. That is just one of the many steps that we have taken to help the Muslim minority to feel truly integrated in Greek society. I will do what I can to continue that policy and that tradition.


We must now conclude the questions to Mr Papandreou. On behalf of the Assembly, Mr Papandreou, I thank you most warmly for your address and for the answers that you have given to questions.