Greek PM George Papandreou on Global Warming, Socialism and Democracy

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Democracy Now!
Jan. 4, 2010

Greek PM George Papandreou on Global Warming, Socialism and Democracy

We interview Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou about climate change and greenhouse gas emission, socialism, democracy and much more. As the head of Greece’s Socialist Party, Papandreou became prime minister in October after the Socialists trounced the center-right government in national elections, winning 44 percent of the vote, their largest victory ever. Papandreou is also the president of Socialist International, a coalition of national Socialist parties. [includes rush transcript]

(starts at 48:33 minutes in)

AMY GOODMAN: We wrap up now on the issue of global warming. A number of Senate Democrats are urging the White House to give up efforts to pass a bill next year to curb global warming by capping greenhouse gas emissions and setting up a system to trade carbon. Conservative Democrats are pushing to table climate legislation in favor of a jobs bill that would be an easier sell during the 2010 elections. Indiana Democratic Senator Evan Bayh told Politico, quote, “We need to deal with the phenomena of global warming, but I think it’s very difficult in the kind of economic circumstances we have right now.” And North Dakota Democratic Senator Kent Conrad added, “Climate change in an election year has very poor prospects.”

Well, the comments came just days after the UN climate summit wrapped up in Copenhagen. The talks ended in failure as world leaders couldn’t agree to a binding deal to reduce emissions. During the summit, I had a chance to sit down with the Greek prime minister, George Papandreou. As the head of Greece’s Socialist Party, Papandreou became prime minister in October after the Socialists trounced the center-right government in national elections, winning 44 percent of the vote, their largest victory ever. George Papandreou is also the president of Socialist International, a coalition of national Socialist parties. I interviewed him inside the Bella Center in Copenhagen.

    AMY GOODMAN: Prime Minister Papandreou, welcome to Democracy Now!

    PRIME MINISTER GEORGE PAPANDREOU: It’s nice to be on your program, and I follow it quite often through the internet. And congratulations on what you’re doing.

    AMY GOODMAN: Thank you. The state of the climate negotiations, what is your take on them?

    PRIME MINISTER GEORGE PAPANDREOU: It’s a very difficult negotiation. And I think that’s one of the first things we have to take away from Copenhagen, is that, more and more, our planet will be needing cooperation at the highest level, and this is going to be a question of governance. It’s going to be a question of how the UN can be more effective in how we support the United Nations, and, of course, how we make sure that all parts of the world are well represented and it’s more democratic in the way we make our decisions. And I think this is just a—it is a major development as far as institutions are concerned and for humanity.

    But it just shows that we have what’s very difficult. There are different interests. In the end, of course, we all have an interest here to deal with the climate change and see the issue in the long run. But we’ll see how we have to share the burden and make this crisis an opportunity.

    AMY GOODMAN: There is clearly, in this two weeks, a simmering anger of the developing world, particularly of the South, over the major greenhouse gas emitters, the donors. When I asked Vandana Shiva, the Indian environmentalist and scientist, what she thought of the US questioning climate debt, climate reparations, she said, “Don’t call the donors ‘donors.’ Call them ‘polluters.’” What do you make of that?

    PRIME MINISTER GEORGE PAPANDREOU: Well, I would agree in many ways that the world that has developed already has a huge responsibility for where we are right now. At the same time, I will say that we have to get beyond this, the blame game, and take up our responsibilities. And certainly those that are polluting more have a much higher responsibility, and historically so, but also in what they’re doing today. But that doesn’t mean that—and so, that’s one part of the story, that we need to make sure —and this is absolutely right—we have to help the countries that are poor to be able to move forward.

    What we have to be able to say is that countries like India have the right to grow as other countries have grown, have the right to develop, but that in the end, our path, the path of the developed world—and Greece is somewhere—is less of a polluter, but is, of course, now part of the developed world and polluting quite a bit, and we want to move into a green economy. But in the end, our path is unsustainable. It’s unsustainable for us. It’s unsustainable for the rest of the world. So, we can talk about the past, and we can talk about the burden we have, but we also have to talk about where we go from now on.

    I think there is—as when you talk about the anger, there is a culmination of issues here, and it’s not just—it’s not just climate. It’s poverty. It’s inequality. It’s a sense of marginalization of wide parts of the population around the world, a sense of impotency because we see the great capabilities that humanity does have, the huge wealth which we do have. If you just saw the crisis just last year, the financial crisis, the money that existed to bail out the banks, and you compare that with the fact that we are not dealing with very important issues, whether it’s poverty, inequality, migration issues and so on, conflict, therefore this climate issue, I think, has brought in and culminated some of this anger. And it’s justified.

    AMY GOODMAN: It’s not only money used to bail out the banks, but also for war—


    AMY GOODMAN: —the US waging war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Your response to your counterpart, President Obama, in the United States?

    PRIME MINISTER GEORGE PAPANDREOU: Well, I think we have to see that, obviously, the Iraq war has—the money that has been spent, and still is being spent, could have been spent in a very different way and, first of all, dealt with some of the big problems that the planet has, I think also creating a very different positive will towards the United States and in being a leader in the world, a leader in democracy, rather than losing out so much under the Bush years.

    I had said something which some people were a bit unhappy with, but I said, as being a Socialist and a Democrat, that the word “socialism” was lost out because of the Soviet Union, but in recent years, under the Bush administration, the word “democracy” had also been undermined by the way it was used as a double standard, particularly with areas whether it’s Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib and the thing we saw with Iraq, also. So I think that from a moral point of view, from a political point of view, and from a security point of view, the US—but we all have to gain by putting our money elsewhere.

    AMY GOODMAN: You are not only the prime minister of Greece, you are the head of the Socialist International.


    AMY GOODMAN: What does “socialism” mean to you?

    PRIME MINISTER GEORGE PAPANDREOU: Well, I know it’s a taboo word in the United States.

    AMY GOODMAN: And you were educated in the United States. You were born there.

    PRIME MINISTER GEORGE PAPANDREOU: I was born in the United States.

    AMY GOODMAN: Where?

    PRIME MINISTER GEORGE PAPANDREOU: I was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. I grew up in California, and I studied on the East Coast in Massachusetts, Amherst College. I also lived in Canada for some years and parts of—many parts of the world, as we were exiled also during the dictatorship in Greece.

    So, for me, I think there are three things today. And let’s not take labels, let’s just see what is. First of all, it’s freedom. Freedom and democracy are basic, very basic. And we see that being undermined by, I would say, the capture of our institutions by special interests around the world, and very, very high concentration of power in hands of the few, money and power and media and so on in hands of the few. That is one big question for democracy. So democracy is number one.

    Second, social justice, a sense of justice and equality around the world and in our societies. We’ve seen inequality grow, even though we as human beings and societies have greater capacity, in fact, to produce.

    And the third is ecology, is a new deal with our environment, a new deal with nature. And I think these are the three main things that today our movement represents.

    AMY GOODMAN: The activists here hold up signs that say “System change, not climate change.” I just interviewed President Morales, and he said you can’t deal with global warming, you can’t bring an end to global warming, unless you bring an end to capitalism. Do you share that view?

    PRIME MINISTER GEORGE PAPANDREOU: I would say, yes, system change and not just climate change. And I would say, well, we need to use the market. Let me put it the other way around. I am not dogmatic in favor of the state, and I am not dogmatic in favor of the market. I think when we have dogmas, they have hidden special interests, and they have hidden, very often, very, very strong interests, whether it be the state in the Soviet Union or whether it was Wall Street in the United States and the financial system.

    What we need—what we need is these—the market and the state to democratically work for us, put them to work for people. And that, I think, is what we need to do. And this is—in dealing with the climate change, we need to say how we bring in our capacity as governments and our capacity as market forces, but in an organized way, in a regulated way, in order to deal with issues such as climate change. So that means, in many ways, a system change: a much more transparent system, much more equitable system and a much more planned system.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, who’s also president of the Socialist International. George Papandreou’s grandfather, George Papandreou, as well, served three terms as the prime minister of Greece. He was later put under house arrest in a military coup. George Papandreou’s father, Andreas Papandreou, served two terms as prime minister. He was also put in jail in Greece by the coup leaders. George Papandreou was just recently elected prime minister.


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