Ex-Greek PM George Papandreou on power, democracy, and the global economy
We all remember the response from the mainstream media, the financial sector, and most European political leaders when, in early November, then Prime Minister, George Papandreou, called for a referendum to ask his people if were prepared to accept the European Union’s bailout plan, and the severe austerity measures that it contained. This recent plan follows a similar deal in 2010, when Athens agreed to years of austerity measures in exchange for a $146 billion bailout from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. There was no referendum then (the last referendum in Greece was in 1974), and the decision sparked many protests and riots. Against this backdrop of earlier cuts and mounting domestic pressure, it is understandable that Papandreou wanted to give the Greek people an opportunity to have their say. After all, consulting the electorate before committing to further domestic spending cuts would seem to be a sensible and expected part of the decision making process in a democracy. However, leaders in the rest of the world were focussed on the health of financial markets, not on the health of the democratic process, and they saw the referendum as a high stakes gamble. Not surprisingly, the markets were rattled, political pressure on Athens was intense, and Papandreou cancelled his plan for a referendum. Others, not the Greek citizens, would decide how the country would respond to its worsening financial crisis.
On 9 November 2011, Lucas Papademos was appointed as Prime Minister of Greece, replacing Papandreou. Papademos is a US-educated economist and former vice-president of the European Central Bank. He has never been elected to any public office. As the Guardian reported on 10 November, Papademos explained: “I am not a politician but I have dedicated the biggest part of my career to economic policy in Europe and Greece”. The Guardian interviewed a spokesperson from one political party, who commented that Papademos expressed the “logic of banks and markets”.
“The new government and the new prime minister are being called to impose a political policy that does not have democratic legitimisation,” said Alexis Tsipras, who heads the leftwing Syriza group, adding that Papademos “is someone who has not been elected or judged by the Greek people”.
“This development amounts to a merciless distortion of popular sovereignty,” he said. “The choice of Mr Papademos is a guarantee that the same policies that have destroyed us will be continued with greater force and consequence.”
On December 9, Papandreou was attending the U.N. climate change summit in Durban, South Africa, and Democracy Now! has been on location to cover the event all week. Amy Goodman got an exclusive interview with the former Prime Minister of Greece. She began by asking Papandreou to “talk about the status of democracy now in Greece, the cradle of democracy”. He responded:
Well, I believe that we have a democratic challenge around the world right now, because we have a globalizing economy, but our institutions are national. Our democratic institutions are national. And that means that there is a lot of power being concentrated in the global economy, in the hands of a few—it could be in money, it could be in media, it could be in technology—which is not under any democratic oversight, whether we call them rating agencies or whether we call them the CDSs, the credit default swaps, or whether we call them the tax havens. This allows for a lot of power to be concentrated, which is beyond our citizens’ reach.