Hello, Greece! Yia sas! Kalispera! [Good evening!] To the government and the people of Greece -- including Prime Minister Tsipras, who I thank for his partnership and for being here, along with so many young people, the future of Greece -- I want to thank you for your warm and generous welcome.
As many of you know, this is my final trip overseas as President of the United States, and I was determined, on my last trip, to come to Greece -- partly because I’ve heard about the legendary hospitality of the Greek people -- your philoxenia. Partly because I had to see the Acropolis and the Parthenon. But also because I came here with gratitude for all that Greece -- “this small, great world” -- has given to humanity through the ages.
We’ve had some spanakopita and some ouzo. Greek Americans have worn the uniform to keep our country free. Greek Americans have marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to make us more just. Greek or American, we’re all cheering for Giannis Antetokounmpo -- who seems to be getting better each year. And if anyone seeks an example of our shared spirit, our resilience, they need look no further than New York City, near Ground Zero, where the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas, once in ruins, is now rising again.
Most of all, we’re indebted to Greece for the most precious of gifts -- the truth, the understanding that as individuals of free will, we have the right and the capacity to govern ourselves. For it was here, 25 centuries ago, in the rocky hills of this city, that a new idea emerged. Demokratia. Kratos -- the power, the right to rule -- comes from demos -- the people.
The notion that we are citizens -- not servants, but stewards of our society. The concept of citizenship -- that we have both rights and responsibilities. The belief in equality before the law -- not just for a few, but for the many; not just for the majority, but also the minority. These are all concepts that grew out of this rocky soil.
But what I also believe, after eight years, is that the basic longing to live with dignity, the fundamental desire to have control of our lives and our future, and to want to be a part of determining the course of our communities and our nations -- these yearnings are universal. They burn in every human heart.
In contrast to regimes that rule by coercion, democracies are rooted in consent of the governed -- citizens know that there’s a path for peaceful change, including the moral force of nonviolence. And that brings a stability that so often can facilitate economic growth.
And I am confident that just as America’s commitment to the transatlantic alliance has endured for seven decades --whether it’s been under a Democratic or Republican Administration -- that commitment will continue, including our pledge and our treaty obligation to defend every ally.
That doesn’t mean that you should be left on your own -- and only a truly collective response by Europe and the world can ensure that these desperate people receive the support that they need. Greece cannot be expected to bear the bulk of the burden alone -- but the fact that your democracy opens your heart to people in need in a way that might not otherwise be the case.
- freedom of speech and assembly -- because true legitimacy can only come from the people, who must never be silenced;
- a free press to expose injustice and corruption and hold leaders accountable;
- freedom of religion -- because we’re all equal in the eyes of God;
- independent judiciaries to uphold rule of law and human rights;
- separation of powers to limit the reach of any one branch of government;
- free and fair elections -- because citizens must be able to choose their own leaders, even if your candidate doesn’t always win.
We compete hard in campaigns in America and here in Greece. But after the election, democracy depends on a peaceful transition of power, especially when you don’t get the result you want.
The same forces of globalization and technology and integration that have delivered so much progress, have created so much wealth, have also revealed deep fault lines. Around the world, integration and closer cooperation, and greater trade and commerce, and the Internet -- all have improved the lives of billions of people -- lifted families from extreme poverty, cured diseases, helped people live longer, gave them more access to education and opportunity than at any time in human history.
What we’ve also seen is that this global integration is increasing the tendencies towards inequality, both between nations and within nations, at an accelerated pace. And when we see people -- global elites, wealthy corporations -- seemingly living by a different set of rules, avoiding taxes, manipulating loopholes -- when the rich and the powerful appear to game the system and accumulate vast wealth while middle and working-class families struggle to make ends meet, this feeds a profound sense of injustice and a feeling that our economies are increasingly unfair.This inequality now constitutes one of the greatest challenges to our economies and to our democracies. An inequality that was once tolerated because people didn’t know how unequal things were now won’t be tolerated because everybody has a cellphone and can see how unequal things are. The awareness that people have in the smallest African village, they can see how people in London or New York are living. The poorest child in any of our countries now has a sense of what other people have that they don’t. So not only is there increasing inequality, but also there is greater awareness of inequality. And that’s a volatile mix for our democracies.
But when a CEO of a company now makes more money in a single day than a typical worker does in an entire year, when it’s harder for workers to climb their way up the economic ladder, when they see a factory close that used to support an entire city or town, fuels the feeling that globalization only benefits those at the top.
And the reaction can drag down a country’s growth and make recessions more likely. It can also lead to politics that create an unhealthy competition between countries. Rather than a win-win situation, people perceive that if you’re winning, I’m losing, and barriers come up and walls come up.
So this impulse to pull back from a globalized world is understandable.
If people feel that they’re losing control of their future, they will push back. We have seen it here in Greece. We’ve seen it across Europe. We’ve seen it in the United States. We saw it in the vote in Britain to leave the EU.
So I firmly believe that the best hope for human progress remains open markets combined with democracy and human rights.
But I have argued that the current path of globalization demands a course correction. In the years and decades ahead, our countries have to make sure that the benefits of an integrated global economy are more broadly shared by more people, and that the negative impacts are squarely addressed.And we actually know the path to building more inclusive economies. It’s just we too often don’t have the political will or desire to get it done. We know we need bold policies that spur growth and support jobs. We know that we need to give workers more leverage and better wages, and that, in fact, if you give workers better wages businesses do better, too, because their customers now have money to spend.
And in this global economy, investment and jobs flow to countries where governments are efficient, not bloated, where the rules are clear.
To stay competitive, to attract investment that creates jobs, Greece had to start a reform process.
Of course, the world, I don’t think, fully appreciates the extraordinary pain these reforms have involved, or the tremendous sacrifices that you, the Greek people, have made. I’ve been aware of it, and I’ve been proud of all that my Administration has done to try to support Greece in these efforts. And part of the purpose of my visit is to highlight for the world the important steps that have been taken here in Greece.Today, the budget is back in surplus. Parliament passed reforms to make the economy more competitive. Yes, there is still much more work to do. I want to commend Prime Minister Tsipras for the very difficult reforms his government is pursuing to put the economy on a firmer footing. Now, as Greece works to attract more investment, and to prevent old imbalances from re-emerging, and to put your economy on a stronger foundation, you’ll continue to have the full support of the United States.
And so this is why, as President of the United States, I've pursued initiatives like the Open Government Partnership that promotes transparency and accountability so that ordinary people know more about the decisions that affect their lives. That's why both at home and around the world, we have taken steps to fight corruption that can rot a society from within.
The most important title is “citizen.” And in all of our nations, it will always be our citizens who decide the kind of countries we will be, the ideals that we will reach for, and the values that will define us.
In this great, imperfect, but necessary system of self-government, power and progress will always come from the demos -- from “We, the people.” And I'm confident that as long as we are true to that system of self-government, that our futures will be bright.
"Democracy" in action in its motherland, Greece.