We decided to remain. Here’s why the UK should do the same: Ex-Greek PM

We decided to remain.

Despite the pain and sacrifices of the past years, despite some ill-designed European Union policies, over the last few years, the Greeks have chosen, again and again, to stay and avoid a “Grexit.”


Why so?

Respect of human and minority rights

First of all the EU has meant a more peaceful neighborhood. We well remember the time when we had little or no contact with our neighbors to the north in the Balkan region. The break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s brought horrifying ethnic cleansing, mistrust and artificial barriers around issues of religious differences.

With our region steadily moving into the European Union we reversed that lack of co-operation, military build-up and ethnic tensions. Now there is trade, people-to-people cultural activities, co-operation in areas of infrastructure, energy and education that give meaning to our region.

We established a road map for all that would guarantee the respect of human and minority rights as well as good neighborly relations. We can envision a common future together based on common values rather than a future of animosity and hatred.

A strong voice

Second our voice has strengthened. In a wider region fraught with conflicts, such as the Middle East, the war in Syria, Ukraine, the Caucasus, our European voice when united is a powerful one, and is respected. Divided we are weak.

When I took over the seat of the rotating EU Presidency in 2003?, I was impressed with the power of our single market. We discussed and influenced the debate on issues such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) with President George W. Bush and unsafe industrial products with the Chinese.

When we, as a unified EU, decide on a common policy concerning the rights or health of our citizens, or the damage imports might do to our environment, we are not only listened to; we actually can change global policy and practices. To the benefit of everyone.

United we stand – divided we fall.

Third, there are two sides to the sovereignty debate. Some say we give up sovereignty in the EU. Others say, we actually strengthen our sovereign will in the EU. Very simply because united we stand – divided we fall.

Greece is not an island state — even though we do have thousands of islands. I often think “wouldn’t it be great to just isolate myself on one and forget about the world’s problems?”

But reality bangs on our door — no matter how tight we close it. If we are to deal with the issues of today no one can do so alone. Just think: climate change, pandemics, the global financial crisis, the refugee exodus. None of these can be dealt with by a sovereign state alone.

No one is an island in this global economy.

We’re more effective together

Finally, do I have my criticisms of the EU? You bet I do. I want to see more citizen participation, I want to see our citizens elect the officials in Brussels – or at least have more democratic oversight. I want an EU with a growth-oriented policy. I want our voice to be heard around the world even louder. I want a stronger voice that will defend the basic values we all cherish in our democracies. Just to name a few of my concerns.

But still I know only too well – the EU is still the best choice around.

The debate in the UK is not unique. We all have our questions around the future of the EU. But let’s have the strength to tackle them head-on and together. That means lets remain to fight for a better EU

Leaving is sort of an escape to a utopia. (In Greek the word means a place that does not exist.) Our tendency to escape and isolate is based on a hope that all will be better as today’s difficult problems will simply vanish. They won’t.

We need the voice, the creativity and experience of the UK and its citizens. Together we can contribute to humanizing our global society and provide for security and prosperity for our citizens.

We can and will be much more effective together.

George A. Papandreou is the former Prime Minister of Greece and current President of Socialist International. You can follow him on Twitter @gpapandreou


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