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CNBC Transcript: George Papandreou, Former Prime Minister of Greece

Below is the transcript of a CNBC Exclusive interview with George Papandreou, Former Prime Minister of Greece. The interview was first broadcast on CNBC's Squawk Box Asia on 11 February 2019.

All references must be sourced to a "CNBC Interview'.

Interviewed by CNBC's Hadley Gamble

Hadley Gamble (HG): Prime Minister, thank you so much for joining CNBC. I want to kick off by asking you about the CEO summit. What were some of your key takeaways?

George Papandreou (GP): Well these are important, important summits. I think we need to see that some of the problems like for example inequality. There are lots of technical solutions. I remember, for example fighting corruption inequality in Greece and the medical sector we had over prescriptions of health care by doctors and they were getting kickbacks by multinationals. And finally the taxpayer was paying for this and it went to really huge costs. But we brought in transparency, we brought in e-prescriptions, and cut the costs by 50 percent, which some are pretty much about the amount we cut it was about the amount that people pay in property taxes in Greece. So there are solutions but I think what technology can do is it can tell people and tell the global elite, and our societies, that solutions exist. But what is missing right now is the actual political will to tackle these problems.

HG: Such as what?

GP: Well I think people are becoming much more aware, citizens are becoming much more aware. My fear is that some of this awareness this anger, is going in the wrong direction. So people are angry, and I can understand why. If you are the middle class and you can't meet your daily needs. You say well why when there this huge inequality in the global 1 percent or 10 percent. And they have amazing ways to avoid taxes and tax havens and so on. Well that's where you need political will. As awareness develops, I think we need to see that only through cooperation can we deal with these issues only through some global regulation can we deal with those issues. There are other forces however saying let's move towards isolationism, let's move towards ultra nationalism, let's move towards building walls. Well that's not going to solve the problems that is in fact going to make us much weaker in dealing with the global problems we have such as climate change or the issue of tax havens and so on. So I think what our message should be, what our understanding should be, is that we need to work together. That's where Europe is very important as an example for the world. Make yours stronger, not weaker. Let's work together more, then we can really solve this problem. We could have solved the refugee problem maybe not completely, but we could have dealt with it in a much more effective way. As for the financial crisis, when I was head of the Greek government, had we worked together and immediately, the pain would have been much less. It took a lot of soul searching, there was a lot of punitive measures, there was a lot of stereotyping, lazy young, southerners -- actually Greeks work more hours than any other European - according to the OECD. So this was simply too easy rhetorical types of phrases but the the question was can we work together to calm the global markets so that we can get moving on our reforms in Greece and in other countries, to be more competitive more transparent more vibrant economies.

HG: And I think said during the financial crisis there wasn't an opportunity to really fundamentally restructure economies of scale. Have we missed the boat?

GP: I think so, I think we really need to rethink capitalism at the global level. The national level what we had and many of our developed societies what we call a social contract it was basically the employees, employers, government together saying yes we want profits, employers get profits but there's going to be a better sharing and so we make sure that there's a good life for our people. Infrastructure, environment, education, health and so on. What happens now is capital can move away. Basically, moving away from its responsibilities. And society has left, and I was left and many other leaders are left. Taxing those who can't move. If you want to keep the country going. So middle class, lower class get hit. And those who can move. Move their capital. Move their profits. They don't have to pay it, they're not part of this global or this social contract. Can we do that at a global level? Can we say let's have a global social contract to make sure that our society, we have a lot of wealth there's a huge amount of resources great possibility with technology. But. It's not. It's not distributed well, it's not used well, because we don't have some sort of global system which will control this bring transparency. And fight these these issues such as tax evasion.

HG: Do you believe that we have the right leadership in place in Europe and in the United States today to lead on these issues.

GP: Good question and leadership of course and democratic this comes from our own societies. So I think there's what we need to watch what is needed now is people need to stand up and speak and talk against this type of leadership which says isolationism, or the migrants are bad, or China is bad OK. We have problems.

HG: The rhetoric of Donald Trump.

GP: The rhetoric of stereotyping the other, as the problem rather than looking at our own problems in our own societies. I mean if you look at the student debt in the United States it's huge. The Chinese are not to blame for that or neither are the migrants to blame for that. If you look at the healthcare system in the US they pay a lot more in the US than let's say in Canada where most of our European countries yet very badly distributed health services very badly for some of the middle and lower class. It's a nightmare to how to get good health care. That's not a problem that the foreigners have had to do it. We should deal with that. But there are issues we have to work together. So I think they will affect us. For example climate change and the issue of tax havens and so on. But that's why we need to stand up and say leadership is not saying somebody else is bad. Leadership is how we change, how our structures change. Leadership is looking at issues of justice, social justice. How we become more productive, how we help our education and health systems become improving, and not demonizing the others and see how we can work together at a global level.

HG: Are you disappointed by what you're seeing in terms of the rhetoric among European countries today in regards to Brexit or to what's happening in France specifically with the breaking of diplomatic relations at this point between Italy and France?

GP I'm very disappointed. I'm worried actually about a lot of the rhetoric on the ultra right which and also even some of the more moderate conservatives that are basically embracing people like Orban in Hungary, where radical rhetoric is undermining our capacity as Europe to be a strong voice, globally to deal with problems which we have in the world, think of Africa and their training in this area. This is one of the areas where maybe the highest population growth could be in the next decade. If we don't deal with that in a constructive way and we can only do that if we work together we will have more problems rather than less problems both in Africa but also in Europe. The issue of climate change and so on we cannot deal with this with the rhetoric of going it alone. We know – no one is an island. I mean when I'm in Greece and when I was in the crisis I would say oh wouldn't it be great. I just go off to my Greek islands drink my drink my Greek wine, fish and have my yogurt. Great salads, dive in the water and so on. But then you realize I'm one of those Greek islands. If you dive in you'll see beside the ancient ruins you've got these modern ruins of plastic bottles. You'll see that you can be sitting there one morning and then all of a sudden you get thousands of refugees coming from somewhere in the world. You'll see that the ecosystem is changing because of global warming. These issues cannot be dealt as islands alone. We are no longer islands, and I think this is what's the problem with Brexit is there was a projection that you know we can go it alone, and we'll be much better. I can understand that sense of bring back control. We do need to bring back control, but we can only do it together now in a global system in a global economy where we work together to put in some kind of regulation underlying values and understanding and creating a system where much more just for our citizens.

HG: When you look at the Brexit crisis Theresa May, really between a rock and a hard place.
Do you believe that the Europeans should help her out given the stalemate?

GP: Well, I, I …

HG: For the sake of unity

GP: I may disagree with Theresa May, but I can feel for her. I empathize for a leader that has to deal with such a very difficult situation. I mean, I think in Europe there are different feelings but obviously the general consensus in Europe would be come back to us you know, come back, come back here. I would want to see somebody like Theresa May step up and say listen look what we tried we saw this. We actually voted for Brexit. Now we see what it means. These are the options. They're not very good options for the UK maybe we need to go to a second referendum. Maybe we need to ask the people again. They now have much more information. They have a very good view of what the options are.

HG: Yeah

GP: They know what the possible consequences are. Let's get away from the rhetoric. Let's let the people in a more let's say less emotional and more calm.

HG: Sounds pretty Kumbayah to me.

GP: Well there's nothing kumbaya on this. And I know that there's a huge divide in the UK and in any of our societies that's not happy. And I would want to see that in any a healing process. Obviously a second referendum could divide. But it also could heal if it's done in a proper way. And hopefully I would want to see you UK back with us again because they have a voice.
One thing that the UK is actually giving up, which many people don't understand is, you will be influenced by Europe one way or another. You will be influenced by global events one way or another. In Europe you actually have a voice a voice to make your point and actually push your interests. If you're out of Europe you'll be influenced but you will have no voice.

HG: Thank you so much for joining us on CNBC, I appreciate it.

GP: Thank you.


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