ATHENS – The New European Green Deal can open up new possibilities for development, employment, boost EU energy security and send a strong message to the world on dealing with the climate crisis, George Papandreou, a former prime minister of Greece, told New Europe in an interview in Athens on 16 October.

European Commission’s president-elect Ursula von der Leyen has pledged to introduce a “European Green Deal” within 100 days of taking office, which Papandreou said must be developed and implemented.

“I can’t judge, it’s very early how the new Commission is going to work but we all need to hope, on the one hand, but also fight and lobby and pressure and mobilise to make sure that a European Green is developed and implemented – and I think that’s not only important for Europe. I think it will give a new inspiration to the younger generation, it will open up new possibilities of development, jobs, employment but also much more independence of our energy resources from other third countries. But it will also be a very strong message for the whole world, which is dealing with the planetary question of climate crisis,” Papandreou said, who is also the president of Socialist International and a member of Global SDSN, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Speaking on the sidelines of a sustainability summit for Southeast Europe and the Mediterranean on 16 October, Papandreou acknowledged that some EU member states disagree with Brussels over climate policy and EU zero emissions targets.

Asked if he is optimistic, the EU can reach a consensus, Papandreou told New Europe, “I think if we base our projects on the greening of Europe, if you like – the Green Deal – on the concept of helping our citizens so that some, for example, let’s say in Poland they have a problem with the coal mines, but if we can say to the people that are working in the coal mines, ‘Yes, we have solutions for your work, for employment, for social justice, for climate justice,’ that’s important. If we can tell our citizens, ‘You will have a say in your future, it’s not gonna be some big corporations.’ And we can also tell the younger generation, ‘You will be educated for new forms of jobs and new possibilities and you will to manage this new world,’ I think then we will get our citizens on the side of greening of Europe and any possible objections will be miniscule.”

Turning to his country, Greece, on the development of renewables, including wind, solar and geothermal energy, the former premier said a lot of work still needs to be done. A day earlier, Italy’s Enel connected to the grid its new Kafireas wind farm complex in Evia, which is the largest of its kind in Greece with an overall capacity of more than 154 MW.

Asked if Greece is catching up, Papandreou quipped, “Greece isn’t catching up but Greece can become a leader. We’re still behind and I wish we could have done more. When I was prime minister, we had a project called Helios. When governments changed, they abandoned previous projects. We have to have a wider consensus in Greece that the greening of Greece would be amazing for our country.” Papandreou said a Green Deal would benefit Greece economically, in terms of health and wellness, as well as boost the Mediterranean country’s tourism and agricultural products sector. “We can do it. We have the possibilities. As I said earlier, Greece has the light, the sun, the wind, the geothermal and all the possible beauty and biodiversity,” Papandreou said.

He said southern European countries do not have to lag behind its Nordic counterparts in terms of renewable energy. “It’s up to us. It’s up to us. We can and we have actually more resources than the Nordic countries. If Denmark can do it, which has very little sun, it has more wind, of course, but we have wind, we have geothermal, I don’t see why Greece… and, as I said, photovoltaic is very cheap right now,” Papandreou said.

Finally, asked about the decision of US President Donald Trump’s Administration to roll back some climate policies, Papandreou said, “Well, we’ll see. They have elections next year. Let’s hope that those who believe in the Green Deal will be on the rise.”