5 November 2009
Secretary-General
SG/SM/12589

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General Tells Hellenic Parliament Transformational Change on Big Issues


Should Draw from ‘Spirit of Possibility’ That Defines Greek National Character


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the Hellenic Parliament, today, 5 November, in Athens, Greece:


Ime poll harumenos pu vriskome simera sto elliniko kinovulio. [I’m very happy to be here today in the Hellenic Parliament.]


Yesterday, I had the privilege of visiting the new Acropolis Museum.  It is a beautiful blend of ancient and modern.  That is Athens everywhere I look.  That is Greece.


For centuries, Greek ideas and ideals have shaped the world.


You have produced the vision of Pericles, the wisdom of Socrates, Aristotle and Plato, the adventuring spirit of Homer.


You have given us the Olympic ideal of peaceful competition and the practice of Amphictionia, what some have called the forerunner of the United Nations.


But you have given the world something greater still ‑‑ the concept of democracy ‑‑ faith and trust in people.


I am so moved to be in the birthplace of democracy and this Parliament that gives it new life each day.  I am profoundly honoured to be the first United Nations Secretary-General to address the Hellenic Parliament.


This is a tribute to the global institution I lead.  But this privilege also touches me in a deeply personal way.  Greece is a founding Member of the United Nations.


Believing in democracy and freedom, over 1,000 Greek troops came to Korea as one of 16 countries that joined the United Nations forces when the Korean War broke out in 1950.


The sacrifice of the Greek people helped deliver freedom to my own.


I will never forget meeting some of the old veterans a few years ago here in Athens.


Today, as Secretary-General of the United Nations, I want to ensure that the United Nations helps people everywhere build democracy, strengthen peace, promote human rights, and foster development.


As you know, I am just back from Afghanistan.  Perhaps no other situation better highlights the seriousness of the task before us.


Our United Nations team was brutally attacked for doing their job.  I went to show solidarity.


I came back inspired by the resolve and commitment of all those risking their lives for a better future for the Afghan people.


Here in this city where democracy began, I pledge that our vital work will continue.


You, as Parliamentarians, are essential to advancing our common values around the world.  As lawmakers, you translate international standards and agreements into domestic regulations and legislation.  You are a vital link between the global and the local.


This is a crucial moment for our work together.


A financial crisis has shaken the foundations of the global economy.  A flu pandemic is stalking every member of the human family.  A food crisis continues to pick the pockets of the most vulnerable.  And, of course, climate change threatens our people and our planet.


These multiple challenges reveal the interconnected nature of our world today.  No country, however powerful, can tackle alone the multiple challenges we are now facing.  We are all in this together.  And we must act together.


That is why I say it is time for renewed multilateralism ‑‑ a multilateralism that delivers for real people in real time.


Greece has a vital contribution to make.  I see four key fronts where we can make that difference.  The first opportunity is tackling climate change.  Climate change is the leading geopolitical and economic issue of the twenty-first century.


These are crucial days.  The Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is just four weeks away.


From the moment I took office, I have urged leaders to make climate change a priority.


There is no doubt that the Copenhagen negotiations are complex with many actors and many moving pieces.


Our objectives are clear.


We must reduce the emissions that are causing climate change.


Developed countries should commit to ambitious targets to curtail greenhouse gas emissions by 25 to 40 per cent, as the science tells us.  Developing countries should also take their own nationally appropriate mitigation action.  We must help the most vulnerable adapt to changes that are already under way.


We must provide financial and technological support to developing countries in their mitigation and adaptation efforts.


And we must have equitable structures to govern and manage this support.


We must have a global agreement ‑‑ an agreement which is comprehensive, balanced, equitable and binding.


I commend the European Union’s leadership role in addressing climate change.  I am encouraged by the recent European Union Summit meeting where leaders had detailed discussions on a climate financing package and I applaud the leadership role played by Prime Minister Papandreou.


Here in Greece, I see a vision of green growth taking hold.  You are boosting renewable energy production.  You are tapping this region’s abundant potential for wind and solar power.  I was particularly pleased to see that Greece has established the first ever Environment, Energy and Climate Change Ministry.


I applaud Greece for all of these efforts.  This is the way to the low-carbon future and it is the path to success in Copenhagen and beyond.


Just last week, I met His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholemew in New York.  As he has so wisely counselled:


Our belief in the unity and interconnectedness of all things constitutes a strong argument for immediate action:  “Climate change will only be overcome when all of us cooperate for the common good.”  Now is the time for action by all the members of the international community.


The second challenge is to spread economic opportunity more widely.  The clock is ticking on the Millennium Development Goals.


We have made progress ‑‑ on fighting malaria, polio, and other diseases ‑‑ on getting more children into schools, especially girls.


Yet more than 1 billion people are still trapped in extreme poverty.  And the global financial economic crisis has made it more difficult for more people.


The Greek economy has suffered.  Like other countries, you are now faced with tackling the economic and social fallout.


This Parliament will take up how best to respond.  I would encourage you to focus on the situation of the most vulnerable.  The rights of the poor, women, youth and the displaced are often the most fragile.


Just yesterday, I addressed the third Global Forum on Migration and Development here in Athens.  I thank Greece for generously hosting this important Forum.


In recent years, the Greek economy has benefited enormously from the contribution of migrant workers.  I am also aware that you are making efforts to address concerns about the conditions of migrants detained in Greece and the problem of adequate protection for migrant workers.


I sincerely hope that Greece, as a country of destination for these migrant workers, will continue to promote and protect the rights of migrants.


I also hope that the Greek Government will follow up on the recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, with respect to their treatment of asylum-seekers.


Let me also say that, despite the challenges brought on by the global recession here in Greece and elsewhere, developed countries have the political and moral obligation to help the least among us.


In past economic crises, development assistance has been cut at the very time it is most needed.  The global recession cannot be an excuse to abandon pledges.  Keeping your commitments is not charity.  It is critical to a coordinated global recovery plan.  This is the path from recession to recovery to renewal.


The third challenge, strengthening global peace and security.


We have important opportunities in several key areas.  For example, in disarmament, I laid out a five-point action plan, including a proposal for the United Nations Security Council to convene a summit on nuclear disarmament.


That historic meeting did indeed take place in September under the chairmanship of United States President Barack Obama.


We can never fully achieve peace and prosperity in a world threatened by the nightmare of nuclear war or nuclear terrorism.  The only way to avoid it is by making the very existence of such weapons a global taboo.


Since the beginning of my tenure, I have also worked to strengthen the overall peace architecture at the United Nations.  I have focused on strengthening the United Nations capacity for conflict prevention and post-conflict peacebuilding.


We have also launched what we call a New Horizon for United Nations peacekeeping.  Peacekeeping is growing and becoming more complex.  We will need to keep pace.


Today, we have more than 115,000 peacekeepers in 15 missions.  Just one of our missions ‑‑ in Darfur ‑‑ has more troops than all United Nations peacekeeping operations combined 10 years ago.


We need to deliver more effectively ‑‑ by strengthening partnerships and by better linking peacekeeping and peacebuilding.


Greece is playing a role in a number of critical United Nations peacekeeping operations.  I urge you to consider increasing your commitment.


Even though our peace efforts are primarily land-based field operations ‑‑ security, of course, is also needed on the sea.


Greece is a leading maritime nation and its contribution to the international seaborne trade and economy is vital for the functioning of the world economy.


I am pleased to have this opportunity here to thank Greece for its contribution to anti-piracy efforts off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden.  You have provided naval assets to NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] and European Union maritime operations, which have also ensured the delivery of crucial lifesaving assistance by the World Food Programme to Somalia.


The fourth challenge is to successfully address long-standing regional concerns.


As you know, the United Nations is actively supporting a resolution of the Cyprus issue.  We are facilitating the current negotiations between the two leaders, and the talks are making steady progress.


I commend the Greek Cypriot leader, Mr. Demetris Christofias, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mr. Mehmet Ali Talat, for their political leadership and their determination.  My Special Adviser, Alexander Downer, and I personally, are fully committed to supporting the achievement of a solution, by the Cypriot people and for the Cypriot people.  This should be Cypriot-people-led and Cypriot-people-owned.


Despite the many challenges, I remain cautiously optimistic about the prospects for a settlement.  Greece’s close and unique relationship to the Republic of Cyprus makes your support critical.


We are facing a unique opportunity to resolve this long-standing issue.  Let us do all we can to support the Cypriot people in achieving the goal of a mutually acceptable and beneficial settlement, for a united Cyprus.


The United Nations has also played a facilitating role in another long-standing issue:  the name dispute between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.


The resolution of this dispute will open new prospects for regional cooperation and will serve as an important contribution towards stability and security in South-Eastern Europe.


It is my firm hope that this issue will be resolved in the near future.  I am confident that both Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will put their best efforts forward to come to a mutually acceptable agreement.


During my visit here, I have had in-depth discussions with Prime Minister Papandreou.  I have been encouraged by the Greek Government’s clear endorsement of a continuing role for the United Nations in assisting the parties in the negotiations.


The United Nations remains strongly committed to supporting the talks.  My Personal Envoy, Matthew Nimetz, stands ready to resume work with both Governments at the earliest opportunity.


Now is the time for transformational change on all of these big issues.  Let us draw from the spirit of possibility and progress that is so much a part of the Greek national character.  I feel it so strongly in this Chamber.


But that Greek spirit also touches me every day that I walk into United Nations Headquarters.  There, at the front of the building is a large fountain.  There are stones at its base patterned in the form of waves.  Those beautiful black and white pebbles were gathered by Greek women more than 50 years ago.  They came from the beaches of Rhodes and were given as a gift to the United Nations from the Greek people.


When the United Nations was still young, and Greece itself was in a turbulent era, the people of Greece were there striving to be a part of our new global community in such an elemental way.  Whenever I see that fountain, I see that Greek sense of solidarity.  That truly is the spirit of Greece.  Let us harness that spirit to tackle the big challenges of our era.


This is our chance.  Now is our time to act.  Efxaristo poly.  [Thank you very much.]


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