Globalisation has brought many economic benefits to the world, but needs a “course correction” to address growing inequality, US President Barack Obama said in an eagerly-awaited valedictory speech in the Greek capital.
“When we see people, global elites, wealthy corporations seemingly living by a different set of rules, avoiding taxes, manipulating loopholes… this feeds a profound sense of injustice,” Obama added.
The visit to Athens was originally planned as a farewell tour but has become focused on reassuring jittery allies after the shock election victory of Donald Trump.
“A crude sort of nationalism“
During the trip, the outgoing president has repeatedly referred to the anger that has breathed life into populist movements in Europe and the US.
On Tuesday, Obama cautioned the world to guard against “a rise in a crude sort of nationalism or ethnic identity or tribalism that is built around an ‘us’ and a ‘them’”.
European governments, especially eastern countries close to Russia’s orbit, have been shaken after Donald Trump appeared to call into question Washington’s almost 70-year security guarantee.
He said he would only help NATO allies if they paid their way.
Obama stressed that Europe – and NATO – will remain a cornerstone of US foreign policy.
The US-led NATO grouping is “absolutely vital” to US interests and a strong, unified Europe is good for America and the world, Obama said.
“We know what happens when Europeans start dividing themselves up. The 20th century was a bloodbath,” Obama told the audience in Athens.
Germany is next on Obama’s itinerary.
He is due to visit Angela Merkel, whom he has described as “probably my closest international partner these last eight years.”
He will also meet the leaders of the UK, France and Italy in Berlin.
He is then due to travel to Peru, where he will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Pacific leaders at an economic summit.
Greece’s “extraordinary compassion”
The US president also touched on issues that have shaken Greek society: a dramatic influx of migrants fleeing war and poverty and a crippling financial crisis.
Obama praised the people’s “extraordinary compassion” for the hundreds and thousands of people who have landed on Greek shores since the start of Europe’s worst migrant crisis since the Second World War.
He pledged support for the Greek economy.
The country’s leaders are seeking a fresh US pledge to help alleviate the country’s enormous public debt.
The measure is supported by the IMF but opposed by leading European lender, Germany.
“In my message to the rest of Europe, I will continue to emphasise our view that austerity alone cannot deliver prosperity,” Obama told Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
Euronews – All Views
Stamatis Giannisis from Euronews Greek service says Obama was careful to address all the social and economic forces that are upending world politics and impacting nations like Greece and the US.
“In the almost-thirty hours Obama stayed in Athens, he repeatedly declared his support for the crucial issues concerning Greece.”
“The outgoing US president chose the birthplace of democracy in order to leave his political testimony, and addressed the uncertainties modern republics face.”
“Obama made repeated direct and indirect references to his successor at the White House, Donald Trump.”
Protests in Greece
While Obama has been generally welcomed in Greece, some came out on the streets to demonstrate.
Around 2,500 people gathered to protest in the Greek capital.
They were pushed back by police using tear gas and stun grenades as they tried to breach barriers blocking off the city centre.
The Greek police say several hundred protesters appeared to be from Greece’s vocal anarchist movement.