Karamanlis Institute – Marshall Plan 70th Anniversary Discussion with Mr. Kyriakos Mitsotakis

Ambassador Pyatt delivers remarks on the occassion of 70th Anniversary of Marshall Plan

Benaki Museum Auditorium

Athens, Greece

June 26, 2017

As Delivered


Καλησπέρα. Good evening everybody. Thank you Konstantina for having me here. I actually have some prepared remarks, but Mr. Mitsotakis said everything as well as I could, so I’m going to probably keep my remarks very short to allow for a dialogue.

I had the honor of getting to know Mr. Mitsotakis as a politician but also as an intellectual and as a policy thinker, what you would call a “policy wonk” back in the U.S., so I really do appreciate his willingness to have this conversation.

I should also say — I’d like to say a word about the other Mitsotakis, Prime Minister Mitsotakis who passed away recently. He is, of course, among the Greek political leaders who played a prominent role during the period of reconstruction that we think about in the context of the Marshall Plan. He’s also somebody who fought with the Cretan resistance to the Nazi occupation, was actually a prisoner of war twice, and then demonstrated the same level of bravery and patriotism during the Junta years.

As I pointed out at the time of his passing, Prime Minister Mitsotakis was a leading voice for Greek-U.S. relations before it was fashionable. He was the first political leader from Greece in more than a generation to travel to the White House at the invitation of President George H.W. Bush and then hosted President Bush as well at Souda Bay. And as the former President Bush pointed out a couple of weeks ago in the passing of Prime Minister Mitsotakis, Europe lost one of its great statesmen, so it’s an avid honor for me to be here this evening talking a little bit about that period of history.

There’s an awful lot that’s been said about the 70th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, but I think one of the things that sticks with me, from an event we hosted at the Embassy, a week or two ago — and some of the Nea Demokratia Vice Presidents were present at the time. One of the comments that really stuck with me from that event was a young woman who works with an NGO here in Athens. She said to me, “Ambassador, I told my grandmother I was coming to this event,” this was at the Embassy, and she said, “My grandmother told me, when you see the American Ambassador, be sure to thank him for the yellow cheese that we had during early years in the Marshall Plan.”

And I like that story a lot because it reminds us that what the Marshall Plan was ultimately about is people, and that was the people of Greece and the people of Europe who were struggling to recover from the trauma of war and occupation.

You know I don’t think that when Secretary of State George Marshall gave his speech, anybody thought at the time that it would change history or even be remembered, which I think is a reminder to all of us speech writers and those who deliver speeches, not to be put off by the first reviews. But it clearly is the case that, in retrospect, the Marshall Plan speech and the Plan itself marked a turning point.

As Mr. Mitsotakis pointed out in his speech, one of the most important things that the Marshall Plan accomplished was to restore a sense of health. It was a plan which was presented to Europe at a moment when not just the continent was literally at the point of collapse. And importantly — and again, Mr. Mitsotakis made this point quite well — this was not something that was imposed on Europe; it was a series of proposals that were presented to Europe and to Europeans as a start of a conversation and a challenge to the political leaders of the continent to work together to develop a shared region after generations of war and conflict.

In that regard, the Marshall Plan reflected an American interest in seeing Europe united and working together, which is a perspective that is as important today as it was then, 70 years ago. It’s important also, I think, to bear in mind, as we look back, that success of the Marshall Plan, and even the success of the European project and European recovery, was in no sense, foreordained. And President Truman and Secretary of State Marshall, in proposing this massive assistance program to Europe, actually went against the grain of popular sentiment in the United States, which in fact was to withdraw from European affairs, as the American people fatigued after years of war.

But, especially influenced by a bitter winter of 1946 and 1947, U.S. policy makers wisely concluded that, without American assistance to help Europe recover economically, any progress that was made in the fight against fascism could be lost.

As Secretary of State Marshall emphasized in his remarks at Harvard, “Our policy was not directed against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist.” And in this regard, the European Recovery Program and what came after it, was designed to protect the core, democratic values that are the heart of the political, economic, and military relationship between the United States and Europe.

Between 1947 and 1953, the United States offered to 16 European countries a total of $1[3].3 billion in loans and grants, which would be equivalent to more than 150 billion U.S. dollars today. To put that in context for you just a second, that assistance to Europe amounted to 12% of the entire U.S. federal budget at the time. I think that’s a reminder of the extraordinary generosity of the American people that that period constituted.

The Marshall Plan also, however, was critically an institutional incubator. It was, as Mr. Mitsotakis pointed out, the seed of European institutions, first the European coal and steel community, later the European community, and, ultimately, the European Union, and all of the institutions of Euro-Atlantic cooperation, that we take today, take for granted.

As Mr. Mitsotakis pointed out, there’s a wonderful display we put together, in conjunction with our partners, here at the Benaki Library, which reminds us of some of the specific projects that were part of that Marshall legacy here in Greece. But I think it’s also worth reminding ourselves of some of the specifics.

And here I am going to use my notes so I don’t get any of these stories wrong.

First of all, there were over 6.5 million tons of U.S. food and supplies which reached the people of Greece, the yellow cheese and much, much more. Marshall Plan assistance also helped to restore and expand the agricultural and industrial production, which had been decimated during the war. Agricultural production in Greece was down 70 percent and 80 percent of Greek industrial infrastructure had been lost.  Marshall Plan assistance helped to repair and rebuild transportation routes, including the Corinth Canal, and provided essential updates to Greece’s main ports in Piraeus, Thessaloniki, and Volos. The Marshall Plan also upgraded health facilities and services. The Evangelismos and Alexandra hospitals right here in Athens were upgraded and received new equipment; hospital and clinics in Thessaloniki, Ioannina, Lamia, Samos, Volos, Heraklion and many more cities, were revitalized; and doctors and nurses in Greece received training from U.S. experts.

Greece also used Marshall Plan assistance to reestablish sound currencies and financial viability and to boost international trade both among European countries and between Europe and the rest of the world — principally the United States. Greek businesses received, literally, tens of millions of dollars in U.S. loans to modernize production equipment and factories. This created thousands of new jobs in the agriculture and industry sectors.

What’s really astounding to me is how the Marshall Plan touched nearly every aspect of Greek economic recovery after the Second World War. Marshall Plan funds were even used to reopen cultural sites and rebuild Greece’s tourism infrastructure, which is, today, so important to the national economy. After the American School of Classical Studies successfully lobbied in the U.S. Congress for aid, we provided in the end $6 million to reopen the museums, restore monuments, and construct tourist infrastructure.

I even learned at our event at the Embassy two weeks ago that around half-a-million U.S. dollars went to the Fix Brewery.  So there are few aspects of life in Greece that the Marshall Plan did not touch. And in this regard, I’m extremely proud to look back and see how U.S. assistance in those years transformed the lives of Greeks.

To conclude, the logic of our involvement in Greece, beginning with the recovery effort in 1947, rested on two pillars. One, of course, is our shared democratic values, which is a bedrock of everything our countries and our peoples do together. But another is geopolitics, and the critical geography that Greece occupies, a country at the vanguard of Europe, a country, which then, as today, we look to as a pillar of stability in a geostrategically complicated and challenging region.

It has been a special honor for me to be American Ambassador here in Greece, as we mark this 70th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, and as I’ve heard so many individual stories about how that plan touched Greek families across the country.

But I’ve also been impressed, and a few weeks ago I was able to host here in Athens my predecessor, Ambassador Charlie Ries, who was American Ambassador during the 60th anniversary of the Marshall Plan. And as I talked with Charlie, I was struck at how significantly our relationship has strengthened and improved in that decade. And what I hope, and indeed, I’m quite confident of this, that as my successor, or successor’s successor, looks back at the 80th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, we will continue to celebrate our shared effort to build a Europe whole, free, and at peace. But we will also remark on how our countries have worked and are working together to build a more safe, secure, and prosperous world in which our trans-Atlantic relations are even better off.

So thank you very much. And I look forward to the conversation.

Moderator: Ambassador Pyatt, when we look back to the Marshall Plan, we’re always amazed by the decision of the American people to finance such a generous project for Europeans and most of them were also Europeans they had fought against in the Second World War. What was the role of leadership, of American leadership but also of European leadership at that time in the effort to reinvent Europe?

Ambassador: I think that’s, you make a critically important point, and I alluded to that in my remarks. If you look back on the history, especially at that period of 1946, early ‘47, the general mood in America was one of fatigue. There had been great sacrifices for the war; Americans wanted to come home. There was very little political appetite for involvement in Europe at all, not to speak of a multi-year, multibillion dollar assistance initiative. What order came back was courageous and visionary leadership in the United States. There’s a reason why in American politics we call it ‘the Greatest Generation’ because they were the generation that both defeated fascism but then also had the foresight and the wisdom to recognize that that accomplishment — that victory — would not be fully successful unless we then recommitted ourselves to the reconstruction, in particular, of Europe, including of countries that we had fought against.

But I think also European leadership is part of that equation. The fact that European leaders of the time both recognized the challenge that Secretary Marshall, President Truman, and others had put on the table, the challenge to a collective response, the challenge to cooperation, and then also recognize the importance of these things to work together. I think the good news is that those same qualities of leadership, and, of course, we’re going through great debates —surprisingly or not — again in the United States but also in Europe about the nature of our transatlantic relationship, about the nature of the international system and our stake in each other’s success. But I am firmly convinced that, as happened in the 1940s, as this debate plays itself out our leaders on both sides of the Atlantic, will realize that we are bound together, that our fates are bound together, and have to, and we need leaders that are capable of exercising the same kind of visionary leadership as that generation of the 1940s.

Moderator: You both mentioned, and this is my final question, the strong connection between the Marshall Plan reconstruction and European integration. What are the values we can keep for the Marshall Plan in order to think out of the box today regarding European affairs, European integration, and our common future in the Atlantic community?

Ambassador:  I’m always very cautious in speaking to these issues because I’m not a European. But, my perspective, it’s powerfully effective, especially by my time as U.S. Ambassador in Ukraine, during that country’s pro-European Revolution because I saw people who literally put their lives on the line in pursuit of European governance, in pursuit of their own future as part of Europe. And I always remember that, when they spoke of Europe, they were speaking of the Europe of democracy, of rule of law, of electoral accountability, of judicial mechanisms to deal with corruption. And I think one of the challenges that European leaders face is holding on to that vision in contrast to the Europe that is projected sometimes by regulators and bureaucrats in Brussels.

I read, I think it was a New York Times article over the weekend, about the new regulations regarding frites, which have everybody in Belgium and France upset because it’s attempting to regulate the way frites have been sold on the street for so many years. And I think the point is not to let that debate overshadow the extraordinary accomplishment that Mr. Mitsotakis talked about. Europe and unified Europe as one of the great engines of political mobility in human history and as one of the most powerful mechanisms ever identified to take a region that historically has been categorized by great suffering and conflict and human adversity and turn it into a region that is a vanguard of democratic values and economic prosperity.

Ambassador [in response to audience questions]:  First of all, thank you for raising the energy question, terrifically important. Very simply, first of all, the United States is strongly focused on the question of European energy security. We have a national security interest in strengthening European energy security and energy diversification. Greece has a particularly important role to play in that effort because of, again, its geography, and its potential to emerge as a European energy hub. I am very excited about what’s already happening, including, importantly, the TAP pipeline, which you need to remember, the first new energy gas infrastructure constructed in Europe, specifically to carry non-Russian gas with significant potential, also, to unlock energy diversification in the countries of the Western Balkans, which are still largely 100% dependent on Gazprom, with all of the security implications that carries.

So we support Alexandroupolis, we support TAP, we support the further development of Revithoussa, we support the expansion of renewables in Greece, and I know that we’re very excited that we’re beginning to get American companies, especially, more involved in the new power sector. But this is a critical, strategic development. Also Greece’s ability to move forward in this area hinges critically on the policy signals that the government sends. And, here, I know Mr. Mitsotakis can speak to that much better than I can.

On the question of people-to-people ties, I would say two things. First of all this is one of the great strengths of U.S.-Greece relations, which met with much further possibility. One of the reasons my voice is scratchy is because I flew back from New York yesterday. And you can’t have been part of the Greek-American diaspora in New York for two cities as I was this week, last week, without being impressed by how seamless the connection between the Greek-American community in Manhattan and life here in Athens has become.

We want to continue to develop that; education is a key aspect of that. We will be celebrating next year the 70th anniversary of our Fulbright program. Fulbright Greece is the second-oldest Fulbright program in the world. And if you look back at the foundation of Fulbright, it was critically informed by the judgment of Senator Fulbright and younger supporters that building these kinds of economic ties in both directions is the way in which we inculcate our shared values in a next generation. And I think that’s particularly important here in Greece, where sometimes I find that universities are at the trailing edge, I guess you could say, of thinking about how our relationship should emerge in the future.

I’m a diplomat so I think I will pass on the last question about the European Union, aside from pointing out that I think it is well and I appreciate how often I hear my Greek interlocutors acknowledge to me the critical role which they believe the United States has played over the past seven years in helping Greece to navigate through this terrifically difficult series of economic crises that the country has grappled with and, in particular, the role that the U.S. government played in 2015 in helping Greece to make the wise decision to remain as part of the Eurozone.