In a world of widening inequality, there’s a growing suspicion — or even disdain — for elites and institutions that seem remote from the daily lives of ordinary people. What an irony it is, at a time when we can reach out to people in the most remote corners of the planet, so many citizens feel disconnected from their own governments.
So, just as we have to have an inclusive economic strategy, we have to have an exclusive political and cultural strategy. In all of our capitals, we have to keep making government more efficient, more effective in responding to the daily needs to citizens. Governing institutions, whether in Athens, Brussels, London, Washington, have to be responsive to the concerns of citizens. People have to know that they’re being heard.
Here in Europe, even with today’s challenges, I believe that by virtue of the progress it has delivered over the decades — the stability it has provided, the security it’s reinforced
— that European integration and the European Union remains one of the great political and economic achievements of human history. (Applause.) And today more than ever, the world needs a Europe that is strong and prosperous and democratic.
But I think all institutions in Europe have to ask themselves: How can we make sure that people within individual countries feel as if their voices are still being heard, that their identities are being affirmed, that the decisions that are being made that will have a critical impact on their lives are not so remote that they have no ability to impact them?
We have to make clear that governments exist to serve the interest of citizens, and not the other way around. And so this is why, as President of the United States, I’ve pursued initiatives like the Open Government Partnership that promotes transparency and accountability so that ordinary people know more about the decisions that affect their lives. That’s why both at home and around the world, we have taken steps to fight corruption that can rot a society from within.
As authoritarian governments work to close space that citizens depend upon to organize and have their voices heard, we’ve begun the work of empowering civil society to defend democratic values and promote solutions to the problems within our communities. And as so many people around the world sometimes are tempted by cynicism and not being involved because they think that politicians and government don’t care about them, we’ve created networks for young leaders and invested in young entrepreneurs, because we believe that the hope and renewal of our societies begins with the voices of youth. (Applause.)
In closing, our globalized world is passing through a time of profound change. Yes, there is uncertainty and there is unease, and none of us can know the future. History does not move in a straight line. Civil rights in America did not move in a straight line. Democracy in Greece did not move in a straight line. The evolution of a unified Europe certainly has not moved in a straight line. And progress is never a guarantee. Progress has to be earned by every generation. But I believe history gives us hope.