Many signals and food for thought have been provided by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin, in his very recent speech delivered at the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland.
Firstly, it should be noted that, this year, the Pope has sent the Secretary of State of the Holy See to represent the Vatican at the World Economic Forum, and not an eminent prelate – as in other Davos meetings – who was certainly authoritative and influential, but devoid of the political and institutional characteristics suited to represent the Pope officially.
If Europe “has lost its soul”, as stated by Cardinal Parolin in Davos – and this is obvious to everybody – we must go back to the spirit of the Founding Fathers of the European Community and later of the European Union.
This was the first issue raised by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, thus indicating that the Europe’s illness is political, economic, strategic and especially spiritual, precisely because it is global.
It is worth recalling that the Vatican Secretary of State does not currently speak of “Christian Europe” – which would have also been an obvious and reasonable argument for a Cardinal of the Catholic Church. Conversely Cardinal Parolin mentioned the spirit of the Founding Fathers, namely of the former Communist atheist, Altiero Spinelli, as well as of the Catholic Tridentine De Gasperi, or of Catholics such as Adenauer and Schuman.
In other words, the Church says to the “mighty and powerful of the world” gathered in Davos that the Word of Christ is one and one only and will lead to Salvation, but that the political horizon has its conceptual and practical autonomy which allows the union of Catholics, secular and reformed so as to rediscover the European soul.
This is also the meaning of Pope Francis’ words regarding Martin Luther and the Reformation.
A European Union not based on the recognition of a specific religion, but of a fact: the impossibility of reducing each person to his/her mere material dimension.
It is precisely the Catholic Church, represented by the Vatican Secretary of State, which is currently leading Europe’s transformation, as well as the reform of global economy and its now ineffective policy.
Hence no longer secret and occult Catholicism which must almost beg secularism’s pardon so as to continue to exist, but the fullest Glory of the Christian Testimony opening onto the whole world, thus becoming a reference point also for non-believers or for the followers of other faiths.
It is Truth that sets us free, as stated by the Evangelist John.
Hence it is by no mere coincidence that this happens during the Pontificate of a Pope coming from the Company of Jesus.
For Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the irrational – as well as irreligious – deviation, which is central in current times, is the reduction of religious life to an intimate, private and personal fact.
Religious faith is – and must be – the visible identity of believers and, most importantly, the leaven for all men.
It is the visibility of Faith which makes it alive and useful for all men.
This applies to all Faiths, vivified and defended by the current Catholic Church. The issue does not lie in pressing for “parochial” privileges, but rather in protecting every person, regardless of his/her spiritual story.
We must give once again a soul to Europe, as said by the Vatican Secretary of State, because the material culture, the fact of forgetting ideal and spiritual roots, as well as the cheap materialism characterizing the current ideology, are not the solution, but the sign of the illness, which is the same for everyone, not only for believers.
A poor material ideology of the economy, for the first time ruling this world, such as the Devil, without the life-giving and invigorating vision of the first European Community, as that of its founders was.
Today the EU is experiencing a regulatory and legalizing obsession which cannot work and worsens the crisis of the European soul – and this is the essence of its political and organizational crisis.
Again in the vision outlined by Cardinal Parolin in Davos, the Catholic Church shows its soul in one way only – a way by which Pope John XXIII set great store, namely dialogue.
As reaffirmed by Cardinal Parolin in Davos, the Catholic Church never asks or requests any privilege for itself.
Quite the reverse. According to supporting data and evidence, he has reminded us that currently Christians are the most persecuted in the world, without forgetting – even in prayers – the martyrs of other faiths.
When the Church speaks – and, from now on, it will increasingly speak in public and throughout the world – it does so to defend the Holy Spirit and to make it become the essence of public life and everybody’s feelings, but never claiming small or great privileges or some primacy over the other faiths.
Cardinal Parolin was very clear in that regard, both in Davos and on other occasions.
We are now witnessing the attempt – which will probably be successful – to make the Catholic Church become the worldwide reference point for all those who want to improve the current situation.
Paradoxically, Pope Francis has been defined by the New York Times as “the leader of the world Left”, but there is a mistake in this terminology.
Today, in fact, also thanks to Cardinal Parolin’s words in Davos, the Church is proposing itself not to unite all the various “Lefts”, but precisely all men, even those who do not believe in Peter’s Discipleship.
As recalled by Cardinal Parolin in his speech delivered at the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants on September 19, 2016, also with reference to the burning topic of migration, the real issue certainly lies in curbing the production and sale of weapons, but also in understanding that the human problems are man-made, not God-made. Hence men, not God, can solve them through dialogue.
Even in this case, it is exactly materialism that misleads into error, while recognizing men’s universal spirituality and sacredness is the starting point to experience dialogue with the other faiths and with all men.
The message conveyed by Secretary of State Parolin in one of his 2013 homilies springs to our mind: “We can walk as far as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not follow Jesus Christ, it does not work”.
And precisely when the Church becomes all men’s voice, it fully remains the Bride of Christ and not “a mere charitable and welfare-oriented non-governmental organization” – just to use Cardinal Parolin’s words.
Certainly it is by no mere coincidence that these statements are made by a Cardinal who has already had a long and brilliant diplomatic career and is currently still at the top of the decision-making process.
As already noted, the first aspect underlined by the Secretary of State in Davos is that, with Pope Francis, the Holy See’s diplomatic activity has increased significantly both in quantitative and qualitative terms.
After the enlightening Pontificate of Benedict XVI, who outlined the cultural, geopolitical and especially spiritual lines of the Catholicism of Globalization, with Pope Francis and Cardinal Parolin the Church is living the most dangerous, but exciting phase of its new global leadership and of a new geopolitical and strategic role, fully freed from the old and no longer existing shackles of the Cold War.
In the Catholic canton of Grisons Cardinal Parolin reminded us of the fact that Pope Francis is now universally recognized as a world leader – and this is a new fact, a Grace, for the Catholic Church.
As the Secretary of State recalled in Davos, the Vatican diplomacy has no worldly aims, such as power and hegemony, but it intends to reaffirm the spiritual nature of all men that – according to Saint Ignatius Loyola’s thinking – is a real fact and hence the foundation of dialogue between faiths and all men.
It is in this deeper and more spiritual sense that we can say that the aim of Vatican diplomacy is Peace.
Peace among all men, but also peace inside man and peace between faiths, that respect each other because – just to recall once again the themes dear to Cardinal Parolin – Catholics build in the world to follow Jesus Christ.
And fighting for peace among all men means eradicating all the man-made causes of wars and geopolitical crises.
“Building bridges, working for peace” is one of the three goals that Pope Francis has set for the Vatican diplomacy.
The first is to fight poverty, which is the source of all current evils and, above all, makes men lose their dignity and the perception of their spiritual nature.
Hence poverty in the material, but also in the spiritual sense: poor people always lose themselves and fall prey to political and economic evil, but even to the devil which, not surprisingly, is the “lord of this world”.
The second goal of Pope Francis’ diplomacy is to build bridges, as Cardinal Parolin said in Davos.
What does it mean? It simply means that what divides men was created by them, but what unites and allows to practice dialogue – as Pope John XXIII hoped for – always comes from God.
“Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue!” urges the Holy Father, recovering and following up the tradition of an extraordinary Pope such as John XXIII, whom I still remember with great emotion.
The third goal is to achieve peace in the world and I wish to recall that this is a political, but also a spiritual aim: Peace is the offspring of men’s reconquest of their souls and, hence, of the construction of reality when we give testimony to Jesus Christ, while respecting everybody.
Religious freedom, in particular, is one of the key points of the speech delivered by Cardinal Parolin in Davos.
Without religious freedom there is no freedom, because we do not recognize the spirituality of man, of all men.
When religious freedom is safeguarded, all the other “human rights” are automatically protected.
Nevertheless if we fight against the Church and all the other religions, we also destroy the long-standing secular tradition of the humanism of rights and the protection of each individual person.
We can add that, after all, it is completely contradictory to speak of “full freedom”, but not of religious freedom – as is the case with much contemporary culture – or even reaffirm traditional liberalism also and too often only in conflict with the rights of the Church and of the other Faiths.
Either freedom for everybody or no freedom at all – here logic, well before politics, defines and settles the issue.
And if we do not respect the person’s transcendent dimension – which is a fact – we cannot even protect his/her materiality, made up of choices and concrete rights.
As reiterated by the Vatican Secretary of State, the human being has always and anyway a transcendent dimension, which cannot be reduced to materiality. And the Church of Christ will always be in the forefront to defend the right of all men and faiths to speak freely.
As Cardinal Parolin stated, here the future of mankind will be defended.
And we can also add that in so doing we will preserve the prestige and the political and moral dignity of the Catholic Church itself, which speaks to everybody precisely because it follows Jesus Christ.
This is what we are currently witnessing in the long and complex negotiations between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China.
It is exactly one of Cardinal Parolin’s diplomatic masterpieces and it is very likely for current tensions to be overcome with an agreement between the Vatican and the Chinese government which will enable the Holy See to choose a bishop among the 5-6 cardinals proposed directly by the Chinese political authorities.
This is the political and strategic sense of Peter’s Discipleship: as Jesus Christ has already ordered us, the civil power is Caesar, and it is free, autonomous and independent, because it does not regard Heaven, but Earth, which has its own laws that are also created by God, our Father.
And if it regards Heaven it is not a real power, as the Spirit of the Gospel does not regard Earth, does not make laws and does not create economic systems.
However it is exactly in the full and clear respect for “politicians’ autonomy and independence” that the current genuine aim of the Church as Bride of Christ lies and stands out, namely the supernatural nature of all men and, therefore, the absolute need for dialogue, as called for by Pope John XXIII.
A New Turn to the Indo-French Relations
Hudson Institute’s researcher, Aparna Pande called France as “India’s new best friend” in 2019. Fast forward to present day, France has taken its partnership with India to the next level through the recent Indo-French space partnership for expeditions to Venus.
The space expedition partnership has followed the French envoy’s support for India’s UNSC membership and the launch of a satellite for climate observations. Furthermore, Emmanuel Lenain, ambassador of France to India said, “This year has been an eye opener for Europe. The world is becoming dangerous and the world has powers that do not want to play by the rules. We consider India as positive and trust it for exemplary dependency. France will support India’s bid for a permanent seat at the United Nations.”
India and France have had trade relations since the 17th century. The diplomatic relations go back to the time when India became the newly independent country in 1947. The development of bilateral ties was significantly achieved through the state visit of French President Jacques Chirac in 1998. Since then, there had been a series of state visits to and forth between the heads of both India and France establishing close ties with each other.
Additionally, India and France have been long term partners in the defence arena since 1953. India had acquired the famed MD 450 Ouragan, nicknamed ‘Toofani’ and Mystere in the 1970s and 1980s. Recently, the Indian government has also procured the Rafale fighter jets from France which had arrived in July 2020.
Under the leadership of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanel Macron, the Indo-French relations have been strengthened through regular state visits contributed to take the strategic partnership established in 1998 further ahead. Just like the defence sector, the Indo-French relation is prospering in the space sector as well. This is also because of France’s pivot to Indo-Pacific region. The growing tensions between the US with China and Russia, Brexit, both France and India are realizing that a shift in the world order is underway especially with the Covid 19 pandemic making the world unstable on various fronts.
Indo-French Space Partnerships
The Indo-French space partnership for expedition to Venus seems a follow up from the 2018 bilateral agreement on the India-France Joint Vision for Space Cooperation. This strategic partnership was spread over different facets of space science including sounding rocket development, joint satellite realization, training programmes, satellite launches. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully reached Mars on its first attempt in 2014. In the same year, the French National Space Agency (CNES) successfully launched the E-CORCE Earth observation satellite. In recent years, there has been a number of partnerships between ISRO and CNES.
In 2019, there was an agreement signed between CNES and ISRO to establish a maritime surveillance centre in India. As part of this, both the space agencies are collaborating on India’s first crewed space mission, Gaganyaan project which is scheduled to launch in 2022. CNES has agreed to train Indian astronauts at the Toulouse Space Centre helping India to lay the foundation for preparation for future human spaceflight. The 2019 partnership followed the broader agreement signed during President Emmanuel Macron’s state visit to India in March 2018.
The latest joint Indo-French Venus mission is a historic partnership till now. The instrument for the mission, VIRAL (Venus Infrared Atmospheric Gases Linker) is developed by Russian and French agencies. In September 2020, CNES has confirmed in a statement, “in the domain of space exploration, France will be taking part in ISRO’s mission to Venus, scheduled to launch in 2025. CNES will coordinate and prepare the French contribution, the first time a French payload will be flown on an Indian exploration mission.”
India-France relations in space have been a great success in the past. The upcoming ISRO-CNES Venus mission will strengthen the Indo-French partnerships further.
Taking For Granted … Be Wary
The title of these comments is inspired by my personal experience in important areas of public policy both as a politician beginning in the 1970s and more recently as Secretary General of the OECD from 1996 until 2006. That was a very important decade as it ushered in the period which some day we thought would be known as the beginning of globalization on a grand scale.
When I took up my responsibilities in Paris at the end of May 1996 it was a time brimming with optimism about the great future ahead for our children and generations to follow! We were about to say goodbye to one of the most brutal and bloody centuries in human history. Physical human suffering was compounded by poverty and misery of hundreds of millions, especially in the developing world.
Many of us involved at the international level in public policy saw major opportunities to address challenges which had eluded us in the past. Indeed we took a great deal for granted and I must confess that I certainly did. Why? Here are a few examples and the reasons for taking so much for granted.
- We had just witnessed major geopolitical restructuring in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Soviet Union had collapsed and we assumed that the threat of nuclear war had disappeared with it;
- With the replacement of the GATT the ( WTO) we took for granted the exciting prospect of global free trade and investment, which would bring economic growth and rising prosperity everywhere, but especially to the developing world. We expected “trade” not “aid” to be the route out of third world poverty;
- The expansion of the proven Marshall Plan formula to regions fractured by division and conflict. We took for granted that such approaches could bring peace to the war torn Balkans and perhaps even to the Middle East and the Arab World;
- We took for granted that with the publication of the Brundtland Report “ Our Common Future” on Sustainable Development followed by the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, followed by the commitments in the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, that the decades long stalemate of slowing green house gas emissions (GHGs) (and therefore global warming) had been broken and that multilateral international commitments would ensure the protection of the biosphere and its natural capital;
- We took for granted that improvements to the stunning success of healthy capitalism through universal principles of good corporate governance, supported by an Anti Bribery Convention, would control the greed inherent in the undue exploitation of unfettered capitalism. We took for granted that the wealth and wage disparities would narrow, especially in the United States;
- We witnessed the remarkable rise of the European Union (EU) uniting former enemies. We took its expansion and global role for granted. Regarding the EU, I often quote a paragraph from the preface of A History of Europe by H. A. L Fisher, a warden at Oxford University in the 1930s. He wrote: “[No] question [would be] more pertinent to the future welfare of the world than how the nations of Europe … may best be combined into some stable organization for the pursuit of their common interests and the avoidance of strife“;
- We also took for granted the gradual spread of democracy and democratic institutions into the former countries of the Soviet Union and elsewhere in central Europe, South America and Asia;
- Early misgivings about the ideological bent of Recep Erdogan as the Prime Minister, and then President of Turkey, were dispelled as he initially seemed supportive of good governance, freedom of the fourth estate, free speech and democratic principles. We believed him and took for granted that the remarkable reforms introduced by Mustafa Kemal, known as Ataturk, would ensure the survival of a secular democratic Turkey;
- We took for granted the United States as a lone global superpower, magnanimous and fair, the first true united nation with people drawn from all corners of the planet to its robust democracy and unlimited opportunities.
As we look back over the past 25 years it is obvious that much too much was taken for granted. Given that so few of the opportunities we assumed would bring the world to a much better place were seized by my generation, what do you perceive as a better way forward? When we open that discussion in a few minutes, I hope I have convinced you to take little for granted. Be wary, if not skeptical, about those who foresee only a prosperous and peaceful future for this wonderful planet.
We need to remind ourselves of the following and address the questions I raise in our general discussion.
1. We failed to engage Russia with the West and as a result are now strengthening NATO in an effort to contain Putin’s aggressive behaviour. History may show this to be the most egregious of all Western public policy failures in the post-Soviet Union period because of its impact on other areas of global concern where Russia should have been a partner. Is it too late to recover from a failure to engage Russia despite the Russian adventures in Crimea and the Ukraine?
2. The EU is increasingly fragile, with concern about the future of the euro common currency and the EU’s capacity to deal with massive immigration from the war-torn areas of the Middle East. Do the weaknesses of the EU reflect a too rapid expansion without strengthening institutions which would move it toward a more federalist structure promoted by the Spinelli group?
3. Tensions have grown between China and its neighbours over territorial disputes, convincing the United States to pivot from its European focus and increase its military presence in Asia. Does this refocussing plus a strengthening alliance between China and Russia herald the reigniting of another Cold War like the one my generation grew up with?
4.Now many more nations( and possibly terrorist groups) have access to nuclear weapons. Does that greatly increase the possibility of a 21st century nuclear war?
5.The global free trade agenda is in the doldrums with the failure of the Doha Round and the concomitant rise of protectionist rhetoric, especially in the United States ,at the highest political levels. Does this mean that global free trade is now beyond reach?
6. Is the prospect of eliminating poverty in the developing world through trade and investment dying?
7.Reductions in GHG emissions, especially CO2, but also methane, continueto elude us after decades of effort, showing how ineffectual the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process has been and will be. The widely heralded but unenforceable Paris Agreement in the context of a history of failures is even dangerous because much of the public thinks our leaders have come to grips with this challenge (as we all did after the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997). Do they do not realize that even if the agreed upon targets are achieved they are not sufficient to keep global temperatures below the level that the scientific community tells us is necessary to prevent dramatic and irreversible climate change?Is there resistance to developing a Plan B as a last resort to prevent unacceptable global warming? Solar radiation management , a form of geo engineering, seems to be broadly under consideration. Is that good or of concern? As areas of the world may become uninhabitable, will there be mass migration from areas of the developing word to more temperate climates?
8. For those who believe in democracy and perceived it as beginning to take root after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union do subsequent developments undermine the confidence that many democratic governments may be in retreat? In some countries, such as Thailand, there has been a return to a military dictatorship. In others, such as Russia and other countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, there is only a pretense of democracy with rigged elections, as in Belarus. There also appears to be backsliding in Turkey, a very important global player and a bridge between Asia and its historic Western allies. The situation in Turkey, which held such promise only a decade ago, is very worrisome. President Erdogan seems increasingly autocratic and intolerant of criticism and dissent. Failure of this democracy could be a sad, even tragic, development. Turkey is a major regional and global power, and through the influence of Atatürk it became an emerging secular democracy with a majority Sunni population straddling Europe and Asia. Atatürk showed the world what individual leadership supported by ethical standards could accomplish in a short period of time.
9. Is the world faced with a growing number of autocratic strongmen who would prefer to destroy the important international infrastructure if it constrains their personal ambitions? It would appear that when one combines the far east, parts of Eastern Europe, Russia, Turkey, China, North Korea, the Philippines, Thailand etc, more than 50% of humanity is or will soon be governed by “strong men“. With few exceptions such as Ataturk, history shows that such people have only one interest “me”.
President Trump gives every indication that he is anxious to join the ranks of these strongmen, initially by withdrawing the United States from the central role it had played through visionary leadership by building and helping to maintain the post war international and institutional architecture. His slogan “America First” should be interpreted for what it really is, namely, “Donald Trump First”.
There is a disquieting commentary in the New York Times of 16 December 2016 entitled “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy” by Professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt of Harvard University. Here is an excerpt:
“Donald J. Trump’s election has raised a question that few Americans ever imagined asking: Is our democracy in danger? … Past stability is no guarantee of democracy’s future survival … Our research points to several warning signs.
The clearest warning sign is the ascent of anti-democratic politicians into mainstream politics. Drawing on a close study of democracy’s demise in 1930s Europe, the eminent political scientist Juan J. Linz designed a “litmus test” to identify anti-democratic politicians. His indicators include a failure to reject violence unambiguously, a readiness to curtail rivals’ civil liberties, and the denial of the legitimacy of elected governments. “
Mr. Trump tests positive on all counts. In the campaign, he encouraged violence among supporters and pledged to prosecute Hillary Clinton;
He hasthreatened legal action against unfriendly media, and continues to suggest that he might not accept the election results saying the election will be rigged. If he loses will he in some way resist leaving office?
Since his 2016 election he has not changed his attitude on any of these issues.
David Frum, a Conservative and traditional Republican and a senior editor at the Atlantic published a book two years ago “Trumpocacy- The Corruption of the American Republic”. It has recently been released in paperback with a new preface by Frum which reviews the appalling record of this individual to whom Americans have entrusted the leadership of the most powerful nation in history.
In a concluding paragraph of the book he writes….” President Trump is cruel, vengeful, ignorant, lazy, avaricious and treacherous…”
Later he adds: “We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered. What happens next is up to you. Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can be your finest hour as a citizen and as an American”
Today I cast Frum’s challenge to each of you in a global perspective rather than just American.
Yes, democracy can be fragile everywhere.
We who live in well-established democracies must never be complacent or smug about the success of our societies. The comments of the Harvard professors above echo that concern.
Our democratic societies and their political systems must adapt to a rapidly evolving world. We are increasingly in that global village through forces of globalization amplified by communication and transportation technologies.
In line with the work of Charles Darwin, it has been said that “it is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” The same could be said of democratic governments and even empires.
What happens next to global free government is up to your generation of leadership. It is a humungous challenge, especially in countries where the seeds of democracy have never been planted or where they have enjoyed short life spans, Thailand and especially Turkey come to mind.
The future of democracy across the globe could be destroyed if the autocratic motives and moves of Donald Trump succeed, as they well might if I read the current political climate in the United States correctly. Despite shortcomings which need correction such as the unfortunate influence on elections through Super Pacs, the United States has been perceived for years as a remarkable democracy which others attempt to emulate. This may be about to change as it is increasingly viewed as government by the rich, of the rich and for the rich, and Trump does not appear to feel constrained by the institutional checks and balances of the constitution. He could put American democracy on the terrible path to an autocratic state which he seems to admire, especially in the Russia and Turkey of today.
In summary, what looked to be a promising future in all the major areas of concern in the 1990s has evolved into what could best be described as an economic, social, and geopolitical mess. But as bad as that story is, we have succeeded in making the future even more problematic with the arrival of global terrorism.
My generation must recognize the extraordinary failures of the past decades. Your generation must do better.
It seems that efforts to create consensus on major issues amongst many sovereign nations does not work. Is there not a better way forward in global governance? This is the last question I leave you with.
Have 190 counties not offered proof of the impossibility of finalizing an international and binding free trade agreement known as the Doha Round, or as almost 200 countries have done in their efforts to find consensus on concrete solutions to address the challenges of climate change. Neither set of efforts, the first initiated through the WTO process and the second through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process, has delivered the results sought and it is unlikely they ever will.
Is starting small and gradually broadening an international consensus a better option? The EU successfully evolved from a small base but has it expanded too rapidly to consolidate and build upon its remarkable and successful beginnings? Even the G20 may be ineffectual because of size and economic and social diversity.
Does the difficulty of building broad consensus on these issues suggests that a structure more resembling the UN Security Council would be more effective? Could the Security Council itself with a limited membership of powerful countries become a global steering group and replace the G-7 process?
Whether we like it or not, each major power has spheres of influence over smaller regional powers through shared history, culture (sometimes language), and trade and investment.
When we compare human and societal evolution to a relay race one generation must pass the baton on to the next. In a small way that is what I am saying to you today. I hope our discussion will touch upon a number of these important and often controversial issues.
We have fallen behind in many respects in the early years of this 21st century, perhaps even forfeiting many of the hard-earned benefits of good capitalism and democracy to an ever increasing number of corrupt strong men and autocratic regimes.
Is that the future?
Remember the words Shakespeare attributed to Brutus:
“There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.”
I am persuaded that the latter may be our fate. We did not take the flood of opportunities at hand in the 1990s. Is it too late to recover through hard work, sacrifice and creativity in restructuring global governance for a better world.
What should we do? What can you do?
It will depend to a large extent on your personal values which I hope have not been irreversibly warped by admiration for the material success of greed and visible wealth of the famous 1% who dominate power and politics in the USA and increasingly elsewhere.
I have described the state of the world today as analogous to the fireplace at my country home. It is usually fully loaded with tinder, kindling and dry wood. All it awaits is a match. Unfortunately, in the world today there are many matches waiting to be lit and spread their deadly destruction to regions, if not the planet as a whole.
*This text is exclusively made as supplementary for a university lecture held on 28 OCT 2020. It is a part of the so-called ‘Geneva Lecture Series – Contemporary World of Geo-economics’, concepted and considered by prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic for the Swiss University in Geneva.
Economic situation is EU citizens’ top concern in light of the coronavirus pandemic
In a troubled period marked by the coronavirus pandemic, trust in the EU remains stable and Europeans trust the EU to make the right decisions in response to the pandemic in the future. In the new Standard Eurobarometer survey released today, European citizens identify the economic situation, the state of Member States’ public finances and immigration as the three top concerns at EU level. The economic situation is also the main concern at national level, followed by health and unemployment.
In the new Eurobarometer conducted in July and August, concern about the economic situation is reflected in the perception of the current state of the economy. 64% of Europeans think that the situation is ‘bad’ and 42% of Europeans think that their country’s economy will recover from the adverse effects of the coronavirus outbreak ‘in 2023 or later’.
Europeans are divided (45% ‘satisfied’ vs 44% ‘not satisfied’) regarding the measures taken by the EU to fight the pandemic. However, 62% say they trust the EU to make the right decisions in the future, and 60% remain optimistic about the future of the EU.
Trust and image of the EU
Trust in the European Union has remained stable since autumn 2019 at 43%, despite variations of public perceptions during the pandemic. Trust in national governments and parliaments has increased (40%, +6 percentage points and 36%, +2 respectively).
In 15 Member States, a majority of respondents says they trust the EU, with the highest levels observed in Ireland (73%), Denmark (63%) and Lithuania (59%). The lowest levels of trust in the EU are observed in Italy (28%), France (30%) and Greece (32%).
The proportion of respondents with a positive image of the EU is the same as that with a neutral image (40%). 19% of respondents have a negative image of the EU (-1 percentage points).
In 13 EU Member States, a majority of respondents has a positive image of the EU, with the highest proportions observed in Ireland (71%), Poland and Portugal (both 55%). In 13 other Member States, the EU conjures up a predominantly neutral image for respondents, with the highest proportions observed in Malta (56%), Spain, Latvia and Slovenia (all 48%).
Main concerns at EU and national level
Citizens mentioned the economic situation as the most pressing issue facing the EU – over one-third (35%) of all respondents, a strong increase of 16 percentage points since autumn 2019, and rise from third to first concern. Concern about the economic situation has not been this high since spring 2014.
Europeans are also increasingly concerned about the state of Member States’ public finances (23%, +6 percentage points, the highest level since spring 2015), which moves from fifth to second place on a par with immigration (23%, -13 percentage points), the latter now being at the lowest level since autumn 2014.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, health (22%, new item) is the fourth most mentioned concern at EU level. The issue of the environment and climate change has lost ground, down 8 percentage points to 20%, followed by unemployment (17%, +5 percentage points).
Similarly, the economic situation (33%, +17 percentage points) has overtaken health as the most important issue at national level, rising from seventh to first position. Although in second position, health has had a notable increase in mentions since autumn 2019 (31%, +9 percentage points), taking it to its highest ever level over the past six years.
Unemployment has also increased considerably in importance (28%, +8 percentage points), followed by rising prices/inflation/cost of living (18%, -2 percentage points), the environment and climate change (14%, -6 percentage points) and government debt (12%, +4 percentage points). Mentions of immigration (11%, -5 percentage points), are at their lowest level for the past six years.
The current economic situation
Since autumn 2019, the proportion of Europeans who think that the current situation of their national economy is ‘good’ (34%, -13 percentage points) has declined considerably, while the proportion of respondents who judge this situation to be ‘bad’ has increased sharply (64%, +14 percentage points).
At national level, a majority of respondents in 10 countries says that the national economic situation is good (down from 15 in autumn 2019). The proportion of respondents who say the situation of their national economy is good ranges from 83% in Luxembourg to 9% in Greece.
The coronavirus pandemic and public opinion in the EU
Europeans are divided on the measures taken by the EU institutions to fight the coronavirus outbreak (45% ‘satisfied’ vs 44% ‘not satisfied’). However, a majority of respondents in 19 Member States is satisfied with the measures taken by the European Union institutions to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The highest positive figures are found in Ireland (71%); Hungary, Romania and Poland (all 60%). In seven countries, a majority of respondents is ‘not satisfied’, especially in Luxembourg (63%), Italy (58%), Greece and Czechia (both 55%) and Spain (52%). In Austria, equal proportions of respondents are satisfied, and not satisfied (both 47%).
However, more than six Europeans in ten trust the EU to make the right decisions in the future (62%). The most frequently mentioned priorities for the EU’s response to the coronavirus pandemic are: establish a strategy for facing a similar crisis in the future and develop financial means to find a treatment or vaccine (each 37%). 30% think that developing a European health policy should be a priority.
Europeans’ personal experiences of confinement measures were very diverse. Overall, close to three Europeans in ten say that it was fairly easy to cope with (31%), while a quarter say it was fairly difficult to cope with (25%). Finally, 30% say that it was ‘both easy and difficult to cope with’.
Key policy areas
Asked about the objectives of the European Green Deal, Europeans continue identifying ‘developing renewable energy‘ and ‘fighting against plastic waste and leading on the issue of single-use of plastic’ as the top priorities. More than one third think the top priority should be supporting EU farmers (38%) or promoting the circular economy (36%). Just over three in ten think reducing energy consumption (31%) should be the top priority.
Support for the Economic and Monetary Union and for the euro remains high, with 75% of respondents in the Euro area in favour of the EU’s single currency. In the EU27 as a whole, support for the euro has increased to 67% (+5).
EU citizenship and European democracy
A majority of people in 26 EU Member States (except Italy) and 70% across the EU feel that they are citizens of the EU. At a national level the highest scores are observed in Ireland and Luxembourg (both 89%), Poland (83%), Slovakia and Germany (both 82%), Lithuania (81%), Hungary, Portugal and Denmark (all 80%).
A majority of Europeans (53%) say they are satisfied with the way democracy works in the EU. The proportion of respondents who are ‘not satisfied’ has increased, by 3 percentage points since autumn 2019 to 43%.
Optimism for the future of the EU
Finally, in this troubled period, 60% of Europeans say they are optimistic about the future of the EU. The highest scores for optimism are observed in Ireland (81%), Lithuania and Poland (both 75%) and Croatia (74%). The lowest levels of optimism are seen in Greece (44%) and Italy (49%), where pessimism outweighs optimism, and France, where opinion is evenly divided (49% vs 49%).
The ‘Summer 2020 – Standard Eurobarometer’ (EB 93) was conducted face-to-face and exceptionally completed with online interviews between 9 July and 26 August 2020, across the 27 EU Member States, in the United Kingdom and in the candidate countries 26,681 interviews were conducted in the 27 Member States.
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