High-Level Expert Group Meeting
29 May 2017
Chaired by Abdel Salam Majali and William F. Weld
Since its inception, the InterAction Council has advocated for inclusive societies and global governance, which are now under sustained attack by populist movements across the world. These attacks are a threat to our political systems and ultimately a threat to global peace and stability.
In reaffirming its commitment to inclusion and promoting dialogue and global ethics, the InterAction Council convened a High-Level Expert Group to discuss current threats to inclusiveness and how to create a more inclusive world as the post-1945 consensus is challenged by populist movements and nationalist sentiment.
The moral imperative of inclusion
Inclusion takes as given that morally, every individual has a right to influence and representation regardless of their social, ethnic, regional, political, and socio-economic background. Political systems need to reflect this moral imperative.
For twenty years, the InterAction Council has provided guidance that balances individual rights with the responsibilities of individuals, annunciated through a Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities. The Declaration provides a moral compass for how to achieve inclusiveness in society. It sets out that every individual should be treated ethically, and every individual has the responsibility to strive to affirm the dignity of all others and to promote good. The Declaration also calls for responsible dialogue by media and politicians, while respecting the freedoms of speech and political engagement.
The threat of populism
Populism refers to a political movement that challenges the incumbent political elite and may even overwhelm it, according to Conrad Black, the well-known supporter of President Trump. The impact of technological advancement on our economies, the anxiety related to climate change, the cultural and social impact of migration, and a lack of trust in institutions have made some nervous and susceptible to exploitation by populist political movements and irresponsible media. A lack of transparent public dialogue on the rapid and complex changes has left a leadership vacuum, now filled and incited by populist rhetoric.
Populists have focused their attention upon immigration, religious differences, and other minorities to exploit this feeling of marginalization and shifted attention towards international institutions stoking latent fears among populations searching for simple solutions to complex problems.This has resulted in a political climate where blame is assigned, religions are targeted, tolerance erodes, and international institutions are questioned.
The underlying currents, which gave rise to populist leaders have included: a lack of leadership that can articulate the values of how to move forward in a changing world, giving people hope and direction; a “dumbing-down” of public discourse through biased reporting and fake news; an education system that has not equipped students to understand global trends, political, economic, and social issues, while exposing students to diverse thoughts to facilitate tolerance and dialogue across groups; and outside interference by a stronger power supporting candidates who reflect their world views.
Populists have been able to convince the electorate of a narrative that says that political and economic elites have conspired to create unfair trade conditions that mean the best jobs are leaving for other countries. Simultaneously in this narrative, these same elites, according to populists, have irresponsibly opened the borders to immigrants, who they argue, are terrorists and criminals who intend to impose their culture at the expense of others. A nostalgic idealism of the past and a desire to “take back our country” is offered as a simplified solution to these complex and interrelated problems, even though there is little evidence to substantiate such claims.
Populism/nationalism has intensified debate in many countries. In the United States there are already those who wish to see President Trump leave office prior to end of the four-year term. The mechanisms of the United States Constitution to unseat a President were discussed and are included in the Appendix for reference.
A populism-driven Brexit
In Europe, the rise in far-right, anti-EU and anti-immigration populism culminated in the 2016 Brexit vote. Within two years an agreement must be finalized articulating the terms of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom (UK) from the European Union (EU), as well as the future relationship between the EU and the UK, and the UK and the remaining Member States. Brexit will have a major, disruptive impact on the institutions and credibility of the EU, on UK, on the remaining twenty-seven Member States, and on businesses and citizens across the EU and UK.
The EU’s principle of freedom of movement has created substantial benefits for European economies, in particular the smaller Member States. There is a disassociation, however, between the the true benefits of the EU-membership and the level of general knowledge about these benefits. For example the economy of Ireland, heavily reliant on exports, has benefitted greatly from the Single Market. Beyond economics, Brexit has the potential to negatively impact the established peace between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Upon the UK’s exit from the EU, the border between the North and South of Ireland will become an external border, which could lead to the reestablishment of order posts, creating a new barrier for not only the movement of goods, but the 30,000 people who cross between the two daily. A hard border between the two states has the real potential to reignite the long-standing conflict.
In France, however, the European Union received much needed support from French voters who solidly rejected the anti-EU candidate, Marine Le Pen and voted the pro-EU candidate Emmanuel Macron for President. Still, Le Pen received 33.9% of the vote; a figure inconceivable only a few years ago. It remains to be seen whether Brexit was a beginning or the end of the anti-EU movement.
The forces of populism and nationalism are intertwined and are a global phenomenon. Their effects are felt throughout the world. There are parallels in the Arab spring, where the populace revolted against the ruling elite, but found themselves with leadership that is in many respects worse from the one that was replaced. Similar forces are felt in Turkey, the Philippines, and India.
However, there is a defining difference between these streams: while the United States and the United Kingdom have increasingly relied on nationalist rhetoric and an animosity to globalization; elsewhere, the appeal to nationalism is matched with continued support for globalization. So too, has nationalism and populism not been confined to one political ideology. In the current context, the right has been more active in using these tools to advance its political gains.
Major political parties have over the last few decades been coalescing around the centre, with appeals to both the centre-left and centre-right. The electorate has raised discontent with the lack of choice. Populists, therefore, have been able to achieve electoral success through traditional centre-right parties by positing themselves as a clear alternative. The idea of political parties as stable and reliable “brands” is being challenged.
In response to the growing rise of populism, moderate politicians have sought to invoke economic levers to address populist concerns. Economic remedies have been the focus, because there appears to be clear economic levers which can be pulled. Productivity tools and automation have drastically changed the employment landscape and will continue to do so. As Noam Chomsky wrote “[a]s in the past, the costs and risks of the coming phases of the industrial economy were to be socialized, with eventual profits privatized …”.
However, the remedy for populism and related nationalism is not in economic mechanisms alone. A narrow focus on economics overlooks the real desire among these groups to get back to the root of their sense of who they are. In this way, the roots of hyper-nationalism and religious extremism are the same: seeking a stronger connection to one’s sense of self, rooted in their community, and the desire to eradicate perceived threats to how one perceives themselves and their community.
Public opinion data in Europe substantiates this claim. They have found that while the majority of Europeans support the idea of globalisation, they are less sure about how it translates into gains for them personally. In response to being asked about whether they have positively benefited from globalization, there is a significant portion of respondents who report that they “don’t know”. A study by Demos concluded that there is a fundamental, majority baseline support for many liberal ideas and policies in Europe, which needs to be built upon.
It has been challenging to disrupt the narrative that globalization and unfair competition from abroad has created systemic inequality. Globalization has impacted the work force and some forms of employment have left industrialized economies forever; it is unlikely that the coal industry will re-emerge in either the United States or Britain.
Often, anti-trade sentiment is based on the idea that “other” countries do not play by the same rules. It is important that our and global institutions and our governments enforce fair labour regulations at home, while also demanding such regulation from their trading partners.
The Need for Informed Dialogue
The populist narrative has made effective use of the media. Organized media is no longer in control of the narrative and there is great suspicion among the general populace of experts who once filtered information and provided thoughtful analysis. Democracies require an informed electorate to function. We are witnessing a new information era where voters are now receiving information intended to harden their positions, rather than inform. Disruptive forces have exploited this successfully.
For example, in Europe, public discussion on migration is based on notions that Europe is receiving ‘massive waves’ of refugees, a demonization of refugees and economic migrants while the contribution of migrants to the economy is left untold. In Italy, over 600,000 citizens receive their pensions due to the financial contribution that migrants make to the economy.
Trust in the media, is at historical lows. Discrediting the main media outlets has been a purposeful strategy of more extreme outlets. There is some hope, however, that there will be a return to the investigative journalism and editorial content of more traditional media, as major media outlets in the United States have recently seen a rise in subscriptions. A free and open press is an essential check and balance of the political system, along with an independent and impartial judicial system. Both of these are under attack in President Trump’s America.
A Modest Way Forward
Establishing a new global consensus of inclusive values may appear at face value to be an overwhelming task. However, the Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities provides a foundation for a moral compass by which the world can orient itself. The immediate first step is to search out those issues which there exists - at least some - common ground: entrepreneurship, renewable energy, the Arctic, etc. It should be remembered that today’s EU began as the European Coal and Steel Community and through a process of gradual expansion became the political and economic union that it is today.
The greatest challenge of the 21st century, therefore, is for us to come together to discover our own identity, to reaffirm and restore our human values, to appreciate our common history and to create a shaped future footed on global ethics. We cannot, however, create an inclusive world merely with good intentions; we need to create an architecture of global governance which is interlinked. We need building blocks to resolve outstanding conflicts and to address the feeling of alienation that many people feel. We need to create an inclusive world, not only because the alternative is the risk of catastrophic confrontation, but we need it as an ideal that enables us to harness the spirit of humanity. Inclusion is the moral imperative.
The High-Level Expert Group suggested the following recommendations:
- To further Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities, leaders should adhere to a strict code of ethics denouncing hate and racism; committing themselves to inclusion and the development of equitable societies, rather than exploiting disruption and uncertainty for short-term political gains.
- Reform proposals should be put forward to address institutional weaknesses, fragmentation, and legitimacy in global governance.
- The freedom of speech and independence of the press must be respected at all times; as well as competition in the media encouraged to provide a diversity of voices. But this freedom must be used with responsibility and discretion.
- Facilitate dialogue through academic institutions, non-governmental organizations, and community outreach to discuss and explain the impact of changes in economies and the values of open societies, to create positive and inclusive spaces for those discussions.
- Encourage diverse, challenging, and free fact-based debates on issues important to social and cultural identity by supporting independent research across a wide range of disciplines.
- Climate change and migration are examples of issues impacted by the populist agenda, yet they are transnational challenges that can only be addressed on a global scale coordinating the multilateral efforts of many nations and institutions.
- Areas in which there are existing windows of opportunity for greater engagement between states between whom they are geopolitical tensions should be pursued to facilitate truth-building; such as the Arctic.