Some are convinced that global capitalism will create an increasingly polarised world and that the growth of emerging economies will provide more of a threat than an opportunity. Others argue that the future will be determined by a clash of civilisations. I cannot share such fatalistic and deterministic views.
True, globalisation is here to stay. It will develop from today’s principally economic phenomenon to include political, security and cultural dimensions. What matters is how we respond.
The rising economic powers, especially of Asia, will shift the global economic centre of gravity. By 2057, the economic landscape will be dominated less by the current G7 countries and much more by the so-called E7 economies of India, Indonesia, China, Brazil, Russia, Mexico and Turkey. We will all be affected by changing demography, population movements and increased strains on the environment.
But there are many unknown variables. Will India, for instance, be able to keep up its growth rate in the face of a rising energy shortage? Will China come to grips with the serious problems of pollution and water shortage, a rapidly ageing population and a growing gulf between rich and poor? Equally important will be the pace at which smaller, less developed countries will integrate into the global economy.
As a physicist by training, I am very interested in the prospects of new technologies. Potential geopolitical tension linked to competition for energy resources may be averted if the predictions of the ITER International Fusion Energy Organisation (IIFEO) that it will develop a working fusion reactor by 2016 come true. If successful, ITER would also help to solve a number of other challenges, including water scarcity and climate change. Also, if long promised breakthroughs on fuel cell, nano- and bio-technology materialise, our assumptions about what kind of future we face would have to change. These technologies present huge opportunities to live longer, healthier and better lives. But, especially with bio-technology, it also means grappling with some difficult moral dilemmas.
Rethinking our assumptions
Politically, the world of 2057 will be different, and our understanding of governance will have to change accordingly. Borders will still exist, but they will have a different meaning. Already, the flows of goods, people and ideas across borders are enormous and are set to continue. Already, our notion of ‘sovereignty’ is changing, especially in Europe. Both trends will continue and may reach a tipping point in terms of managing their political consequences.
We will have to become more adept at working at different levels of governance (local, national, European and global) and with different constellations of actors (public and private). Regional organisations, like the EU, will have an even greater role than today. And with power shifting from governments to markets, individuals and NGOs, solutions to the problems thrown up by globalisation will require the mobilisation of new networks of people. The diverse coalitions on issues like climate change, debt relief or conflict diamonds are a foretaste of things to come.
The impact of culture and religion in a globalised world will also change. Increasing contact between populations, either physically or through communications technology, brings together people who would otherwise never meet, and enriches their lives. But it can also create tension and conflict, as highlighted by the ‘Danish cartoon crisis’. The task will be to uphold our fundamental freedoms while practising tolerance and respect for people with different belief and value systems. What some call ‘Western’ values will be challenged as economic and political power is redistributed. Growing migration for economic, political and, increasingly, environmental reasons will put strains on our ability to define ourselves and on our willingness to remain open to the world.
How can we shape the world of 2057?
Globalisation with a less western face; the rise of new powers; new forms of governance and identity politics. These trends are visible today and are likely to continue. In many ways, the future will be more demanding for Europeans: we will be fewer (in relative terms) and the old ways of operating will no longer work. But the future is not pre-ordained. It will reflect the choices that people, including us, will make. What to do?
We should be clear, first, that standing aside is not an option. It would mean living in a world shaped by and for others. Second, that, each on our own, we have little influence. This is especially true as Europe’s share of the world’s population and GDP diminishes and as we move into a system of Continents. Third, that if Europeans want to have an impact, we should not just speak together but also act together. The more we act together, the more effective and the more attractive we will be: on the ground and for partners around the world. Now we may think primarily of the US. In the future, we should think also of China, India, the African Union and ASEAN.
One key task for Europe, perhaps the most important, will be to uphold and develop a rules-based international system that can address the problems that intense globalisation will create. For international cooperation to work and last, good will and good intentions are not enough: you also need institutions. Of all the main global players we feel strongest about the need for fair rules, fairly applied by strong institutions.
The world of 2057 will be a more complex place. It will have more potential conflicts of interests and values. To mitigate these, we need innovative but robust rules and institutions. Our security architecture will need to be adapted in the light of new threats, many of which will emanate from non-state actors. We will also need a regime, bringing public and private actors together, to tackle a new generation of environmental problems.
The primacy of law
Above all, Europe should speak up for the notion that relations between states and individuals should be governed by law. The war of ‘all against all’ that once governed domestic politics still exists in many parts of the international arena. But just as violence has been tamed by law domestically, and now also regionally through the EU, so it can also be tamed internationally.
Of course this will be hard. This is increasingly a multipolar world where our assumptions about the rules and institutions, as well as the values underpinning them, are contested. Still, we have experience and solid arguments on our side. And whoever does not try, or persevere, will never succeed.
It is remarkable to what extent the vision of Monnet, Schuman and others has been achieved. Nothing is perfect, but never before has Europe been so prosperous, so secure nor so free. So we know that it is possible to transform relations between states and alter the lives of millions of citizens. That should continue to be an enormous source of inspiration for all of us.
Javier Solana: «Europe in the world in 2057», in "European Union: The Next Fifty Years". © Financial Times Business and Agora Projects Ltd, London, March 2007.
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