Twelve Proposals for the French Presidency
Par Pierre Calame le lundi 6 mars 2017, 10:15 - Lien permanent
We need a new approach - to democracy, to politics, to the economy, to decentralisation, to local governance, to Europe, to European leadership, to European governance, to dialogue between societies, to international trade, to currency, to finance.
In 2012, I published an open letter ...(1) to political leaders in anticipation of the upcoming French presidential elections. Just as the audience of television debates seemed to illustrate a genuine enthusiasm of the French for politics and a living, breathing democracy, I felt the opposite. François Hollande's five years as president have, sadly, proved me right. The crisis in democracy has become evident all over the world, with the rise of what some are calling 'democratorships', political leaders falling into general disrepute, the retreat into nationalism instead of any kind of attempt to manage the interdependent nature of the modern world, and Donald Trump's rise to power.
Save democracy! Save Europe! Save the climate! Are these pleas just a reflection of someone that is growing older? Do they only convey a feeling of powerlessness at witnessing the world in which I have spent most of my adult life go off the rails ? Do they convey my dismay at the world that is taking shape – a world of social networks, big data and transhumanism? Am I basically just expressing another strain of conservatism? Maybe, maybe not. Because, ultimately, all these trends, whether they be the blind faith in technical innovation, the hubris of believing in the almighty power of man, or the glorification of national interests, are all only a culmination of trends that have been at work for several centuries and which have resulted in the emergence of the Anthropocene, the era in which human activity is having a major impact on earth system processes. These trends are all about blindly forging ahead.
The three-fold relational crisis – between people, between societies and between humanity and the biosphere – which the Platform for a Responsible and United World ...(2) described in 1993 has become more acute than ever. Accordingly, the perspective – or the utopia if you like – of the Alliance for a Responsible, Plural and United World of fostering global dialogue between societies has become more urgent than ever.
If we are to save democracy, Europe and the climate, we cannot rely on the beliefs, modes of development and institutions of a bygone era. “Change the system, not the climate,” was one of the well-known slogans of COP21. And it is just as valid in other areas as well. We won't save Europe if we don't change our conception of the European project, and the way in which we go about building it. We won't change democracy if we don't reconsider the foundations of both democracy and governance. That is the paradox – the impulse to blindly forge ahead through technical innovation is caused by an inertia in our ways of thinking; we can only save the essence of our humanity by (profoundly) overhauling our systems of thought and our institutions. The inertia of the legal system, which is supposed to fulfil a regulatory role but which is currently incapable of doing so without undergoing some kind of metamorphosis, is a case in point (3).
I would like to share what I feel French presidential candidates should be putting at the top of their agenda. None of it is very different to what I said in 2012 but I will say it at the risk of repeating myself.
We need a new approach – to democracy, to politics, to the economy, to decentralisation, to local governance, to Europe, to European leadership, to European governance, to dialogue between societies, to international trade, to currency, to finance.
1. A new approach to democracy: a transpartisan reform platform based on citizen input and dialogue
The current forms of democracy do not lend themselves to the structural changes required. In other words, democracy will only survive if it can prove it is the form of governance that can meet society's needs.
Democracy in its current form does not make citizens feel as if they have control over the major changes that have taken place in the world. They feel that they only have a say on minor issues. The idea that we could shut ourselves up behind national borders in an attempt to escape the issues that the world is currently facing is like breaking the thermometer to bring down the fever. The first goal of a democracy must be to enable its people to collectively understand the challenges the world is facing and to prioritise them in order to respond to them effectively. Given the degree to which our societies have become interdependent, the line between the domestic and the global, between internal and foreign affairs has become blurred. It is only when people act together that they can exert control. The polarisation of electoral campaigns on internal affairs only takes people further away from democracy - the closer such campaigns come to the immediate concerns of their citizens, the further they take them from democracy: instead of expanding space, as a democracy should, it restricts it.
Democracy in its current form makes it impossible for us to confront the fundamental challenges faced by our our societies. Our voting system sets up a 'winner takes all' logic, which would not be so terrible if political parties were able to do what is needed to bring about long-term structural changes. This is, however, not the case. The sole dream of every new party that comes to power seems to be only to demolish whatever their predecessor laboriously constructed. Each new presidential term is presented as a decisive break away from whatever came before it, the kind of radical break which society actually no longer believes in; either political leaders believe in it, and are accused of incompetence, or they don't believe in it, and are accused of cynicism. These political games only serve to make change even more difficult. It's one reform after another, and whatever reform takes place, everyone knows that it won't be long before there will be a 'counter-reform' : instead of expanding time, as democracy should, it retracts it.
Democracy and politics will only become meaningful again if they enable society to find its course, and if they offer a route to reform it. A list of measures that seek to illustrate how one is different from other candidates is not the answer. The answer is identifying 'reform areas', insisting upon the need for a common foundation for these reforms, agreed upon by those political parties, and this common thread should become the basis for changes to be carried out continuously over several presidential terms.
The consensus between parties should reflect a consensus within society, which will require a long, thorough, honest discussion between social forces and citizens. This is where the processes of deliberative democracy, based on randomly selected citizens panels and faith in their intelligence, could prove key. Areas such as health, education, public services, security and the energy transition would all benefit from this approach.
2. A new approach to politics based on an ethical and methodological standpoint
Politics and policy-making are not about announcing unrealistic measures that ride on their shock value (axing 500,000 civil servant positions, promising a high universal basic income). It is rather about finding a way to collectively develop answers to complex issues. This is why democracy and politics should be defined not as a confrontation between different political platforms but as an ethical and methodical approach, an ethics of responsibility which encompasses respecting facts and citizens. Democracy relies on methodological optimism: citizens' ability to understand complex issues. It could be defined as 'that which makes citizens intelligent'. But creating a genuine public debate in a context marked by big data automation, where everyone is shut up in their own little cognitive and emotional world, requires a not only flawless ethical approach but also a solid methodology. I outlined six principles for such a methodology in my open letter…(4): adopting a 'bottom-up' approach, starting with local panels; creating a solid basis of knowledge and experience that encompasses both local and global viewpoints from the outset; creating a space where the whole spectrum of viewpoints can be expressed; collecting and and collectively analysing significant experiences; pluralistically drawing up 'proposals papers'; analysing the dynamics of transforming the system.
I would love to hear a presidential candidate say, 'I know that I won't change French society in just one term, but if I am able to lay the foundations for a collective movement and help restore France's sense of confidence in itself and in others, which is currently lacking, I will know that I have achieved something.'
3. A new approach to the economy and to money
It's not enough to make France play the great game of global competition. This overlooks the transitions that are necessary. Do we really think that a few tired old economic policy recipes are enough to bring back a time where technically-advanced western countries could suck out all the riches of the natural world and keep them for themselves in exchange for the industrial products that they alone knew how to make? No, history will not repeat itself. Can one possibly believe that by being at the head of the knowledge economy we will somehow retain a technological superiority that will enable us to sell a few planes and nuclear power stations in exchange for the labour of a whole nation of peoples? One only has to visit a Chinese university to see that this could never be anything but an illusion.
What we need to do in France, Europe and all over the world is to invent a new form of growth. What kind of growth? We need to develop the idea of growth in the broadest sense of the world, not only ensuring that everyone has resources, but strengthening our cohesion, enabling everyone to find his or her place in the international community. The non-market sector – the huge amount of work and services undertaken by families, neighbours, and millions of volunteers, without whom our society would have already unravelled, is what binds our national community together, much more than celebrations and flags do. What should be economised? Fossil fuels and non-renewable natural resources. And how does our economy work? Absurdly, by using the same currency, the euro, for both what should be developed and what should be economised!
Even a child would understand that such a system can't possibly work. We need two currencies: a currency for what should be developed – work, and a currency for what should be economised – energy. What is this energy currency? It is the amount of non-renewable nuclear energy or fossil fuel that each individual is entitled to, in accordance with a fair distribution system. This is called a quota system. These quotas would be progressively reduced each year. Far from standing in the way of growth, it will radically change it, revive it by breathing new life into it. There are a number of scenarios, such as that put forward by Negawatt, illustrating that a different kind of growth is technically possible although they say little about the way to go about achieving this.
4. A new approach to decentralisation based on the concept of multi-level governance
Among the ideological blind spots of both the right and left wing is the fact that no problem can currently be solved at only one level of governance and that true governance relies on creating both more unity and more diversity. Decentralisation was left stranded in midstream because no one took the time to think about how the different levels of governance should interact in twenty-first-century terms. By concentrating on dividing up authority between different levels of governance instead of focussing on sharing responsibility, we lose out on both fronts: there is no overall coherency and the local level is no longer autonomous. The next step in decentralisation needs to be based on the theory and practice of active subsidiarity.
5. A new approach to local governance
We need to highlight the important role of the local. Along with global production chains, it will be the key player of the 21st century. It will play a fundamental role in our transition to sustainable societies.
It is in our regions and our cities that democracy is beginning to reinvent itself. It is at this level that we can concretely manage social cohesion, economic efficiency and maintain a respectful equilibrium between society and its environment. There lies the true challenge of decentralisation.
6. A new approach to Europe: rebuilding it with the input of the European people.
This is the whole idea behind a Citizens' Foundational Assembly, which I discussed in my previous posts.
Given that Europe is facing its most serious crisis since 1954 when the European Defence Community (EDC) failed, three things are clear:
- we need to pull out all the stops - the 'one step at a time' approach is no longer appropriate;
- we need to start with the citizens of Europe;
- we need to begin with the local.
These ideas are the basis for a foundational assembly, where local citizen panels form an informed collective opinion (in line with the idea of democracy) followed by a Europe-wide meeting bringing the ideas of these panels together so that, sixty years after the Treaty of Rome set the history of Europe in motion, we develop a new vision of the Europe we want to build over the next few decades (5).
7. A new approach to European leadership: transitioning to sustainable societies
Europe has many strengths which are reflected in the balance it seeks to create between market efficiency, social justice and preservation of the biosphere. But Europe, in its philosophical and economic approach, is also responsible for the current threats to the biosphere, and to humanity's very survival. France used to embody the quest for universal ideals. It now represents no more than a declining middle-ranking power in the world. And yet, in my travels around the world, I have also remarked that people expect something from France, that people would like it to stand up and makes its voice heard now that our interdependent world is making universal ideals more necessary than ever.
There are so many reasons for Europe and France to be at the forefront of the quest for a new development model, for this great shift 'back to the future', to an oeconomy – to a a model that ensures the well-being of everyone while respecting the natural limits of the planet, which is the very definition of an oeconomy.
8. A new approach to European governance
It can no longer be based on old-fashioned federalism. It requires giving countries, towns and cities more freedom in regards to the norms that govern economic goods and services, while showing more solidarity in all areas, highlighting the potential (which although preached is not practiced) of a Europe that has reconciled unity and diversity. Which implies developing an original multi-governance model.
9. A new approach to dialogue between societies and global governance
Our current form of global governance is a long way from being able to effectively manage the challenges of global interdependence and ensure the common good is protected. How could it when it is governments that assume sole control in representing supposed national interests? Global governance can only work effectively when societies in all their diversity learn to dialogue together, leaving the baggage of the past behind them, and realise that our common challenges are more important than our differences, and that if we learn to cooperate, we can address them. This was achieved, with the modest funds of the foundation I directed, by the Alliance for a Responsible, Plural and United World and the China Europe Forum (6). I was able to witness the rich potential of such an approach and to foresee what it could achieve if our leaders gave it their support.
10. A new approach to international trade with a view to transitioning to sustainable societies: 'sustainable value chains' should be the focus of trade agreements
Just as VAT accumulates throughout the production chain, fossil fuel quotas would make it possible to know the amount of grey energy used. This represents a powerful lever to shift our production system towards truly sustainable value chains.
11. A new approach to money: draw on all the possibilities offered by technology to promote local and regional currencies
One has only to look at what is happening in cities and regions. So many idle people, so much energy wasted, and yet so many needs unmet. It is not a basic universal income in euros that we need. That would in all likelihood only go towards buying more Chinese products. And social cohesion can't be created by creating a class of universal consumers. Instead we should be helping people by giving them resources in the local or regional currency in order to 'relocalise' the economy, promote a circular economy, focus on services instead of goods, stimulate a collaborative economy and the sorts of practices associated with a social and solidarity economy, as well as stimulating social innovation and cooperation in all its forms.
12. A new approach to finance: make responsibility the key focus
We must fight unremittingly to eliminate tax havens both in Europe and all over the world. We need to find the means to identify and chase down those that refuse to play their part in upholding national solidarity, we need to fight against 'free riders', whether these be companies or countries that take advantage of the wealth created by others. It will take time but direct action is important, focussing on two areas: transparency and penalising irresponsibility.
- Transparency. The US government decided that all companies registered on the New York stock exchange, whether they be American or not, have to respect American anti-corruption rules irrespective of their geographical location. We should do the same in Europe and only accept those banks that disclose all their activities and profits.
- Responsibility. With great power comes great responsibility. What is seriously lacking today is a European and international responsibility law, a law that would make us responsible for the negative impacts our actions have on the planet even if we have respected the laws in force. The first step would be to adopt a European Charter of Responsibility outlining the legal basis for legal proceedings against irresponsible behaviour.