HOW WE SEE IT #8: 2016 the turning point for Europe

A Comprehensive overview

Time is a continuum that the human mind started to perceive and measure, and
sometimes, huge anomalies occur that completely shatter that continuum and scramble it like an
egg. 2016 could be stated as one of those anomalies, which are able to utterly change the visage
of the world, and viciously navigate this pile of rocks that-s been held by gravity into uncertainty.
Even though so far 2017 has been quite worryingly eventful, one could argue that all these were
just the continuation of the grave 2016. Throughout last year, geopolitical and state affairs in the
world created an atmosphere of fear, disbelief, mistrust, hopelessness, naivety and even disdain.
Of course, I know that I am exaggerating a bit, but truthfully, this year could maybe become the
time of the inception of worldwide troubles, that will test humankind’s ability to peacefully
coexist and ever evolve.

The previous year was a kaleidoscope of extraordinary events that shook the world. Two
big events stand out: Brexit and Donald Trump, as the new, incumbent president of the United
States. The West has been seriously infected by the outbreak of right and extreme right parties,
tenets, and even newly made potentates, which are until this day getting ground by using the
incapability of the centre and left to adapt to the current situation. Of course, here one might
argue that this ideological divide is irrelevant in today’s politics, but this year was special, but
definitely not in a benevolent way. The European Union is in its biggest crisis since inception.
Not only the fact that UK citizens, mostly elderly and under-educated, voted for au revoir to
Europe, but the sheer fact that in almost every member state citizens are expressing doubts and
concerns about how far away crucial decisions are made, without them having a say. Unelected
representatives definitely undermine the legitimacy of the EU, but the refugee and migrant crisis,
weak and unstable Eurozone, religious (especially Islamic) fundamentalism and terrorism
(attacks in Nice, Berlin, Brussels), youth unemployment have all escalated tremendously during
2016. As my country is still in accession process, objectively observing EU instigates a belief that
many things are ought to be changed, as this year the polls have shown a rise in support for the
EU, which foolishly many of my compatriots blindly imagine it as wonderland. USA is also a wonderland of well, controversies. And last year could’ve become a starting point of something
new. But, mister Trump couldn’t overshadow partisan affiliation and US geopolitical strive for
hegemony. His campaign was as populist as it really gets, with some added misogynistic twist
and anti-system homilies. The Trump Wall, better relations with Russia, more power and
prosperity for the poor, homeless, unemployed John Does now all seem like a distant dream. So, I
have to be honest now As It seems humans are so naïve and carelessly lost in a loophole which
happened again and again. Resorting to populist ideology is not the solution, it’s the prolongation
of the problems.

Other corners of the world have also experienced turmoil, failed coup d’etats (Turkey and
some African countries), impeachments of presidents in Brazil and South Korea, horrifying
terrorist insurgencies, wars on drugs becoming macabre violent (the Philippines) and the list
could go on… And inevitably, not to forget, the biggest tragedies, civil wars that devastated
Syria, Yemen, Libya and political unrests and conflicts throughout Africa. Syria and Yemen
resemble a lot the period before détente in Cold War. Especially in Syria, as the country during
2016, became a geopolitical positive-sum game where familiar adversaries, US and Russia,
support different belligerents, and engage in serious proxy war confrontations. This so called
game has unleashed one the worst humanitarian crisis in history, with almost 100.000 casualties,
and around 6 million refugees, which as above mentioned, was one the main catalyst of
euroskepticism and EU crisis. By saying this, I just feel obliged to express how much we are
interconnected and dependent we are and how the world shrank and how events are tangled up,
each fuelling or causing one another. .2016 will never be forgotten, but we won’t be missing it,
no chance!

Happily, there have been some bright light in the murky sky of 2016: USA has ceased to
treat Cuba as an enemy, with Obama being the first president after the Cuban revolution to
officially visit the country; the Colombian government has reached a provisional peace treaty
with FARC, a war that was raging for 52 years; the US lifted the sanctions against Iran and many
technological advancements (f.e. landing a rocket safely back on Earth). Unfortunately, this year was also the hottest in recorded history, which indicates that climate change will play a much
bigger role in relations between countries, and will contribute to even more tensions and political
unrests. A propos of all that has been said, I’m still an optimist and hoping for a bright future, but
the turnout of events and actions are a troublesome sign of bad times to come.

Montenegro hasn’t been spared to by the anomalies of 2016. Elections for the parliament
saw the ruling coalition around DPS party winning the narrowest majority in its history.
Accusations of election fraud by the opposition were as always very prevalent, and regardless all
the evidences, EU and US treated them as fair and democratic. Opposition parties have been
boycotting the legislative body, which caused the parliament being in serious legitimacy crisis.
There was an alleged coup d’etat attempt by some Serbian nationals, who were backed up by
Russian intelligence and opposition parties. So, unwillingly, Montenegro became another
geopolitical stand -off between the West and East. This is still an ongoing topic in the country,
whose debt has reached critical level, whose internet news portals are mostly reporting on
scandals, acts of criminals and horrible accidents, whose youth is being forced to look for a
prosperous future somewhere abroad… But an incredibly beautiful country, with huge potential
and many resources. I am patriot, but not an irrational one, so that’s why I am believing that
things can be changed, for the better, not only in my country, but everywhere.

Give peace a chance!

Vasilije Krivokapić

Populism

Nowadays, one of Europe’s biggest problems is the absence of answers to economic, social and political concerns on a large scale. The surprising Brexit, the US elections with the victory of Donald Trump, France at Le Pen risk and the unstable leadership of Merkel in Germany provide a panorama of uncertainty.

In this context of bewilderment (what is happening? Who will help us?), a growing populism was born, a phenomenon that embodies the discontent and the discomfort expressed by many citizens in the last consultations. It is undeniable that such a rise is the evidence of a crisis of the elite and of leadership at the global and European levels. As an immediate consequence, in the absence of leadership impacts on the inability to objectively address the most pressing challenges facing the Union. How to manage the crisis of migrants in an effective way? How to create a European defence community? How to improve the political integration and to convince member States to cede sovereignty? How to tackle terrorism? To these questions, populists know how to respond because, in their generality and superficiality, there is always an answer. To give true and decisive answers we would need, in Europe, a political unity that, in order to be realized, would, however, need a leadership that is different from the current one, too self-referential and divided.

Currently, the European leadership seems to experience a sort of crisis of competence, not being apparently able to instil security in the citizens, nor to face with conscience and resolution matters of the greatest urgency. It is all too obvious that the European citizens are asking for the criteria of truth in order to know in which direction they are going. The tragedy is that, unfortunately, these criteria do not exist anymore: nothing seems to be predictable and, indeed, the difficulties seem to have no end, starting from the recession and the migration crisis.

In this scenario of unstoppable dynamism, positive or negative, there is absolute need of new political figures that know how to interpret the present to imagine the future in a more responsive manner to the collective needs. Clearly, no one is and will never be able to predict the future with surgical precision, nor there is a perfect recipe to create a perfect leader. However, the speed of change, the simultaneity of the changes and the rapidity of the transition will force the leaders of the future to have an extremely rare skill: to find immediate answers to the rapid changing issues, hardly to be codified. If we could sum up the quality that the new leadership should possess, these would be a balanced amalgam between political and entrepreneurial abilities.

The first of these is, as already said, the ability to imagine the future starting from the present, giving shape to phenomena that are difficult to interpret. It is a quality that corresponds to the English term “visioning”. Having a vision will be essential for future leaders, especially because this will be constantly updated for every little change that the world faces. The reality changes quickly and just as quickly must adapt the vision of the leader.

A second quality is innovation, typical of the great manager of the great politicians. As a manager must be able to orchestrate the creativity within a working group, the political leader must be able to promote the flexibility and responsiveness of its team of government. In a company, as in a government, it is not the leader that finds solutions, but rather he/she creates the conditions so that the group around him/her can create innovation, i.e. new solutions to new problems. There is, however, a fundamental difference between the manager and the political leader: while the manager may be wrong, because very often it is from the error that come the best ideas, the politician cannot do it. If the political leader fails, then it will be destroyed by its own failure.

Another key feature will be the ability to build consensus, cohesion and motivation within the same government elite. The ability to work with others is essential for any type of profession, but in the political field this also means having a detailed program in which all members of the team recognize. In this regard, seems to be deleterious the practice of inserting in the executive figures that do not share the projects of the majority, since they may weaken the effectiveness of the program.

Finally, also taking into account the impact of decisions on society will be very important, if not vital. The future leader will have to convey the importance of change to the population, so as to make them part of the benefits of the change itself, and to pursue, therefore, a consensus building with the local and national communities. However, change must be promoted as an opportunity to share and not beneficial only for single group of citizens, otherwise it can be ineffective and harmful.

Along with the qualities already mentioned, there are certainly others as honesty, transparency, charisma, forcefulness and so on. In any case, beyond the emphasis that places in his speeches or the way in which he behaves in the face of crises, the leader of the future will have to assume responsibility right from the first moment and act as quickly as required by the exigencies of the globalization.

The leader’s task will be therefore be very difficult: to imagine the future before it happens, preparing citizens to the future and its possible effects. Citizens should be and will be always looking for some kind of safety. Security that does not exist today, it is lost: many find a shelter in populism, because they are in search of simple answers that only populism can give. Tangible proof of this trend is the birth of the concept of post-truth, the development of which is facilitated by modern means of communication as social networks: the post-truth shows that a false and unfounded truth, if expressed in the right way, can be real in the eyes of many in search of constant certainties.

In order to counteract the effects post-truth’s manipulations, and to harmonize the course of a globalization which has now become unstoppable, Europe will have to learn to think in terms of greater or lesser openness to globalization itself, trying to show its responses as better alternatives to those of populism and, above all, instilling confidence in the denigrated communitarian projects.

L’Associazione degli Studenti di Scienze Politiche d’Italia (ASSP Italia)

Filippo Malinverno