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© Hazel Henderson, June 2003
Brussels, June 2003
Brussels, June 2003 This ancient city, bursting with tourists, diplomats, business lobbyists, activist civic groups and traffic jams, is emblematic of the new importance of Europe in global affairs. Cranes and construction crews are expanding the European Parliament and other official buildings ready for the 10 nations, due to join the European Union (EU) in 2004, swelling its population to 500 million.
Brussels is full of debates about the coming 25-member EU’s expanding role in the world, its new constitution, foreign policy and tax harmonization. The strong euro now accounts for 35% of all world trade and currency reserves. Indeed, in 2002, more securities were issues in euros than in US dollars. Many countries have diversified their currency reserves into euros, putting the euro on course to parity with the US dollar as the other global reserve currency.
I participated in two conferences with contrasting views on the meaning of the rise of the EU – one of the most significant and noble experiments in humanity’s long struggle for peaceful, just democratic governance. Renaissance Europe, in the Euro Parliament, hosted by Swedish MEP Anders Wijkman, was convened by European foundations, enterprises and NGOs. This conference explored scenarios for creative social transformation to more equitable, environmentally sustainable lifestyles based on social and technological innovation, renewable energy and resource utilization.
Meanwhile in the nearby Biblioteque Solvay, a masterpiece of the art nouveau style, the Commission on Globalization based in San Francisco, California and The Hague, Netherlands, debated post-Iraq world order and challenges to national sovereignty.
The nations of the EU have pooled many aspects of their sovereignty to create a peaceful union and common currency. The militantly nationalistic USA pursues a course of unilateral action and the new Bush doctrine of its right to preemptively strike other countries in “preventive” self-defense. Heated exchanges characterized this conference. US participants still traumatized by the 9/11 attacks, insensitively referred to the USA as “America” and themselves as “Americans”. European, Canadian and Latin American delegates were critical of Bush’s foreign policies particularly toward the International Criminal Court. Billed as a “multi-stakeholder dialogue” the speakers were predominantly elderly Caucasian males.
James Woolsey, former Director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, now Vice President of Booz Allen Hamilton, promoted the Bush Administration worldview along with other US “conservatives.” The Canadians were more conciliatory, including former foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy, Jeremy Kinsman, Ambassador to the EU and Gordon Smith, former deputy minister of foreign affairs. France’s Georges Berthoin, honorary chairman of the Jean Monnet Association and Oliver Giscard d’Estaing, founder of the INSEAD management institute urged broader agendas of global governance. The always-thoughtful Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan and Palestinian professor, Nabil Ayad, sought deeper, cultural and religious understanding. Ayad warned that, “terrorism is now a hydra-headed monster in a mutating environment.”
The US participants’ conflicting views of their country’s policies dominated. Most agreed on the USA’s military super power status, while I and others stressed its economic fragility, trade and growing deficits, domestic debt, the eroding currency-reserve status of the dollar. European, Russian, Mid-Eastern and Latin American delegates wondered why these sharply-divided views were not reflected in US media and why US polls showed continuing support for Bush’s external (if not domestic) policies.
Many agreed that the continuing trauma caused by the 9/11 attacks, the constant drumbeat of government warnings of dangers of worldwide terrorism reinforced the Bush Administration’s mandate. Those critical of US unilateralism, including Tom Spencer, former British MP and President of GLOBE, the environmental legislators’ group, politely warned that US efforts to divide the EU, a la Donald Rumsfeld’s clumsy rhetoric about, “old and new Europe” was becoming self-defeating.
The Euro-Parliament’s President, silver-tongued Irishman Pat Cox, presented the inspirational view of a unified, enlarged EU. Many now hope the EU will balance the US military approach as an influential, diplomatic “soft superpower” in world affairs. Most agreed that the world also needed a revitalized, reformed United Nations (UN), still the only multilateral body capable of convening all the global players – important as ever, despite the Bush attempts to declare it “irrelevant.”
The rising economic might of China, already becoming the world’s manufacturing giant, was seen as challenging US economic, not military, hegemony, with its currency, the rmb, while still pegged to the US dollar at 8, was more realistically valued today at 3 rmb- US$1. The “soft weapon” of choice in this new century is currencies, all floating in today’s unregulated “global casino” of daily $1.5 trillions of currency transaction. Oliver Giscard d’Estaing boldly called for regulation and taxation of such global activities as currency speculation, arms trading and transportation – a view I have also long-advocated.
Leaving the debate at the Bibliotique Solvay for the Renaissance Europe conference added to the breath of fresh air walking to the EU Parliament through the greenery of the Leopold Park. This group of some 70 “change agents,” entrepreneurs and civic activists was younger, more female, diverse and energetic. Malina Mehra, an Indian-born spokeswoman for an organization of Asian businesses in Europe, eloquently represented their desire to be more involved in shaping a sustainable equitable and innovative Europe.
Private companies focusing on addressing social needs, i.e., social enterprises, were well represented, including the member companies of the European Business Council for a Sustainable Energy Future; socially-responsible companies, including Dutch-based Rabobank and the “Triple Bottom Line” conference conveners, Brooklyn Bridge. Internet-based networks as well as local initiatives in Pari, Italy and Robertsfors, Sweden exemplified the “glocalization” models of human development.
Host MEP Anders Wijkman enthusiastically endorsed the Renaissance Europe group’s expanding influence in all present EU and the 10 new “accession” countries. He also emphasized the need to change the old dysfunctional paradigms of GDP/GNP-measured economic growth, which has led to greater poverty gaps and environmental/social/cultural disruption – toward broader, multi-disciplinary indicators of sustainable quality-of-life.
Marcello Palazzi, President of Progressio Foundation (Netherlands), co-chair of the conference with Marta Bonifert of the Regional Environment Centre, announced that a high-powered electronic platform, London-based VIA3.net would provide networking, communication and barter exchange facilities for all the groups represented to continue the conference and collaboration in cyberspace.
Virtually all participants agreed that cooperative models and strategic alignment of collective values, goals and projects could lead to a greatly enhanced effectiveness and new coalitions to address wider social and environmental challenges. Competitive profit-making corporations in the old money-systems can exploit Metcalfe’s Law – network effects that can lead to monopolies like Microsoft. Social enterprises and civic groups can use the same network effects by cooperating, sharing, bartering and new alliances – creating new levels of abundance using information – rather than money as the new medium of exchange.
I left this conference, honored to be invited (as a US citizen of British birth) to present my own comments, and energized by the visionary views of Renaissance Europe. The ferment in Brussels may well play a creative, influential and increasingly decisive role in building a more human world order.
Hazel Henderson, author of Beyond Globalization and other books, co-creator of the Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators, is also a board member of VIA3.net.