Wolfgang Schüssel, Austrian Chancellor in 2000-2007, explains why there is a growing opposition to globalisation and universalism in today’s world and how we handle it.
Thirty years ago, at the end of the Cold War, there was widespread expectation that a universal order will emerge, based on democracy, rule of law, respect for human rights, market economy and liberalisation of international trade and investment. Today, there is growing opposition to universalism and globalization. This is happening for several reasons.
First, universalism means loss of sovereignty and national decision-making power. We are exposed to events and developments wherever they occur. Mutual dependence might foster international peace. However, people get the feeling that they are helpless vis-à-vis negative trends. They feel unprotected by their governments and might even revolt against their rulers (protest movements, especially in crisis-ridden Southern European countries, and more recently, even in the United States).
Popular masses feel disoriented: negative emotions and confusion are augmented by fake news and other forms of disinformation spread by social media.
Second, international institutions such as the UN and the OSCE are severely challenged. Human rights are violated even in so-called developed countries. Basic principles of democracy and the rule of law, such as the separation of powers are put into question.
Third, while globalisation has in principle a positive impact on economic development, tougher competition can lead to the relocation of industries to countries with lower labour costs. Workers in richer countries feel a downward pressure on their salaries and social benefits. People in developed countries fear an erosion of their high ecological standards. These negative trends are exploited by populist movements. There is growing opposition against further liberalisation of international trade and investment.
Session 4. The Conflict Between Universalism and Self-Identity
The post-Cold War period was unique: for the first time in history, a view prevailed that a single cultural and ideological model was not only universally applicable, but intrinsically superior to the others. The process of globalization effectively became an attempt to cultivate a uniform way of life and a particular system of mores on the entire planet. This prompted a counter reaction – an active search for, and effort to strengthen self-identity among peoples and states.
Economic globalisation requires new rules: multinational companies can easily circumvent national legislation. International rules to avoid tax evasion by multinational companies are so far non-existent.
Fourth, particular negative emotions were raised by the recent mass migration from poor countries, especially in Africa and the Middle East, to Europe. Many citizens fear that their social achievements and their cultural identities are severely endangered. Furthermore, mass migration from Muslim countries increase the risk of Islamic radicalism and terrorism. Lessons learned: the rich countries of the Northern hemisphere must drastically increases their economic aid to poorer countries in the South.
Fifth, globalism did not prevent centrifugal tendencies: dissolution of multinational countries (former Soviet Union, former Yugoslavia) and redrawing of national borders in Europe and the Middle East (the end of Sykes-Picot). The trend towards smaller entities accompanied by regional cooperation continues. The UN and the OSCE have proclaimed the right of people to self-determination. However, the international law does not provide rules for separatism.
Meanwhile, the demand for decentralisation is a reaction to centralism. Citizens of federal states are acquainted to the principle of subsidiarity. This rule must be a guiding principle for the future.