EASTWEST Strong leaders hold sway
As we’ve pointed out in earlier editorials, this long financial crisis has not only strained the self-regulating capacity of the markets but has also seemingly undermined the relationship between citizens and political leadership in our Western democracies.
- Monday, 30 April 2018
With Europe having to deal with potential electoral upheavals every six months, it becomes almost impossible to come up with credible solutions to the major problems afflicting the start of this century. Issues revolving around finance, climate, energy and even big data require considerable technical capabilities and call for far-reaching political decisions that are bound to have an impact on very extensive geopolitical areas. There’s no point trying to manage the problem of coordinating Europe’s many gas pipelines from a national standpoint, as explained in our reports. Until some form of European governance is in place, it will be the energy-producing countries that will be making all the decisions, while the interests of small and divided consumers will be disregarded. In the meantime, countries where the majority tradition is stronger manage to have more of a say, unlike countries with structurally weaker governments, which are held back by muddled principles supporting participative democracy and where minorities not only wish to oversee compliance with rights but often manage to completely obstruct the decision-making process.
Up until 2005, less than half the Italian electorate believed the country needed a strong leader. Nowadays, eight out of ten Italians think so, a figure which in actual fact applies to many other countries worldwide. Modern Western democracies, regardless of their historical or geopolitical positioning, seem unable to promote an efficient representation. Markets tend to be invasive as does globalisation, and these are elements that infiltrate society much faster compared to the processes that enable a leader to gain the citizen’s trust. This makes it much more likely that the leader will appear weak and slow to react to changing situations and external dynamics, which are often unforeseen in any case. Ultimately the selection of one’s representative tends to focus on someone who seems to have the resolve and strength to enable the country to manage markets, globalisation and the speed of change: Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Viktor Orban, and looking further east, Xi Jinping in China and Narendra Modi in India fit this bill.
The Chinese leader, during the fiveyear period between 2012 and 2017, showed an uncommon skill in strengthening his own position. He at first restricted the operational scope of the prime minister Li Keqiang and then promoted an anti-corruption campaign through which he got rid of a whole series of ‘awkward’ opponents. He then added his own ideology to the Chinese constitution, emulating Mao Zedong. By including his political and theoretical contribution within the country’s main policy document, the president has not only established himself as the leader of the nation but also as a historical guide for the Chinese people. Thanks to a sweeping plan for reform which stretches from the economy (the ‘new normal’, which should mean a definite step forward compared to the protectionist attitude the world is used to or the plans for industrial requalification) to the modernisation and expansion of the armed forces (he has announced an 8% increase in military spending), the Beijing leader is making China increasingly competitive on the world markets, and this is garnering such support that Xi Jinping could remain in power for life. On 11 March 2018, the parliament actually voted in favour of abolishing the rule that capped presidential mandates to two. Out of 3,000 members, only five voted against, which adds confirmation that Xi will in all likelihood be re-elected and thus continue to guarantee his leadership in the globalisation process that will enable his country to continue on its unstoppable rise towards world leadership. India with Narendra Modi’s election in 2014 has begun its Modi driven transformation. He means to forge a future global and democratic (unlike China) guiding power, starting from the demographic data which sees India about to overtake China: 1,379,000 people versus 1,324,000 in India and growing (at a rate of 1.19%). India will be eyeing China in its rear view mirror by 2030. To consolidate the Indian dream, Modi is undertaking a vast programme of reform which is meant to revive industry and trade with a strong emphasis on internal production, especially on the technological front. Between 2017 and 2018 IT exports are expected to grow by 8%.
Should we then be taking our cue from the Chinese and Indian models?
Of course not, but European leaders risk not having an unlimited timeframe in which to accelerate the European integration process towards a federal model along the lines of the US (or failing that, a Swiss-style federation of states), involving centralised foreign policy and defence and shared economic and monetary policies. National federalisms need to be reorganised around larger spaces, overcoming local vetoes that hinder swift decision making, at least on major issues. In Europe we can no longer tolerate the kind of autonomist movements such as the Catalan one, whereby a rich community no longer wishes to support the kind of solidarity measures that are essential when building strong and competitive states.
Just as it makes no sense to subdivide a weak Italy into 20 small regions, in many cases without any historical or economic rationale, and especially without an efficient management class capable of usefully contributing to the management of local communities, as is proven by the many instances of mismanagement with the steelworks in Taranto, the gas pipeline in Puglia, the high speed east-west rail link (TAV) and the refurbishing of the industrial site of Bagnoli in Naples, providing just a few examples.
And if strong leaders in the Macron mould lead us more speedily towards sensible options, they’re welcome. But beware: the next European parliamentary mandate will be decisive. We’re unlikely to get another chance.