GMF's Brussels Forum Update
March 23 -- The highest attended GMF’s Brussels Forum started off with a plea from Walter Russell Mead for ideas to guide the way forward, as we confront great divisions among our societies. “This is not a bump in the road, this is an historic crisis and turning point,” he said in his opening prologue.
“In this time, we are not starved by a drought, but flooded by abundance.” The problem, from Russel Mead’s perspective, is that policymakers and opinion leaders do not know how to channel the abundance. There is a clear definition of current affairs: elites are less good at governing and populists are concerned. Russell Mead says, “Neither side is the real truth - but there are real truths behind all of these stories.” Russel Mead had harsh words for elites who disdain populists, reminding the audience that populists see elites as either evil or stupid.
Karen Donfried, president of the German Marshall Fund, suggested to the audience that we look to the Marshall Plan for inspiration in addressing today’s challenges “The spirit of the Marshall Plan – its ambition, its pragmatism, and its emphasis on cooperation – is as relevant as ever on the eve of its 70th anniversary. In the face of overwhelming adversity, the creators of the Marshall Plan responded with a bold, innovative agenda that allowed Western Europe to pull back from the brink of economic calamity and chart a course for peace and prosperity. The Marshall Plan continues to serve as proof that strategic investment and cooperation can have impact of a scale and durability far beyond their initial scope,” said Donfried.
Finding solutions starts with dialogue, so political and thought leaders have gathered here at the Steigenberger Hotel in Brussels to discuss the end of the post-Cold War era, and try to predict the way of the future.
- During the opening session, the Mayor of Carmel, Indiana James Brainard said that the rise of populism has not changed the way he governs. “Local leaders have it easier because we see our constituents everyday.”
- From a parliamentary perspective, Hungarian MEP Zsuzsanna Szelenyi believes we should generate more interest from the people and that will “demand different attitudes from politicians.” Expanding on a point made by Russel Mead, that authoritarian leaders are popping up all over the world, not only outside of Europe, she said, "Political division now is not between right and left, but about autocratic and democratic."
- Jane Harman, after identifying herself as one of few remaining centrists democrats, does not believe the United States has a populist movement, rather “people who are anxious or angry.” She identified a broken business model of Congress as a primary challenge, saying "Instead of solving problems, we blame each other to get elected.” Changing the primary system in the Untied States would be a step in the right direction.
- According to Guy Verhofstadt, there is a lack of leadership in the European Union, thus believes that a vision for Europe is impossible. “We are in a trap: nation states are confronted with challenges bigger than their borders, and the EU is without the means, instruments to do anything about it.” He said political in the EU will only act when their back is against the wall.
In troubled times, the door opens for new ideas. Brexit has proven to be a point of optimism for those who believe in a rules-based, postwar order. Britain’s exit from the European Union has inspired those who have become complacent, as displayed by the Dutch voters decision to elect Prime Minister Mark Rutte instead of populist leader Geert Wilders. The main theme throughout this first session is a real need for new leadership and connection between parties. Szelenyi said that “initiatives like the Mercator European Dialogue is an effort where we can discuss changing ecological and social standards.”
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.