Advice from Lord Giddens: Refreshing the creativity of ‘old Europe’ Ziua – November 17, 2007
Interview by Margarita GEICA and Sorin ROSCA STANESCU
Lord Anthony Giddens, the ‘guru’ of ex PM Tony Blair, has been kind enough to share with us his thoughts about the Romanian society and mention some key points that need action.
A most influential sociologist, Lord Anthony Giddens is the author or editor of over 40 academic best sellers. Due to him “the third way” concept is now widely used in politics as an idea very influential on the social-democratic parties in the world.
He was born in Edmonton, northern London, and he was the first to graduate university in his family. Until 1997 he was a professor of sociology in Cambridge and then he became a dean of the London School of Economics. In June 2004 Anthony Giddens became a member of the House of Lords. And he has been a most dedicated supported of the Tottenham Hotspur all the while.
Professor Gibbens paid a visit to Romania last week, accepting the invitation from Ana Birchall, a head of the public education and research department in the Social-Democrat Party. He delivered a public lecture on “Is the European Social Model Possible in Romania?” in Bucharest University, the Faculty of Sociology. And he was awarded the Doctor Honoris Causa by the National School of Political and Administrative Studies. You can now read the interview he kindly gave us.
Rep.: Dear professor Giddens, you had a strong impact on the evolution of the New Labour. If you had been the “guru” of the Romanian Social-Democrat leaders instead of Mr. Blair’s, what advice would you have given them?
A. G.: It is not up to me directly to advise the Romanian Social Democrats. I can only speak on a general level. All the successful left of centre parties in Europe – in the world – have one characteristic in common: their propensity to innovate and reform, taking tough decisions even when these may upset their traditional supporters. This process doesn’t only mean creating new policies, but trying to change political culture, both among elites and among the population at large. In countries that have experienced Communism, even though few would want to see such a system return, there is a natural tendency to hark back to what in retrospect appears to some – mainly among the older generation – as a loss of security.
Rep.: There are several operational models in Europe, such as the Scandinavian model, the Anglo-Saxon one… What European social model do you think would suit Romania best? A. G.: Romania should not attempt to copy any sort of social model. The point should be to look, not just at Europe, but around the world, to find the policies that are likely to work best. The Scandinavian experience is certainly instructive, and points the way in some key issues. They show it is possible to create a business-friendly economy where nevertheless high levels of social justice are sustained. The most important elements: reform of labour markets, trying to provide both security and flexibility through retraining and active job placement; investment in education plus educational reform, including especially higher education; investment in IT; pension reform, making it possible for older people to work if they want to, plus switching investment to women and children; and reform of the state, to eliminate waste (and corruption) and decentralisation. Rep.: Considering the political trends and developments in the European countries, could the Social Democrats become again the main political force in the European Parliament following the 2008 elections?
A.G.: The most important looming issues on the EU scene in 2008 will be pushing through the Reform Treaty and making sure the Budget Review produces real results. The CAP needs reform, in order to generate money to spend on policies that will help Europe compete. The centre-left in the European Parliament should be pushing hard for such reform, but I don’t see an immediate prospect of them becoming a majority. Rep.: How do you see the Romanian left-wing evolution, given the fact that they get to approximately 20% in the surveys? In your opinion, this decrease could be determined by the lack of projects or by a bad party management?
A.G.: A centre-left party should aim to get well over 30% support. Several things are necessary, international experience shows. First, such a party must show itself to be of the future rather than of the past – and one not just defending vested interests, but capable of speaking for much of the population. Second, this means generating an appeal to the younger generation, and to women, as well as to other constituencies: strong messages on job creation and family-oriented policy are a help. Third, centre-left parties must have clear views on issues where historically they have been weak, and where they have left areas to be dominated by the right. One of these for example, is national identity, which nowadays tends to be the strong point of right-wing parties, even the extreme right. The centre-left needs a clear message about what sort of country Romania is and should be, one that has a measure of emotional appeal as well a cognitive one. Party management is certainly an important backdrop. The Labour Party in the UK was out of power for eighteen years when it was divided because of personalities and ideological conflicts. Tony Blair imposed strong party discipline – around a new agenda, though. Rep.: What is, in your opinion, the best approach to solve the Rroma community problems at national and European level?
A.G.: I’m not in any sense an expert on the Roma, although a student of mine once wrote a Ph.D. on the subject. I think everyone recognises the difficult issues presented, and that the EU must be involved (as it indeed is through the reports produced by the Commission). The Roma are simultaneously an oppressed minority and a group vigorously asserting their specific culture and way of life. I am a believer in multiculturalism, but for me this doesn’t mean that cultural differences have primacy over national an international law and obligation; on the contrary. For example, the Roma should be obliged to send their children to school and also meet other citizenship obligations, but of course there are difficult practical problems implementing such prescriptions in a nomadic community. The Roma in many countries lack the identity documents needed to assert their rights. The solution must lie not just in improving the conditions of life of the Roma, but in changing attitudes among majority populations – e.g. banning hate speech. Rep.: You state that the environmental issues will make the agenda of the geo-politics. There is a huge debate in Romania on the use of the cyanide process at Rosia Montana. The supporters of this project take for the eradication of poverty in the area, while the opponents prioritize environment protection. What would be a “third way” to solve the issue?
A.G.: The convergence of climate change and energy security is likely to be the defining feature of international relations and of much of domestic politics over the next two or three decades. No country can stand outside, and all must actively prepare. The Rosia Montana issue could perhaps be one that will raise environmental consciousness in the country, given the furore it has caused. I hope the environmentalists win on this particular question. Romania should be going for cutting-edge environmental innovations to promote job generation, including renewables, biofuel production where appropriate, and so forth. A ‘leapfrog’ effect is what should be aimed for, especially in the agrarian areas. Rep.: Do you think Romania would be differently appreciated in the European Union if it were a constitutional monarchy, as your country is?
A.G.: I don’t believe that any country that hasn’t a monarchy should seek to restore one. The important thing in a ‘constitutional monarchy’ is the constitution – and above all, as I stressed earlier, the political culture surrounding it – not the monarchy.
The former East European societies should have a major role to play in how Europe adjusts to the global era. I’m not discouraged by the problems that currently exist, since no-one could expect a smooth ride in the first instance. These societies could bring a refreshing creativity to ‘old Europe’ – above all if they are able to ‘leapfrog’ in some key areas. Rep.: What results do you expect from the football team Tottenham Hotspur in the new season, now that Juande Ramos is its new manager?
A.G.: Football at the moment – as with sport more generally – is itself an example of globalisation. What were local teams have become internationalised. More than one billion people across the world watch a match from the UK Premier League each week, an amazing phenomenon. I’m very interested in using sport to fulfil social objectives. I am on the board of the Football Foundation, which is supported by the Premier League, the Football Association and the British government. It does extraordinary work using the appeal of football to construct projects to help children in the very poorest areas of the country. As for Tottenham Hotspur, they are doing better under Mr Ramos at the moment, in fact are unbeaten, and long may it last.