Copenhagen is like Geneva and Pittsburgh. Obviously, the Scandinavian capital connected with the Little Mermaid does not look like the Swiss city or the American steel metropolis. The first is situated by the seaside, the second on a lakeshore, the third straddles three rivers. But in these three cities, people attempt to take up the world’s challenges. In Copenhagen, of course, it’s climate change that has been in play since yesterday. Last week in Geneva, it was world trade. In Pittsburgh, just a little over two months ago, it was all about finance.
This sequence of international negotiations owes nothing to chance. More and more, the world is a village. What happens at one end of the planet may directly influence events that take place at the other end. Technology has turned the world upside down – giving humanity a power to act on nature that is beginning to be visible on a global scale, by making the circulation of people, goods, information and capital incredibly easy. But this village has no town council, much less a mayor, just neighborhood committees jealous of their independence. This situation is untenable in the long term, but inevitable for now. It took us centuries to go from local organization of powers to a national scale. It will take us decades at the least to find the way to forge world governance, even though the French have dreamed about it for a long time.
Still, there is a precedent: the European construction. It may seem odd to refer to it, given the pathetic state of that same construction today. But it is possible to learn a lesson from it: success comes by way of desire, fear and renunciation. Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, Alcide de Gasperi and Konrad Adenauer’s fundamental desire provided the initial impetus. Fear of geography and history – dread of a victorious and neighboring USSR, terror of relapsing into a past of harrowing wars – supplied an irreplaceable drive. Renunciation was an obligatory passage in the form of relinquishment of sovereignty. But it is so painful that the subsequent decision-making arrangements – and consequently voting arrangements – are crucial. Questions of nationality remain hypersensitive. All one needs to do is see the British reaction to Frenchman Michel Barnier’s appointment as EU Commissioner, responsible, among other things, for financial services (a reaction that is all the same, understandable: all we need to do is imagine what the French would have said had an Englishman become commissioner of gastronomy after having ranted and raved for years against fermentation and other dangerous culinary techniques). Without these ingredients, the construction is by its nature fragile. Should desire disappear, should fear diminish, should elected leaders’ ability to renounce a part of their powers ebb and centrifugal forces rise again, the whole edifice would run the risk of blowing apart again.
Applied to the negotiations underway, whether it’s about the environment or finance, this lesson leads to caution. There is no question of abandoning the least particle of sovereignty, especially on the American side. The desire to go forward exists, but it is far from being shared by all. To tell the truth, only fear may act as a goad. Now with respect to finance, the agony of the crash, extreme a year ago, quickly dissolved in the acid of private interests amounting to millions of Euros at the level of individuals and billions at the level of the companies involved. The more time goes by, the more difficult it will become to change the rules of the game – except in the case of a new seism.
With respect to environmental issues, the opposite is more the case. Fear is growing along with the string of catastrophes of every kind – unprecedented storms, irreparable floods, deadly droughts, etc. Even if there’s no absolute certainty about the connection between human activity and global warming, voters will increasingly demand that governments act in the matter. In the face of this growing worry, Copenhagen undoubtedly comes too soon. Yet later risks being too late.
Translation: Truthout French Language Editor Leslie Thatcher.