- The role of the academic community in developing a global governance culture,
Mr. Edy Korthals Altes, former Ambassador of the Netherlands; Honorary President of the World Conference of Religions for Peace

 


The role of the academic community in developing a global governance culture.

A) Reflection on some major questions:

The serious imbalance in our culture between material/spiritual elements.

The effects of this imbalance on human well-being and natural environment.
(within Europe and other parts of our world)

The pressure on natural resources resulting from the combined effect of: growing world population, essential economic growth in developing countries and the pursuit of ever greater affluence in the prosperous North.

How to overcome the present imbalance in our culture?

Is a fundamental change in attitude towards man, material goods and nature not a prerequisite for a sustainable and just development in our world?

Is spiritual renewal not a precondition for this required change in attitude? If so, in what form?

B) Research on:
- the role and the meaning of 'spiritual capital'.

- the effects of the erosion of 'spiritual capital' on mental health ( identity crisis, loss of orientation, stress, suicide, mental exhaustion, violence) and social commitment (individualism, lack of trust and social cooperation). Is there a relation between the identity crisis and consumerism?

- What is the significance of religion and spirituality as a form of 'social capital' (motivation for social engagement, volunteer action and solidarity.

- the role of value driven leadership in business.

- the conditions under which a growth of 'social capital' could be promoted.

- the environmental impact of continued economic growth both in developed countries and developing countries against the background of a rapidly rising world population.

- the short- and long term effects of trade liberalization upon the economic and social situation in Europe.

- how to avoid massive unemployment and pauperisation in the EU in a global world, in which such a wide disparity in wage level exists and the potential of offering labour at a much lower cost is so great ?

- what are the social effects of a more mature attitude in economics leading to a reduction of consumer demand (notably on employment, disposable time )

- creating a more reliable instrument for measurement of growth.
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Session 1:

The EU, global economic governance, natural resources and human development.

I- Global economic governance is an absolute necessity. Environmental degradation is already now a major world problem. The prosperous North carries here a major responsibility. About 80% of the environmental problems is the result of economic activities of 1/5th of the world population living in the highly industrialised nations. About 4/5th of the world population is in dire need of economic development. How do we think to cope with the resulting environmental burden in the coming decades?(China and India with well over 2 billion people are in full development).
Has the time not come for the EU to give a clear signal that a fundamental change in production- and consumption patterns is an essential condition for a just and sustainable development in a global world?


II- The EU should and could give this significant contribution by:
1) Awakening to the need of a new attitude towards economics. Economics should no longer be seen as a goal in itself but as an instrument serving mankind.
Economics is the responsible use of the limited means at man's disposal in order to promote the common and individual well-being of present and future generations. Production, distribution and consumption of goods and services must be oriented towards a just and sustainable society in which the limits of nature are strictly respected.

2) This new approach implies the debunking of three myths underlying the present economic system:
- the myth of man's 'unlimited material needs'. Religions remind us that man does not live on bread alone, conventional wisdom warns us that frugality is the value to heed. Both are highly relevant in a consumer society suffering from overabundance.
- the myth of 'unlimited growth' in a limited space. Clearly an impossibility on this given planet earth with its natural limits.
- the idolatry of the absolute free market, which is released from all restraints hindering the free exchange of goods and services. For a truly human development is however essential: a free market within a social and environmental context.

III- The new approach to economics should lead to:
1) a more responsible use of natural resources and energy by:
a) reduced demand ( mentality change - based on spiritual awakening - " enough is enough"; together with policies leading to a sobering of consumer demand, notably for luxurious goods).
b) a more efficient use of resources and energy (innovation; higher quality standards, durability products; recycling etc.)

2- a more relaxed attitude towards the EU Lisbon Strategy 'to become the most competitive, knowledge-based economy in the world'. This goal should no longer be seen as an imperative to which everything (a.o. education, universities) should be subjected. It offers a bleak perspective on a materialistic future for European Union, in stark contrast with the inspiring vision of its founders.

3- critical evaluation of the effects of EU policies( trade, agricultural and fisheries) upon other regions in our world.
A careful balance should be sought between the legitimate interests of those living inside the EU and those outside, in particular in the poor nations. Some form of protection may be inevitable if we want to prevent a pauperisation in the EU in view of the huge discrepancy in wage- levels and vast supply of 'cheap labour'. At the same time however certain trade barriers against products from developing nations should be lifted (f.i.'quality controls'). Developing world is now deprived of possibility to generate wealth through adding value to their basic products.

4 - revision of priorities in spending from military expenditures to efforts to deal with major world problems such as hunger, poverty, underdevelopment, disease, environmental degradation. A yearly 5% reduction over a 10 year period could make a substantial difference in the human security of hundreds of million people. Yes, even a difference between life and death of millions! Crucial is the realization that our security in a highly interdependent world is not only threatened by WMD and terrorism but also by these major world problems!
In order to ensure peace the EU should not seek a rise in military expenditures but rather strive towards a much greater effective cooperation in matters of defence and procurement.

5- promoting interactive religious dialogue in order to support a non-violent multicultural society.
( for example: Marseilles Espérance and Bruxelles Espérance).

IV- Europe bears a special responsibility for inspiring and actively promoting a more peaceful, just and sustainable world society.
From this continent spread nationalism all over the world, culminating in two terrible world wars. From this continent came the basic ideas of modernity and the industrial revolution. Trade, imperialism and colonialism proved to be effective instruments for European expansionism. This has contributed to a sharp rise in prosperity. At the expense however of the original inhabitants in the affected regions, who were subjected to great injustice and suffering.

We are now faced with an unsustainable development as the greater part of the world population - economically underdeveloped - is eagerly following the example of the prosperous North. It is therefore of prime importance that the EU, with its huge internal market and vast intellectual, natural and financial resources, gives a convincing signal that it is determined to set course towards a more mature relation between material and spiritual elements.

We may eventually succeed in building together a solid structure for our European house. But a EU without a Heart and Soul is doomed to fade away, being irrelevant in a world in need for a new spirit expressed in concrete actions.
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Edy Korthals Altes (former Ambassador of the Netherlands; Honorary president World Conference Religions for Peace)
28/10/2004