“It is a great pleasure to be here with you to talk about anticipation, science, diplomacy and Geneva. Thank you GESDA for this invitation.
I have kept two activities in my former and happy life in Paris, for six years. One is the Presidency of the Jacques Delors Institute — I could not do otherwise, not only for the friendship I have for Jacques Delors, but also for the attachment I have to his ideas. The other is to be one of the actors of GESDA, with all of you. This is a brilliant idea, born in Geneva, and I am truly delighted to have been able to participate in the founding moments — moments during which I really had great intellectual pleasure in understanding and learning.
Anticipation, scientific diplomacy, Geneva: these are the three points I will try to elaborate.”
The first — the most interesting from my point of view — is anticipation. What does it mean today? Why do we say that anticipation is essential to build the future?
When I entered politics, I was told that, in order to do so, you had to know the past and base your actions upon it. This is true. But when I see everything that has happened in the last few years, I have the impression that knowing the past was not enough to understand the world of today. Consider Brexit; the election of Donald Trump to the White House in the US; the financial crises; the covid-19 pandemic; climate change — or everything else that we are experiencing in our lives and in international relations. Anticipation is essential, because it is the ability to imagine the world of tomorrow. And to do this, we need both the capacity to “use the future to build the present”, as GESDA puts it, and the capacity to make the present a present in which ideas for the future are the focus of our activities, in other words: something concrete, something serious.
And when I think of politics, again, although looking back over our shoulders is the easiest thing to do in times of change, it is not what’s right. Look at what has happened in the last few years: a rapid and strong globalisation, which has changed our lives. This globalisation has made a lot of people afraid and seek a refuge. This refuge is the old nation-state, and the languages that we already master perfectly.
Populism, in our societies today, is thus above all a simple way of comforting people who are afraid because of the acceleration of globalisation, which brings justified fears. The essential question is: how can we turn these fears into positive energy? When you go into these well-known refuges, you don’t try to imagine futures or prepare for the future. This is exactly what has been missing in recent times, as we have instead sought comfort in the past.
Another example is demography. Here again, the past rarely gives us the interesting data that we need for understanding. Anticipation, in this context, requires understanding the fundamental changes that occur in society as a consequence of demographic change. Currently, however, this demographic change and its consequences are struggling to become the focus of concrete political reflection. When I think of my own country, Italy — one of the countries experiencing one of the most violent demographic falls — when I think of what it will be like in 2050, and when we talk about what we should do to avoid this situation, we can easily see the problem but we have no intention of taking the decisions necessary to avoid a disaster. They are political decisions concerning the birth rate and the family, as well as complex and necessary decisions on integration and immigration. For a country like mine, which no longer wants children and which does not want immigrants, it is quite complicated to imagine a future in which this demographic fall will not become an earthquake that will completely change society.
So how can we anticipate? What does it mean to have an elderly population? Is it that neighbourhoods and services are completely focused on the elderly? A society that is not capable of encouraging young people? We have to anticipate this problem of an ageing population because it will happen. We will then live in societies in which the majority of voters will have white hair. And when you are a voter with white hair, you look at things differently, and you vote with a different sense of the future. A 20-year- old votes — if they vote — knowing that they will live another 70 years on average. This is not the case for an elderly voter, obviously. This means that our electorate is totally unbalanced, and will be even more so in the future. For example, there should be parliaments in which there is not only a “pink quota”, but also “blue quotas”; that is, assemblies in which it is taken for granted that a percentage of the members of parliament are under 30 years old. But such proposals cause me to be criticised in my country.
I am told, “This is not the priority, there are many other problems.” That is true. But this is the problem concerning anticipation: we always tell ourselves that the priorities are elsewhere. In Italian, we call this benaltrismo. And we say to ourselves, “Well, we’ll leave that for later.” But the aftermath never comes. Or it arrives too soon, and the problems are already there.
The other important aspect of anticipation is the cost of not anticipating. A very simple example is the economic-financial crisis of 2008-2011. In the specific case of the European crisis, the cost of non- anticipation was incredible in terms of human lives and financial resources. Entire countries have fallen; people died by suicide: an economic disaster due to a delayed response to the crisis and non-anticipation. That is not to say that it was necessary to anticipate the fact that the crisis was coming; that would be too much to expect. But the response should have come a year or eighteen months after, not four years after. The “whatever it takes” statement by the Prime Minister of my government — which I support — was made on 26 July 2012; Lehman Brothers had collapsed on 15 September 2008. This is the cost of not anticipating and, above all, of not having understood the speed at which responses were absolutely necessary. Anticipation is essential.
My second point is science diplomacy, which is essential. Naturally, GESDA plays an essential role here. It is incredible how far it has come, and how far we have come together, in just two years — two years that have been rather special. This shows that the idea is good, and that we must continue. But what does that mean? How can we bring together diplomacy, international politics and science, especially on the subjects that we have been dealing with recently? Because the pandemic, for instance, has made us understand that we also need political leaders who are really capable today of taking into account both the social sciences and the hard sciences. If you lack one or the other, it is very difficult to find a way to understand what is happening, to anticipate and to take the right decisions.
Another big issue where policy and science have to play a key role is space. We talk about it a lot at GESDA. When we see the private actors and tourists who go into space, we wonder what this world will be like tomorrow. This is an area in which anticipation and the role of politics are absolutely essential, and where Europe plays a fundamental role.
I will also mention the poles: the Arctic and the Antarctic, which are, in my view, the other major areas where anticipation offers the chance for politicians to play an important role. Furthermore, Big Data is obviously a major issue, and there has been a great deal of mistrust about 5G infrastructure, even in recent election campaigns, and in relations between states. How can we ensure that trust becomes a key component in strategic discussions and avoid what happened between China and the USA?
Finally, of course, there is climate change. Many alarms have been sounded by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But we all know very well that science has played the key role in this area. Because only science is in a position today to say things that politicians cannot say, or that politicians can say only after science has said them. I think that this sixth IPCC report plays a crucial role: the fact that it states so clearly the role of mankind in climate change obviously obliges us to take action and to make sure that we decide to act differently than we have in the past.
My third point concerns the City of Geneva.
Geneva is not just a city; it is much more than that. I remember our students at the Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA): Geneva, for them, was something mysterious, important, fundamental for their future. The most interesting thing for them was to come to Geneva, and to do things in Geneva. I haven’t seen any agreements reached by Zoom during this recent period. Agreements, or compromises, are reached by looking each other in the eye, by talking side by side, by understanding each other. That is why diplomacy needs locations. Geneva is the best location. And I think that with the launch of this idea — that anticipation is the key to the future — into a world that is changing and is no longer based on the past, Geneva can be even better.
Geneva is therefore the ideal place. The strengthening of multilateralism, of the UN model, of reforms at this level, is crucial. Because we also have to start calculating the real costs of not co-ordinating. It is essential to make people understand that the United Nations — multilateralism — plays an essential role where we find ourselves now. Look at the first few months of the pandemic, before the coordination came. We spent weeks without coordination at the European level, because Europe had no competence, and still has no competence in health.
In the pandemic, the cost of not coordinating has been huge in terms of loss of life. Before I left PSIA, I had proposed to the OECD that it should set up a major multilateral initiative to try to calculate the cost of non-coordination for Europe; Jacques Delors himself had launched this exercise: the “cost of non- Europe”. These are important steps. But the first need is to have a place, a physical place, where we can talk to each other, and work together, sharing this spirit of anticipation and of mutual trust — a trust between people with different backgrounds, people who come from different countries, but people who can meet here and find here the will for a future that holds us together.
The pandemic has played an essential role in this respect, because in the pandemic we have understood that we are all in the same boat. We have understood that an event that happens in a market in a city that we may not even have known about can bring down our economies, and cause a country like mine to have to pay 20 points of public debt in one year. This is the difference between the pre- and post-pandemic worlds.
We have learned about our total interdependence. And this total interdependence means that anticipation today is something that concerns us all. If there is someone in another country with perhaps different political ideas from mine, but who helps me to anticipate what is going to happen in all the areas I have just mentioned, it is obviously in my interest to work with them. That is why this work of scientific diplomacy is so crucial today after the pandemic.
My conclusion is that, in order to achieve this, we must rely on education, which is essential, and utterly central. That’s why it’s good that we are here at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, to discuss this. The question of languages, and their translation, is also crucial. If we do not ensure that all these activities take place in many different languages, we will remain in an elite. Finally, anticipation means being able to convince people that the decisions that need to be taken are essential because, on the basis of the scientific data that we understand, significant events will ensue.
I have put young people at the centre of the political life of my party and my political project, because we are creating a world in which young people are too marginalised. I therefore ask them to be courageous, to dare, and to exploit their capacity to create — not on the basis of what has happened in the past, but on a completely new basis. This is what we need. I have learned recently that what is going to happen has no basis in the past, but will be completely new. What is going to happen in many areas, because of technological or demographic changes, requires us to be creative, and for this we need to develop education. Because of all human activities today, education is probably the most important.