By Jean-Christophe Nothias
This simple question would alarm a lot people. But not Jacques Attali. Before launching the Estates General of the World, he agreed to meet the Global Journal at the premises of his PlanetGroup, which includes prominent agencies such as Planet Rating. He is active in microfinance, development and he is prepared to browbeat current political leaders, and, no doubt, offer shrewd advice to a future world government President. Jacques Attali is a visionary.
In your book you put forward ten concrete proposals, based on multiple examples from history, to offer to a future world government. Without wishing to anticipate the respective importance of these proposals, what is the trigger that will galvanise the citizens ? Jean Monnet, founding father of Europe, dreamed of unifying Europe through culture, but in fact he did it through energy.
I think that if Jean Monnet launched Europe around energy, it was because he was concerned about the lack of energy, and especially worried about the use of energy for war. He believed that by making coal steel and all the materials necessary for the manufacture of cannons communal, a war within Europe, between France and Germany, could be definitively avoided. In fact, the motivation was mankind’s oldest incentive to unite : the wish to avoid war. And I think that the fight against violence is still, today, the principle driving force, both for Europe and utopian ideals all over the world.
However, in spite of this powerful incentive, Europe has been waging war for centuries, and doesn’t seem to grasp the fact that there is still a risk of world war, and that it would be better to unite before rather than after. In 1910, nobody thought of a world war. There was even a group of people who said it could never happen, it wasn’t possible, that nations were too integrated and economies too mutually dependent.
Among your concrete proposals, which one could sway public opinion and motivate political world leaders ?
There are several that could attract public opinion. It’s the same for anything which concerns our deepest fears, because it’s when we are faced by threats that we react. Unfortunately the risk of war is not believable for many people, but there are other threats which people wish to control by law. I am thinking of the environment, which seems to be the most credible threat. And poverty, which entails a risk of revolution throughout the world, as we’ve seen demonstrated recently, and which will become more and more evident. I am also thinking of economic crime, which is gathering momentum, and which we have to get under better control.
Is the urgency of the environmental issue returning to public awareness ?
Of course, fear is reappearing everywhere. For instance, we thought the ecomonic crisis was over but here it is again, right in our faces. We are experiencing what I call « the dictatorship of heedlessness » which is to say that as soon as we can, we think about something else.
Do you think that a direct link between the citizens and the entities which will constitute a future global government would accelerate the process of global governance ? Would a combined tax enable citizens to understand that, together, they can succeed in influencing the course of events?
Yes. As soon as there is a communal fund, you have to agree how to spend it. A kitty creates conditions. The first idea, a French one – to tax plane tickets – has already been implemented. There are others, such as the carbon tax and the tax on financial transactions, which is starting to prosper. This will probably be applied in Europe, even if there are lots of loopholes. I would favor a tobacco tax, for example.
In your book, you refer to the conspiracy of 1291 between Uri, Schwyz and Unterwald. This was a secret pact which had three objectives : an agreement on mutual military aid, a subsidiarity agreement – each member would remain self-governing but a system of arbitration would be set up in the event of conflict between the three regions – and finally, a legal agreement. Why does this pact seem significant today ?
Yes, as you correctly say, it was a pact which remained secret for a certain time. That is very revealing. It was set up to defend them against the empire, and I think it says a lot about what could happen nowadays. These days, the real problem is to generate this sense of union and mutual understanding. On the scale of the planet we don’t have an obvious external menace, equivalent to the effect of the Hapsburgs on those regions, the world is not threatened by Martians. True, there is an asteroid called Apophis, which is 390 metres long, and is likely to pass very close to Earth in 2019 before imploding on April 13, 2036, but that isn’t enough of a threat to create planetary unity. For me, the real threat we should unite against is economic crime, which is really on the increase.
Have you already had reactions to the publication of this book from the world of politics? Bearing in mind that France is the current president of the G20 ?
Yes, initially I had a lot of discussions with political figures, but politicians are convinced that anything global diminishes their power. So, either they only send their most mediocre representatives to international institutions, (at least the ones they think are the most mediocre), maybe just to get them out of the national playing field ; or they find it incredibly difficult to agree to a transfer of skills. But what they don’t realize is that by refusing to contribute to global rights, they are agreeing to a transfer of skills on the open market, which, in the absence of global law is necessarily a criminal market. So, logically, politicians bristling in defense of their territory of national rights, encourages the black market.
Several years ago I was struck by your book on the banker Warburg, a financial genius much needed at that time. Can you identify any leaders today who incarnate this genius ?
There’s Pascal Lamy, but he’s on the technocratic, not the political, level. Pascal, who, by the way, is in Geneva, thinks at a technocratic level as intrepidly as his circumstances allow. Obviously his daring is limited by the job. He thinks about the major issues, the big stakes of global governance. I can think of several other people, but not that many. As far as function goes, I would certainly include Obama. Perhaps Sarkozy too, even if I don’t agree with him on many topics, he thinks in terms of the world fairly often. There are others who think globally too, but only as it relates to their national interest, which is perfectly normal : this is the case for India, China, Brazil….
Even if they still have a national vision, it’s essential that they sit around the table.
I agree. What’s more the meeting in Sanya, which took place last week without attracting much attention, marked a turning point. The BRIC countries became officially the BRICS. Sanya, a seaside resort in southern China gathered the presidents of Brazil, Russia, India, China and new entrant South Africa, who together represent 61% of global growth between now and 2014 – it’s around 50% today – and nearly half the population of the world with 3 billion of the 6.7 billion total population. This meeting in Sanya resulted in a communal declaration which marks a turning point, because the five countries took a stance on global governance, on the organization of the UN, on Libya…..
Do you think that the G20 vintage 2011 could accelerate the arrival of global governance ?
Well, I’ve always thought that the G20 couldn’t produce anything decisive. Because it can’t take decisions, because there’s no institutional power, because it only does what will have immediately visible consequences. It only refers problems to governments. And if we find ourselves in a tsunami of debt soon, it will mainly be because of that. This wave of debt, originating in the US, is about to ravage Europe, principally because the G20, instead of sorting out the problems at the heart of the banking system, has only passed the buck to the member States. Incidentally, I think that this debt crisis will end with numerous bank nationalizations.
There are many blithe spirits, notably in the US, who say that the American debt, like other developed country debts, protects them inversely. « If you destroy us, we’ll take you with us! »
Ah yes, of course. That’s why everybody will continue to lend to the US, because nobody, even their worst enemies, at least in the West, benefits from the collapse of the States. Absolutely nobody.
You have a fairly tough attitude towards international organizations.
No, why do you say that ? On the contrary, I would say that they include some remarkable, admirable people, who do a very good job. Personally I have created four of them, including an international financial institution, and I’ve seen what it’s like to work with national administrators and ambassadors who have nothing better to do than pester the global management, and who turn these institutions into duelling national battlefields, as they try to get out with as least as much as their countries have put in.
To come back to Pascal Lamy briefly, he is someone who is passionate about this idea of global governance. He has expressed himself many times on the subject, with intelligence and clear-sightedness, but from his recent declarations one senses that he is returning to the notion of plebiscite. Basically, he says he does not believe we need a new global body, that he doesn’t wish to add yet another layer to the multiple layers of government, that if the world can change, it will change first of all through the citizen’s vote in his own country.
Firstly it is obvious that a vote in each country can lead to the overall victory of a totalitarian government. In some countries this could happen: you can see it in Finland, Hungary, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland. There are real threats, so obviously we have to start from there. But on the other hand, global rule would certainly seem like a dangerous extra layer of power, if it was not desired by the people. This is why I have proposed to start a global forum named the Estates General for the planet.
The Estates General of the World includes the idea of allowing all world citizens to communicate in the way we saw during Obama’s American campaign, exchanging their opinions through blogs, twitter or facebook. These messages could gain momentum, and gradually bring to the surface at a global level the principle themes on which world citizens want to express themselves. We’ll see what happens.
As an old and trusted political advisor to President Mitterrand, do you have any advice for Ban Ki-moon, the UN General Secretary, as he prepares for reelection ?
The only advice I would give would be to merge the Security Council, the G20 and Monetary and Finance Committee. If he would make a speech demanding the merging of the G20 and Security Council he would not jeopardize his election, he would gain a lot of support and we would finally have a clear vision. Because the Security Council and the G20 are different structures, the G20 being informal and unable to take action, if the two were combined at least it would give the advantage of transparency. Naturally that raises the question of membership. In my view, the G20 members would be the sensible choice for membership of the Security Council.