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Plenaries

 

  1. The Prospects for Populism

“Populism” is an expression designating a form of political representation. It is a label used to categorize the electoral rise of far-right chauvinistic and xenophobic parties in developed Western democracies and in some open societies in the developing South. Far-left movements with charismatic leaderships and authoritarian governments, such as in Russia, are also often included in this category. “Populist” leaders try to establish a direct communication with “the people” without the mediation of institutions or intermediate representative political bodies. They act as the only source of political legitimacy. All other political or social actors should either follow their lead or be considered “enemies of the people”. The “digital revolution” and its ubiquitous interactive social media have strengthened this global trend: any person can communicate instantaneously with an audience of millions, bypassing any source of authority. Emotions have displaced debate, programs and even traditional political representation.

  • Is “populism” the “new normal” in national politics?

  • In recent European ballots, populist movements have hit a wall, far away from an electoral majority. Populist and authoritarian leaders in power struggle to deliver and are facing growing opposition. How can remaining national and international institutions manage a presumptive “crisis of populism”?

  • Can democracy survive in the age of social media and permanent personal interactions?

  • The “digital revolution” breeds populism, but it also produces innovative tools for wider political participation at local, national and global levels. What are the best political ideas and strategies to harness these new instruments in order to promote freer and more equitable societies?
     

  1. The Education Quandary

Education is a human right. It can be a powerful driver of development and one of the strongest instruments for reducing poverty, improving health and promoting gender equality. However, education in the Southern Atlantic region is still not meeting its populations’ expectations. Countries have made progress in getting children into classrooms, but learning has often not resulted. Education policies must shift from promoting numbers of schools and of children in school to promoting learning.

  • What are the skills needed to promote sustainable development and ensure employability?

  • How can we ensure that education meets the aspirations of children and of their parents?

  • How can education better drive long-term economic growth, spurs innovation, strengthen institutions, and foster social cohesion?

  • Is online education the new paradigm in learning?
     

  1. Energy and Climate

The world needs a reality check on “peak oil demand”. Energy consumption, despite several improvements in terms of energy efficiency, is set to keep rising in the upcoming years led by developing countries from Asia. Oil demand, in particular, is expected to remain robust as oil products continue to represent the bulk of total final consumption. If the power sector has experienced, to some extent, a successful shift from coal to natural gas and renewables, replacing oil, especially in the transport and industry sectors, will be more difficult and less likely to happen in the short term. This can seriously hinder the path to decarbonization. This session will assess where countries of the Atlantic basin stand in terms of energy transition and decarbonization as 2020 approaches. It will also address issues of implementing mitigation and adaptation policies, green investments and climate finance.

  • Are the renewable and energy efficiency targets at risk of not being reached?

  • Will the actions that countries take today be enough to forestall the direct impacts of climate change? Or is it too little too late?

  • How can countries, particularly low income countries, from the Atlantic basin effectively carry on with mitigation and adaptation policies to face the consequences of climate change?

  • Given that renewable sources provide only a small percentage of energy, what can realistically be done to get off fossil fuels as soon as possible?
     

  1. Technology, Welfare and Inequality

Technological innovation is a two-edged sword. It improves productivity and welfare across the globe, but it can also be job-destroying and disruptive in many ways in the short run. Over longer periods, technological innovation that takes the form of automation replaces less-skilled workers with machines and can contribute to persistent and widening income inequality. Extracting the large benefits of technological innovation while mitigating its disruptive and dis-equalizing effects constitutes one of the great policy challenges of our time.

  • What major forms of technological advance should we expect over the next 20 years?

  • What effects are likely on a) welfare (especially on that of the poor) b) inequality (especially on the wages of the less-skilled)?

  • Will social tensions (as we have seen recently in France, Lebanon and Chile, for example) escalate?

  • What should governments do to ameliorate the effects of technological change, especially on the less privileged?
     

  1. Democracy in Crisis?

The rise of populism, the disaffection vis-à-vis the political parties, the phenomenon of the Yellow Vests and protests from Chile to Lebanon, the persistence of the high rate of abstention in elections, have been interpreted as symptoms of a crisis of democracy, both in the North and the South.

Yet, in the aftermath of the disintegration of the Soviet bloc and the triumph of economic liberalism, the prevailing impression was that the principle of democracy has universally won and its mode of governance irreversibly imposed.

Following the disintegration of the Soviet bloc, when liberal democracy appeared triumphant, it took just three decades to witness a multifaceted questioning of representative democracy around the world, stigmatization of public policies, and rejection of traditional elites. Alternatives such as “illiberal democracy” or “enlightened authoritarianism” are sometimes invoked. Social media have made it easier to promote alternative modes of thought and for their advocates to organize.

  • Is today’s challenge to democracy simply a crisis of economic growth?

  • What is needed to restore confidence between citizens and their elected representatives?

  • What initiatives should be taken to engage young people in politics and involve them?

  • Should we use direct democracy, as the "Citizens' Initiative Referendum" suggests?

  • Should voting be mandatory, as some countries such as Australia already do?
     

  1. Refugees: Protection and Integration

Refugees are often mistakenly confused for economic migrants, even though they are defined as those forced to migrate to avoid violence and persecution, and are legally protected by the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. Today, refugees are often denied their rights to safety, protection and inclusion in the host societies. In December 2018, the United Nations General Assembly affirmed the Global Compact on Refugees after two years of extensive consultations. The main objectives of the Compact are to ease pressures of host communities, expand access to third country solutions and support conditions in countries of origin for return in safety and dignity. A year after the adoption of the Compact the questions that arise are the following:

  • To what extent refugees benefit from the existing legal framework on refugees’ protection?

  • What are concrete solutions to enhance the documentation of refugees and regularization of their administrative situation?

  • How to ensure sustainable socio-economic integration of refugees in the host communities, particularly in less developed areas?
     

  1. The Next Financial Crisis

More than a decade has passed since the Global Financial Crisis and the age of unconventional monetary policies has not ended. More recently, monetary policy has been eased in 70% of the world economy, negative yielding debt has reached US$ 15 trillion, and financial conditions could ease further. As tends to happen when the search for yield persists over long periods, financial system vulnerabilities have continued to build.

  • Where are the key rising vulnerabilities in the global financial system, and are we on the verge of the next financial crisis?

  • Has the rise in debt of emerging and frontier markets spurred by global low interest rates and availability of external finance been matched with corresponding asset creation?

  • To what extent has heightened trade and policy uncertainty affected financial flows?

  • What should policymakers do to address rising financial vulnerabilities?
     

  1. Will the Rules-based Trading System Survive?

The trading system, with the World Trade Organization at its center, is under attack from three fronts: The United States' rule-breaking unilateral policies, China's non-conforming state capitalist system, and the WTO's own difficulties in moving an increasingly complex trade agenda forward. Whether the system can survive depends crucially on the willingness of the United States and China to compromise. Changes are also required from other WTO members, not least the European Union, the largest trading block.

  • What are the underlying causes of the impasse?

  • What are possible scenarios going forward?

  • What will be the impact on smaller countries that depend on trade, and how should they react?
     

  1. Global Governance in the Post-American Order

The world order is changing, from a unipolar to a bipolar configuration. The USA and China superpowers are supported by a cast of Medium Powers, many from the Global South. Such a reconfiguration will present risks but also opportunities for countries of the south, but the latter can be seized only if they organize themselves. Though China is not yet able to rival the USA in military capability it exerts significant soft power through a dense network of investments and projects which span the globe. Its commercial and economic power is second only to the USA. China’s rise has been swift, and it comes at a time when the USA retreats from its role of leadership in the western liberal world order, creating uncertainty, tension and mistrust among traditional allies. Rising waves of populism and a backlash against globalization complicate the picture. Where lies the future: great wars, or a fraught peace? Cooperation or enduring rivalry and chaos?

  • What is the future of the western-led international world order? Can the rise of China be accommodated within this structure?

  • What opportunities might there be for countries of the Global South to benefit from rebalancing within the International structure? How might they organize and position themselves to seize opportunities which may emerge? What actions are needed?

  • Are there actions which mature democracies can undertake to combat the growing backlash against globalization, the rise of populism and the growing inequalities within their societies?
     

  1. Times of Change in Latin America: New Winds Searching for a Southern Horizon (in Spanish with simultaneous translation)

The trade war between the United States and China is of deep geopolitical as well as economic significance, and affects Latin America directly. Latin America is a region where power has alternated between populist/ protectionist governments and those with a free market vision.  This duality is producing new axes of proposals on how countries align themselves internationally: to reaffirm their alliances with the United States and Europe, or to look for closer ties with relatively new actors in the region such as China and Russia?

  • How will Latin American nations deal with the changing world balance of power?

  • Will new blocks emerge with common political affinities and visions?

  • How will the relations with Africa develop? Will these relationships be strengthened independently or will they continue to depend on traditional and historical actors such as the United States and Europe? Or will they complement the strategies of China, Russia and India in the region?