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Michel Rocard
Published: Saturday 24 November 2012
“The US was on the verge of sinking into isolationist nationalism, reinforced, perhaps, by xenophobic sentiment.”

Leaders for a Leaderless World

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The newspaper commentaries that I write often have a dark perspective. Sadly, this one will be no different. But there are two pieces of good news that break through the gloom.

First, the global significance of US President Barack Obama’s reelection is clear: the world has escaped a disaster for international cooperation. The US was on the verge of sinking into isolationist nationalism, reinforced, perhaps, by xenophobic sentiment. Obama’s victory, despite America’s economic travails, clears the way for cooperation based on a sympathetic ear to others and on negotiations in which the US does not deny the legitimacy of a global public interest (as it has done, unfortunately, on the issue of climate change).

The other piece of good news concerns France, and thus is more “local,” but is crucially important nonetheless. Like everywhere else in the developed world, the global crisis has hit the French economy hard, with output stagnating, unemployment rising, job insecurity mounting, government debt soaring, and the stock market at risk of crashing. Manufacturing production has plummeted, the trade balance has deteriorated sharply, and corporate bankruptcies are increasingly frequent.

For six months, France has had new leadership – a new president, government, and parliament. But President François Hollande and his government were strangely inactive after the elections, limiting themselves to reducing the impact of unfair budget cuts and taxation reforms implemented by the previous government of Nicolas Sarkozy. Many began to wonder whether Hollande was aware of the scope of the crisis that the recent downturn might trigger.

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In recent weeks, however, the government has introduced energetic and courageous measures to boost the competitiveness of French industries, including a huge €20 billion ($26 billion) tax break for businesses, to be financed by a hike in value-added tax, which means that the general public will pay for it. The VAT increase will hurt, but there was no other way. Awareness, boldness, and comprehensive policymaking have come as a relief to French investors, and have left them better positioned to face the crisis.

The French government’s new push to confront the country’s economic plight matters not only to France, but to Europe and the world as well. After all, France is the eurozone’s second-largest economy, and the fifth-largest economy in the world.

And yet, despite these bright spots, international cooperation on issues ranging from regional conflicts to the protection of global public goods remains weak. Antarctica, the only land in the world that is administered directly by the international community, is a recent case in point.

The Antarctic Treaty, negotiated in 1959, prohibits any and all military activities in Antarctica and forbids the establishment of any borders. Three agreements – the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (1972), the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR, 1980), and the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (PEP, 1991), which prohibits any activity relating to mineral resources – have since been added to the treaty.

The Antarctic Treaty System includes three annual meetings: one deals with the supervision and management of the Treaty itself, and the other two concern the CCAMLR and the PEP. In recent years, proposals have been considered that would establish marine reserves around the continent and end the risk of growing scarcity, or the outright disappearance, of a variety of species of fish and cetaceans.

The principle that international cooperation is required to protect fishery resources, which are dwindling everywhere, was adopted at the 2011 CCAMLR meeting. At the 2012 CCAMLR meeting, which concluded at the beginning of November in Hobart, Australia, three proposals (from the US, New Zealand, and France/Australia) to establish marine reserves in three different areas were discussed. They were compatible and would reinforce one another. Yet the discussion foundered, and no decision was taken. Russia and Ukraine – and, to a lesser extent, China – blocked efforts to reach an agreement.

This failure reflects the same dynamic at work in the breakdown of global climate-change conferences in recent years: a few cynical countries, whose cooperation is needed to save the planet, fuel the madness of those bent on destroying it. That will not change until a new consciousness emerges worldwide to persuade states to support binding international law.

The US has now reelected a president who understands this. France has a president who understands the need for bold, far-reaching actions as well. Their active leadership, and that of others, is needed now more than ever to turn the tide.

ABOUT Michel Rocard


Michel Rocard, one of Europe’s leading statesmen, was Prime Minister of France from 1988-1991. As Prime Minister he created the Revenu minimum d’insertion social-welfare program and oversaw a decline in unemployment and reform of the state’s financing system. Following his term, he served as First Secretary of the French Socialist Party and as a member of the European Parliament for 15 years.


Why does the photo show

Why does the photo show Berlusconi and Medvedev? Both of whom have been removed from office?

I am no expert on the French

I am no expert on the French economy, but I find it amazing that anyone would think that giving business a huge bailout in the form of tax breaks while increasing an already regressive VAT tax, will somehow lead to economic growth. Forcing austerity programs on the poor and middle class means they will be unable to buy the products business needs to sell, and giving the tax breaks to wealthy corporations only transfers wealth from the majority to the elite. We are seeing this trend around the globe.The bottom line is that this approach never works! The IMF has been forcing restructuring austerity programs for decades and only ends up devastating economies everywhere. The Greeks do not need this kind of short-sighted, simplistic, neoliberalistic austerity program either.

(1) Editors, I'm getting a

(1) Editors, I'm getting a little tired of unexplained uncaptioned photos and graphics - as if we're supposed to know all about who or what are depicted in them, and why the graphic is there. What's the point of graphics which are either mysterious (for readers who don't know) or superfluous (for readers who do)?

(2) Mr Dallam, your comment is very apropos. To make matters worse, not only is the re-elected USA president supporting bad policies, but across the board he's not credible as a real leader, especially to the no-nonsense bad guys who run many rations. Real leaders - especially if representing powerful nations - lead from in front, not from behind. In dealing firmly and credibly with the bad guys, real leaders make not only vaguely tough noises but specific demands with specific and real penalities if the demands aren't met in time. Demands targeted at the real problems (like Iran's nuke program), not substitute problems (like Iran's economy). And if Obama wants to really lead on climate, he'll have to enable this country to lead the world by first lead this country at home into being a needed example and showcse of rapid and massive reduction in use of climate-change carbon fuels.

Why, then, is he supporting

Why, then, is he supporting the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement, which strips from people of every country their constitutional rights regarding resource management while sidestepping the rule of law by replacing it with corporate tribunals?

For instance:

Investor-state arbitration--
The leaked draft treaty also caused a stir among anti-globalization groups that are opposed to investor-state arbitration, which permits foreign investors to bring claims directly against states before panels of trade arbitrators if they perceive public policy or legislative actions have expropriated their property or treated their investment (defined broadly enough to include most forms of intellectual property) "unfairly". Those groups and other critics of the investment protection regime argue that traditional investment treaty standards are incompatible with environmental law, human rights protection, and public welfare regulation, meaning that TPP will be used to force states to lower standards for e.g. environmental and workers protection - or be sued for damages.[52]

As a worst case scenario, investor-state arbitration gives transnational corporations powers to trump the sovereign powers of nations and states and hold back policy developments such as those relating to sustainability and clean energy.[53]

The Australian government and its negotiators have stated that they will not be agreeing to investor state dispute settlement provisions that give greater rights to foreign than domestic businesses in the TPP.[54]


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