When Margot Wallström, the European Commission’s Vice President, visited Atlantic College on January 30, 2008, she discussed her views on democracy, international co-operation and sustainable development with students in Globe Lounge. The following interview is to give an account of the major issues raised during the evening.
Ms. Wallström, what do you perceive as the aim of the European Union?
Wallström: There is, of course a multitude of aims connected with a body such extensive as the European Union. One of the most important things to achieve is perhaps the connection of countries. We all have to co-operate so that common goals can be reached. If Europeans speak with one voice, express their concerns in union and act in concord, then their actions are very powerful on an international level. The EU, however, is not only important internationally, both does also facilitate the economical and political relations among European countries.
To what extent do you think this “mini-globalization” should go? Is it in the interest of people to become Europeans rather than Swiss or French citizens?
Wallström: One does not exclude the other. I call myself both Swedish and European. However, co-operation with people is crucial in this process. We cannot force them to go further than they want to. It is a very slow development; a bit like Tango: Sometimes, you might take two steps forward, then take one backwards; and then, suddenly, bend over, you know? Politics and people are unpredictable, as a politician, you simply have to adapt to people’s current wishes, since they are, finally, responsible for the decision-making process.
How do you think people can be convinced about the benefits of the European Union?
Wallström: You have to go down to a local level. Communication is crucial. Politics are no longer a matter that can be kept to a minor elitist group; in today’s world, with all the information available through the media, politics are the affairs of the people. You have to talk to citizens, listen to their questions and explain to them the benefits of multilateralism in order to be successful.
You make me think of Al Gore’s book “Assault on Reason”, where he argues that democracy can be very dangerous when it comes to issues such as climate change, since a lot of people do not have enough accurate information on what they are voting on.
Wallström: It does, of course, all depend on the sources of information you use. A paper such as “The Weekly” takes a completely different attitude on climate change than the scientific press; consequently, people are influenced differently. Education is crucial; you need people to be able to recognize and access reliable sources, question and debate them. Only then are they able to contribute beneficially to democracy.
What is the European Union’s role in relation to the United Nations?
Wallström: The EU should support the UN in any way possible, engage with it and defend it. Supporting the UN, the EU ensures the UN’s legitimacy and thereby promotes multilateralism, which is essential in today’s world.
How powerful are international organizations when we consider what happened to the Kyoto Protocol without the US’ support?
Wallström: My hope is what I call the “Third Industrial Revolution”. One time, people will hopefully realize that economical and environmental interests have to be pursued simultaneously. This international awareness might become so strong that non-conforming countries could be forced to abide by the world’s decisions. Very often, the solutions lie in new generations. My outlook remains hopeful!
Smiling at us, Ms. Wallström closes by saying that the EU’s and the world’s most important component is “unison in diversity”, a phrase that could very well be applied to Atlantic College.
Andrea D. Mihic (Switzerland, AC07-09)
– United World College Student Magazine-