When President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso began his talk about his vision for global governance — which he calls “a new world order” — on Monday, he retold a famous story about Gandhi. When asked by a journalist for his thoughts on Western civilization, Gandhi once responded, “I think it would be a good idea.”
“Today when you hear someone discussing new world order, you may be forgiven for thinking ‘World order, that’s a good idea as well,’” Barroso said.
Barroso — who is now completing his 10th year as President of the European Commission — leads the executive branch of the EU, making him the most powerful officeholder in the entire organization. He presented his lecture “Europe in the New World Order” to an audience of roughly 300 people in the Yale School of Management’s Zhang Room on Monday afternoon. His talk was followed by a short question-and-answer session. While reflecting upon the transformations and crises experienced by the EU during his two terms, Barroso stressed his conviction that countries within the EU and beyond must cooperate to create a new world order in a world of disorder, and that this world order must be based upon principles of freedom, justice, rule of law and solidarity.
Barroso spoke extensively about the importance of political and social institutions adapting themselves to the complex and changing global environment. Institutions are here to help us, Barroso said, and when circumstances change, institutions need to change as well.
“Around the world, we see a double gap emerging between governance and the governed, society and the elites,” Barroso said. “Political institutions and economic systems across the globe are under very strong pressure.”
To give an example of political institutions adapting in accordance with the needs of the people, Barroso spoke about the emergence of the Group of Twenty, or G-20, a financial and political forum for the governments of twenty different economies.
Barroso said country leaders met during the financial crisis in October 2008 to create this significant innovation of the global system, recognizing that the need for openness and a truly global response is more obvious than ever before.
“G-20 has become the premier framework for balance, a forum for financial regulation and supervision — issues that before [could not] be discussed globally at all,” Barroso said. “However, I believe it’s not enough.”
Though he acknowledged that people question whether an organization like the EU is really necessary, he said the EU helps countries work together to address issues of common concern.
Barroso used issues including economic competition, the conflict with Ukraine and Russia, taxation and climate change — which he said is by its nature a very global problem — to emphasize his belief that countries truly are stronger together than they are alone, and that cooperation will help guarantee stability.
According to Barroso, countries can only succeed through global cooperation when dealing with such issues. Governments are powerless alone, but can find solutions in both European contexts and in G-20, Barroso said.
However, he recognized that cooperation is not always easily achieved, both between governments and between governments and their citizens. Barroso said that during his 10-year term, which was rife with crises, people commonly expected quick, spectacular change which was essentially impossible to deliver.
“We are not dealing with particles and molecules, but with citizens who need to be brought to a consensus before any change can come about,” Barroso said.
Students interviewed who attended the lecture said that they found Barroso’s speech to be insightful and informative. They also said he skillfully explained European issues in an accessible and easily understandable way, which was helpful to students who did not have much prior knowledge about the EU.
Rod Cuestas ’15 said it was a unique opportunity to listen to the sitting president of the EU Commission, and that it was helpful to hear about global issues and events from someone who is so directly involved with them, as opposed to hearing about them from a third-party perspective.
“I appreciated his acknowledgment of the fact that many acts of European legislation were ad hoc measures resulting from the various crises that led to them, leading to benefits for the countries who were part of the EU in a sort of spillover effect,” said Nils Metter ’17, president of the Yale European Undergraduates, the organization in charge of the event.
Jordan Coley ’17 said Barroso has not had an easy term, and although he probably had a fair share of people tell him that the EU, in its current state, was destined to fail, he still seemed to genuinely believe in the possibility of an economic and diplomatic resurgence through cooperation and perseverance.
Barroso has been in office since November of 2004, and will be replaced by the incumbent Jean-Claude Juncker in November of this year.