In the week before the World Economic Forum’s gathering in Dubai, President Obama was re-elected in the United States while, this week, a new Chinese leadership will be chosen in Beijing. Both, in their own ways, will face the immediate prospects of defining and delivering their agendas for the future of the government and governance of their citizens in pretty short order.
In the US, there is little rest from an intense campaign. A fiscal cliff looms, with stark choices and consequences if the two political parties cannot find areas of compromise rather than stick on a path of opposition and conflict. From the poetry of campaigning (though some would say this was as prosaic as they come), the challenge remains to govern in prose in a nation where the popular voice is divided. There remains a deficit of belief in the ability not only of the president but also of the US political system to deliver the changes promised and needed.
In China, the rationale of continuity and stability for a leadership transition may be crucial in the near future but is likely to be insufficient in the longer term. The time for further reform has come and will define the path of economic and social change for the next decade.
Both, in their own ways, present a similar question: how do governments react to short-term political expediencies while providing decision-making and governance for the future that delivers for their citizens and, equally importantly, delivers with their citizens.
Of course, at the same time, citizens of European member states face ongoing dilemmas about their governments. Deleveraging from sovereign debt, the role of the state is being fundamentally recalibrated. Many of these steps are being taken out of necessity in response to crisis. But, while short-term crisis management is fundamental – and it is certainly presenting huge challenges to member state governments to find solutions for their own citizens and solutions for Europe’s future – it does not replace the vital need to define and deliver long-term solutions that will ensure future generations are prosperous, healthy, and secure.
In this context, it has never been more important to think carefully about the medium and the long term. As the members of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Councils meet for their annual summit in Dubai, on the agenda for discussion and debate are: how do we engage with our citizens, listen to them, and empower them? How do different groups in society come together with a vision and solutions that are not only in the interests of majorities, but also minorities? What tools do we have at our disposal at a time when our resources are constrained? How do we rebuild trust and accountability in our governments and the structures in which they operate?
These are questions that go to the heart of what it is to govern, and new thinking and ideas should be welcomed and shared.
Author: Peter Mandelson is a Member of the House of Lords, United Kingdom. He is a member of the Global Agenda Council on the Future of Government
Image: A crowd waits for U.S. President Barack Obama at a campaign event in Madison, Wisconsin. REUTERS/Larry Downing