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Address at the Political Symposium of the European Forum Alpbach 2011

Alpbach, 28.8.2011  |  speech

Address by Dr Danilo Türk, President of the Republic of Slovenia, at the Political Symposium of the European Forum Alpbach 2011
Alpbach, 28 August 2011

The President of the Republic of Slovenia, Dr Danilo Türk, attended the traditional European Forum Alpbach, where he participated as a speaker at the opening of the Political Symposium entitled 'International Justice – Global Equity' (photo: Markus Prantl/European Forum Alpbach)President of the European Forum Alpbach, Dr Erhard Busek,
Dear participants,

Thank you for inviting me and thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak at this very exciting panel. When I received your invitation and when I learned about the subject, "justice", the first thought that crossed my mind was a recollection of a scene from Vienna. Whenever I go to Vienna, I drive the Ring and I look towards Hofburg. There I see a monument, the equestrian monument of Archduke Charles, later Emperor Charles VI, and a short text on the edifice of Hofburg, which says, "Iustitia regnorum fundamentum" – Justice is the fundament of every government. Obviously, there is a great deal of truth in this and that truth is eternal. It was not invented by Emperor Charles VI, it survived the great monarchy, it has left a great legacy in Europe and globally and it is very pertinent today, in our era, which is an era of turmoil and crisis. So we have to ask ourselves what is the exact meaning of the concept of justice today, in an era of turmoil and crisis.

We have heard from the three preceding panellists their own perspectives and this was all very interesting and also very coherent. I myself would tend to agree very strongly with what Secretary-General of the Arab League, Mr Amr Moussa, had just explained to us when he said that in fact, when looking at the question of justice today, one has to see the challenge of double standards. In my opinion, justice primarily means fairness.

Mr Moussa has given a few examples – examples from the Arab world and examples relating to global need for economic equity. They too emphasise the importance of fairness. I would like to add another dimension of that same need, the need for fairness, and that is dealing with the global economic and financial crisis. Today we see that the current financial elite has created the crisis and is managing the crisis. But in that management of the crisis we see a distinct deficit of fairness. We do not see fair sharing of burdens. We do not see a solution being suggested that would include fairness in burden-sharing and so we have a paradox that some of the richest people of the globe have to volunteer to pay higher taxes or to contribute more in order to generate a sense of fairness. Without the sense of fairness the world is not going to succeed in dealing with the current financial and economic crisis.

Obviously, in search for fairness political leadership is needed because fairness does not come out of nowhere, it doesn't come as a result of civil society alone, it doesn't come from valuable initiatives of individuals. It has to be supported and it has to be led. We need leadership and that was also something that this forum has already identified.

The President of the Republic of Slovenia, Dr Danilo Türk, attended the traditional European Forum Alpbach, where he participated as a speaker at the opening of the Political Symposium entitled 'International Justice – Global Equity' (photo: Markus Prantl/European Forum Alpbach)I would like to go a step further and say that leadership today requires reassertion of state. State is not only organised power. State is much more. State is organised legitimacy. It is an agent of common good. It is a repository of political and legal legitimacy and should be a guarantor of fairness. And therefore state, the State, is central in any quest for solutions at this time. That means, obviously, that state has to reassert itself in global economic matters and in financial matters as well.

When we see some of the leaders of leading states today saying that they would like to come back to the idea of Tobin tax, one has to take that seriously. What does this kind of statement, coming from major political leaders, mean for the responsibility of states to really move forward? The discussion of Tobin tax has been on the international agenda for a very long time and every discussion on this subject was concluded with the view that this is not possible. Now we have seen a reassertion of that idea and I would like to link it very strongly to the concept of state, to the responsibility of state, to the need for leadership by state and also to the understanding that state is much more than organised power. It is a repository of legitimacy and fairness and an agent of common good. That's how I see the question, the main challenge of justice in international affairs and in global relations today. State has to regain its regulatory function and exercise it judiciously, for the purpose of achieving a greater level of fairness.

The current panel is devoted to various issues of justice today and many of them – most of them, practically all of them – relate to international law one way or another. We have heard very useful analytical presentations on the state of international law, its evolution and its potential. Vice-Chancellor of the Republic of Austria, Dr Michael Spindelegger, has spoken eloquently about the whole range of areas of progress of international law. The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Mr Luis Moreno Ocampo, has explained to us how international law works in a very sensitive and centrally important area of international criminal law. I would like to add a few comments, which I think are relevant to round up this first part of the discussion, and I will be interested in hearing your views as well. And let me emphasise, international law is a critically important instrument of fairness.

International law has been a big success. We should never forget that. International law has changed the international environment into a community, which is to a large extent already a rule-based community. This is not always recognised because we are focused on crises, we are focused on problems and on hard cases. And as we know from legal theory, hard cases make bad law. So sometimes our doubts about the international law are stronger than really necessary. But we have to understand that the international law has made huge progress, ranging from codifications of all major areas of international cooperation to human rights, which has been an enormous success in terms of legislation and in terms of implementation mechanisms. All this has contributed to the strengthening of fairness at the international level and within states.

The President of the Republic of Slovenia, Dr Danilo Türk, attended the traditional European Forum Alpbach, where he participated as a speaker at the opening of the Political Symposium entitled 'International Justice – Global Equity' (photo: Markus Prantl/European Forum Alpbach)There have been other successes. One of them is perhaps less visible but is actually quite dramatic. That is the ability of the international dispute settlement systems to deal with territorial disputes. When I was studying law some 35 years ago I was told by professors that there are political and legal disputes and that while the legal disputes can be resolved by arbitration and adjudication, the political disputes, which include disputes over territory, have to be left to political negotiation. That was the prevailing view, the assessment, based on the practice of the time. The world has changed enormously. Today we see the International Court of Justice being a specialised court on territorial disputes. There have been many arbitrations that have dealt with territorial disputes. My own country, Slovenia, has entered last year with our neighbour, Croatia, into an Arbitration Agreement and we expect an arbitration process, which will resolve a territorial dispute, a dispute, which is in terms of physical space small but in terms of symbolism quite large.

The international law has progressed in many ways and we have to be sensitive to the entire range of ways in which that progress has taken place. We have to be encouraged, re-encouraged by the fact that this powerful instrument is there and that it is developing. Paradoxically, sometimes in the evolution of international law right things happen for wrong reasons. And that should also be welcome. That should not be rejected as a cynicism of international affairs.

Luis Moreno Ocampo has spoken about the tribunals, the criminal tribunals on Rwanda, former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Court. I remember very well from my experience in the United Nations in early 1990s when the idea of establishing of an International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia first appeared. That was in 1993, at the time when there was an overwhelming feeling that the international community is unable to do anything really meaningful about the war in Bosnia. It was felt that the international efforts are going to fail. And then in that period of feeling of failure an idea came up, an idea that there should be a criminal court, a criminal tribunal, which would deal with the perpetrators of very serious crimes.

Many cynical diplomats at that time thought, well, that that was a good substitute for real action. It will sound good, it will look good, it will do something positive and then when the war ends, obviously, there will be a need to try camp commanders and people like that. In the meantime the diplomats do the peace process. Mr Amr Moussa, your critique of a never-ending peace process was relevant there too. Not a solution, was the talk about Bosnia, but the process, and we'll talk, we'll discuss, eventually we'll come to some kind of an agreement and in the meantime we'll keep the international community and international public opinion busy with the idea that there will be a tribunal. That cynical view was, at the time, quite real and strong. But now, less than 20 years later, we see that that tribunal has been able to apprehend all the suspected criminals, that most of them have been tried, some will be tried and that that has made a huge difference. Again, we have to take a great deal of encouragement from the power of international law.

The President of the Republic of Slovenia, Dr Danilo Türk, attended the traditional European Forum Alpbach, where he participated as a speaker at the opening of the Political Symposium entitled 'International Justice – Global Equity' (photo: Markus Prantl/European Forum Alpbach)I think that the international law in its various ways of progressing has been an incredibly strong source of encouragement that fairness and justice are possible and are our future. Obviously, we cannot and we should not expect the impossible. We have to know that there are areas of international life, which are extremely difficult to handle by legal means. Use of force is such an area. There has been progress there too. There has been more consistent practice by the Security Council of the United Nations than ever before. There has been an articulation of the idea of the responsibility to protect, which has added a normative dimension to something that was earlier on left almost completely to the political discretion of major powers: the question of military intervention. So progress has been there and continues to be there, but we should not delude ourselves that the area of use of force can be completely regulated by legal norms. We should also understand that legal norms per se do not bring about change, that change has to emerge as a result of a variety of factors, that legal norms have to be supported by political will and that they require continuous effort.

International law has a huge potential but limitations as well. Let me take another example, which I hope will be discussed later during this forum, that is the international trade relations. We have seen for many decades a rather limited approach of the international community and the international law vis-à-vis the questions of international trade. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade has been a segment, a section, albeit fundamental, of international trade relations. But then, in early nineties, it became possible to create a World Trade Organization and to create a completely new dispute settlement system. In the period between 1994 and today that dispute settlement system has been handling more than 400 disputes – a huge number by any standard, particularly if one compares it to what has been there before.

We have to understand, there has been a big progress in the area of trade law. However, that in itself does not produce the final outcome. The Doha Round, the most recent round of trade negotiations, could not strategically benefit from the progress from before to a point at which one would be able to establish international fairness in global trade relations. This has not happened, we do not know if it will happen and I think that every effort is needed to revive the trade negotiations. Of course, that that would not depend on law per se, that would depend to a large extent on political maturity, political awareness of the importance of that project for the global fairness and for the exit from the current crisis situation.

I would like to conclude my remarks by a few points relating to global governance, which has also come up in the panel so far. I would like to say that the latest example that I gave, the global trade relations and Doha round demonstrate the problem of global governance in a very interesting way. It has already been said – I think Luis Moreno Ocampo has said that – that in terms of governance we have to be aware of the fact that the international community needs governance, but in a situation where there is no global government. Obviously, to create a decent system of governance in such situation is exceedingly difficult and, as the world trade relations demonstrate, there are periods of progress and periods of delays.

We have to be aware of the crisis nature of the current stalemate in that area, in the area of global governance. Earlier this year the World Economic Forum, a very respected international group, has produced a report on global risks. The two global risks, which are of paramount importance, identified by that group, are the following: global economic disparity and failure of global governance. This is very harsh terminology, one that can be used by the World Economic Forum but not necessarily by heads of state and the officials of the United Nations. But we have to take advantage of the harshness of the terminology to understand the urgency of the task. There is a need to move the agenda of global governance forward and this is an urgent task. This cannot wait for another period of miraculous progress, which we have seen in the 1990s in certain limited areas. We have to do more.

Of course, the question is, how does one generate progress. One needs leadership again. In 2009 the world has been justifiably impressed by the leadership exercised by the group of G-20. We have seen that in the aftermath of the immediate shock of the crisis of 2008, G-20 was able to come together and put together a plan, which looked rather robust and promising, not only from the point of view of global economy and finance, but also from the point of view of global leadership and governance. But now it seems that that era is over. G-20 is much less active now and does not demonstrate the level of energy and the amount of leadership that one expected.

I think that we have to be aware of both – of the acute nature of the problem of absence or shortcomings in global governance and the systemic nature of that problem. Global governance requires a system. G-20 is a critically important element of a future system but we have to look for other aspects as well. Again, as Amr Moussa has told us, we have to look into the global relations between developed and the developing world, look for fairness in that relationship and obviously, in terms of global governance, fairness should be something that results from this interaction. I don't think that fairness and decent global governance can be established without stable institutions. G-20 is not a stable institution. It's a group of states, which is very powerful, but it is not a stable institution.

We do have a stable institution, which could and should serve such a purpose, is the United Nations. There is no other system than the system of the United Nations, which can serve that purpose. I believe that only from the interplay between the power of G-20 and the legitimacy from the United Nations we can expect progress and better governance. This understanding is not new. I'm sure that all of you have been dealing with this and in the discussion we can look into specifics of this matter. But I would like to emphasise it very strongly – we should not be under the illusion that this problem of global governance is only of systemic nature and can wait. We have to be aware of its urgency and of the systemic nature of the problem. This requires that power and legitimacy are put in a single framework, which would be mutually reinforcing. Only the United Nations can do that.

I should say a few words – and by that I will conclude – on the European Union as well. I would like to refer to the European Union through the following angle – currently I am President of Slovenia and, as you can imagine, a president of a country has to deal with politics. So one has to think about politics, one has to reflect about politics a lot. In politics there is a very famous and fine concept, which I rediscover every week at least once. That is the word uttered years ago by Tip O'Neill, a great American political leader, who said: "All politics is local." That is true, you have to deal with local things if you are politician.

However, the big question here is, what is local. How do you define the concept of local? In European Union, the entire union is local. Our locality is European Union as a whole. Yesterday I was opening a sports centre in one of small towns of Slovenia. Half of the talk at the ceremony was about the European Union, European Union funds and how does one combine the needs of local community with policies of European Union. We in the European Union have come to a point at which local means something very large. Local is not necessarily small. Local can be very large and can be very important.

Amr Moussa has told us about the changes in the Arab world. What is local in the Arab world today? I believe everything that happens in that large part of the world affects us. So politics is local, but it has to be aware of the definition of what local means in our time. Sometimes local becomes very large, even global. I would like to conclude on this note. I would like to thank you for having invited me to this panel and I'm looking forward to your questions. Thank you very much.
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