Autonomy or Independence

couchepin-copyWhen we think about economy, free associations, or citizen groups, what type of political autonomy do states have, when facing the famous civil society? What type of autonomy do national states have when dealing with multinational institutions? Many spontaneously believe that autonomy does not exist anymore and that our societies are moved by forces that are beyond them. At most, one can only put up weak temporary resistance. It is obvious that economic interdependence has grown over the years. But even with the expansion of interdependence, there is a chance for freedom. The captive markets disappear. To cite an example, African States are not dependent anymore only on their former colonial powers. Study the trade flows of a country like Switzerland and you will see an expansion of relations in new geographic areas, guarantee of choice and, consequently, new freedoms. Large organizations of global governance such as OECD, WTO etc. have been created by national governments. Their legislation is based on collective decisions. Thus in some cases, the consensus is imposed. The WTO as we know requires the unanimous approval of its decisions. Meanwhile the WHO, which does not rule unanimously, is still troubled by open discussions regarding it’s attitude towards the risk of pandemics. It is true that some countries are more equal than others, but this reflects normal power relations, especially since positions are never definitively acquired. The West must give space to emerging countries, particularly to BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China). Who can say something, since this is a healthy balance? Throughout the crisis we have experienced, the hope of recovery has relied heavily on the dynamism of these countries. On a national level, the power of states has not diminished, if we take into account the extent of powers granted to them. There is no need to be a historian to judge. Fifty years ago, the state jurisdiction was more limited than today. A good test is the Gross Domestic Product. It has increased everywhere. It is not uncommon to find countries where it reaches half of the GNP. But there are important cultural differences from one country to another even within a small geographic area. The Swiss government is less greedy than its neighbors, the Germans and French. It is a factual demonstration of the states’ autonomous decisions. The complexity of modern life weighs on citizens. But at the same time, complexity is the result of democratic decisions, elections and referendum. The citizen has more difficulty in understanding the links between the various decisions. Democracy becomes more demanding. In some cases it can lead to confusion. This seems to be the case in California where voters have approved contradictory projects. A reflection on these issues will prevail, especially since many institutional references have disappeared completely or partially. The crisis of confidence in political parties is evident. And then there are the heavy local and regional impacts on the everyday life of citizens. Here, more than ever, the possibilities for action are important. Quality of life depends as much on the regional or local policy as on higher politics. My conclusion is also a belief that the ability to act effectively remains. It must take into account new constraints, but it exists. There is a good dose of romanticism in the complaint of those who deplore the impotence of modern states. Proof is the diversity of concrete situations of states. It is the result of successive choices of voters and their elected representatives.

[W oecd.org]

Published in the hard-copy of Work Style Magazine, Summer 2010