Taking Stock of Democracy – 30 Years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall

World Leadership Alliance– Club de Madrid (WLA – CdM) hosted a roundtable entitled Taking Stock of Democracy – 30 Years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall to discuss the state of democracy today and how it shapes up to the promises and hope that came right after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“When young people started to dismantle the wall, the whole world was watching and saw that tyrannies had outlived their times”, said Vaira Vike-Freiberga, President of WLA-CdM and former President of Latvia in the opening remarks. Hosted in partnership with Goethe Institute, Fundación Felipe González, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, and the German Embassy in Madrid, the roundtable was held on 23 October.

Gero Maas, Director of the Friederich-Ebert-Stiftung Madrid office, and Wolfgang Dold, the Ambassador of Germany to Spain, also reflected on the struggles that democracy faces today and the promises it still brings to billions throughout the world. 

Disregard for norms and international treaties is growing, believes WLA-CdM Member Felipe González

The current trust crisis in democracy is “everywhere”, noted the former President of the Government of Spain, Felipe González. In a conversation with journalist and former RTVE correspondent Rosa María Calaf, the former Head of Government narrated how he lived the Fall of the Berlin Wall and German Reunification while leading Spain. 

As Spain’s PM, González called Helmut Kohl the very same day and recalled a brief European Council meeting in which European countries showed concern over the German Reunification. “Andreotti, then Italy’s PM, said that he loved Germany so much that he preferred two of them”, he added.

According to González the wall “did not fall”, but it was “torn down” and “nobody saw it coming”. The shockwaves of such an event were felt far and wide, giving rise to theories of a unipolar world. An idea which, according to Spain’s PM, US Presidents Bush and Clinton never bought. 

Moving on from history, González considered that the social upheaval that we perceive nowadays is the result of inequality in income distribution and added that in his view “people would not put up with a crisis like the one in 2008”. 

The WLA-CdM Member also commented on international politics by noting “a growing disregard for norms and international treaties”, affecting areas like climate change and trade. The WLA-CdM has just revised its programmatic strategy and multilateralism is one of its top priorities.

Democracy well-established in Europe, but struggling with issues, EUI’s Democracy Index finds

Approaching the question of the current state of democracy, Emily Mansfield, Principal Economist for Europe of The Economist Intelligence Unit, gave a detailed presentation on The Economist’s influential Democracy Index and discussed why democracy might be in decline due to the rise of far-right and populist movements. 

“Democracy has flaws and is struggling with issues at the moment. These are fragmentation, disillusionment and delegation of large areas of traditionally democratic policymaking away from national control”, said Mansfield. The European Union is an example of an institution that takes policymaking from national control, which, in Manfield‘s view creates “countries that feel like losers and voters that think that they lost their sovereignty”.

Mansfield ended in a positive note by urging voters, particularly voters, to participate and defend their democracy, something which is “more important than ever”.

The post-1989 generation takes the stage

The event closed with a panel discussion with several WLA – CdM members who held office during or near to the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the global democratic transition, including Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Helen Clark, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand (1999-2008), Hanna Suchocka, the former Prime Minister of Poland (1992-1993), and Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, former Prime Minister (1998, 2004-2006) and President of Mongolia (2009-2017), along with Ambassador Wolfgang Dold and moderators Inés Lucía and Blas Moreno from El Orden Mundial

In addition to taking questions from the two moderates, the panel also took several questions from local high school and university students in Madrid.

The panelists gave detailed responses on how to tackle the problems facing democratic governance today. They focused on topics such as the attacks on rule of law, the necessity of independent judiciaries, the importance of a pluralistic society, the necessity to support increased female leadership in governance, and the fundamental need and search for identity in an increasingly globalized and complicated world.