Growth is based on education, skills and regional politics – Part II

March 17, 2021
Iveta Radičová

In this two part series for JMCoE Prof. PhDr. Iveta Radičová, PhD, former Slovak Prime Minister and professor of sociology at Bratislava International School for Liberal Arts, discusses the challenges the European Union and its member states are currently facing. In the previous post Radičová identified key issues that according to her are the biggest threats to the core tenets of liberal democracy in the EU. Radičová raised the question of how to deal with growing economic inequality, corruption and the rise of populist parties. In this second post Radičová will examine the deliberative potential of e-government, the importance of multilevel governance and the crucial role of education.

Political system: New distupe over identity. Deni Rodrick´s trilema: national sovereignity, democracy, globalization

The expansion of a culture of rights, equality and personal autonomy offers some contradiction to the qualities of deference, compliance, discipline, hierarchy and leadership that characterize today’s citizen-representative relationship in representative democracies. Demands for more significant and direct forms of political participation are therefore real, although somewhat ambiguous. One of the most palpable effects of these demands is perhaps that the significance of voting for representatives as the most important form of democratic participation is bound to diminish. A seemingly growing number of citizens are indeed asking for greater opportunities to express their opinions and make decisions on important subjects on their own. Referenda are indeed a mechanism for direct participation and are being used with increasing frequency, but …

The question of how to guarantee a thoughtful consideration of the pros and cons of every decision, including through the creation of unalienable protections for minorities and individual human rights, becomes crucial in this regard. New possibilities should be explored. For example, the endorsement of legislation or other measures such as long-term plans by a group of citizens selected at random, who would receive sufficient unbiased information presenting different perspectives on the issues at hand, could be a useful mechanism of direct democracy that could occasionally complement representative institutions.

In the same vein, newly established national institutions are focusing on the sustainability of democracy by “protecting future democratic capacities or the democratic capacities of future generations. The underlying goal is for today’s representatives to always pay attention to the long-term impact of present policies. Relevant proposals in this regard include tasking one or several representatives in the legislature, in independent commissions or in citizen assemblies with functions such as delivering “posterity impact assessments”; initiating interventions to suspend actions and laws that could seriously impair the democratic process in the future; and proposing legislation to enhance the rights of future citizens. Proposals for creating similar mechanisms at the regional and international level have also been raised. 

Economic and social  system: Local politics is no able to sustain values of human rights towards tehnologic global players

In June 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council endorsed a set of Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, thus establishing a global standard for preventing and addressing adverse impacts on human rights deriving from business activities. The challenge today, particularly for developed countries, is to put these core principles into practice particularly when companies operate abroad, as it requires human-rights oversight that transcends territorial borders. This is one of the most severe gaps in human rights protection, and one that has become an increasingly serious problem in the context of globalization. In times of globalization, CSR practices cannot be limited to national territories. Extraterritorial obligations enable transnational corporations to be appropriately regulated and held accountable for their actions, but can also be a means of holding intergovernmental organizations accountable for their impacts, thus completing the human-rights system and ultimately helping to prevent climate change and the destruction of ecosystems.  /examples: the sharing economy, a „circular economy“/

The United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), which entered into force in December 2005, is the body’s most comprehensive anti-corruption convention to date. It covers a wide range of corruption offences, including domestic and foreign bribery, embezzlement, trading in influence, and money laundering. The UNCAC’s provisions obligate state parties to take specific public and private anti-corruption measures. Four out of five EU citizens believe that corruption is a problem that exists in their home state. In 2010, the European Union developed the Stockholm program, which allows the European Commission to conduct studies and evaluate the prevalence of corruption within the EU and recommend appropriate measures. Additionally, a strategy was developed in 2012 facilitating the sharing of financial information and allowing for better communication and coordination between organizations such as EUROPOL, Eurojust and CEPOL, which should contribute to the deterrence of corrupt activities.

Consolidated democracies with sufficient resources should focus on boosting the education, skills and human capital of the entire population, with special schemes tailored to the most disadvantaged groups. This is the basis of so-called predistribution policy that aims to eliminate biases that benefit privileged groups, and which promotes public-interest objectives that in turn reduce the need for government intervention in favor of the dispossessed. It should not limit itself merely to reducing poverty and social disadvantage, but should aim to reverse the tendency in industrialized societies for a child’s life chances to be determined by his or her parents’ material circumstances. 

Predistribution policies entail a fundamental policy shift, by combining income redistribution with proactive investment in human and social capital throughout the course of a lifetime.

Some of the most vulnerable groups in the  Europe region have been targeted with support or welfare policies and programs, although no country in  Europe, perhaps with the exception of Luxembourg, has comprehensively sought to address all situations of vulnerability. For example, EU member states have recently implemented a variety of measures providing support for older workers who remain in the workforce, with the aim of raising retirement ages overall. In Sweden, employers who recruit older workers for long-term contracts are entitled to a subsidy of up to 75 percent of the worker’s salary, while several other countries offer reductions in social-security contributions. France has adopted a gradual retirement scheme allowing older workers to reduce working hours and receive a part of their pension at the same time, and has also implemented measures enabling pensions to be received while still employed. Other countries have introduced measures enabling work and pension income to be combined (Italy), and making working hours more flexible for older workers (Netherlands and Germany). However, the problem of long-term unemployment (over a year) remains a very serious problem that has been tackled piecemeal, without sufficient effect.

Managment and policies:

Together with e-governance, the aim of which is to maintain or increase the quality of public welfare services while reducing public expenditure, the terms e-citizen and e-democracy carry strong significance in certain countries. Various e-government mechanisms have proved very effective in counteracting discretionary behavior by bureaucrats and politicians. They constitute an essential anti-corruption instrument while also facilitating citizen participation in democratic affairs.

A good quality of life, in spite of the ambiguity of the term, is becoming a central aspiration for citizens in developed countries. When seeking to create the conditions for an improved quality of life, the local environment – thus, often the city –  is a natural place to start. Citizens that feel empowered citizens are more likely to reach out to their local governments, where they often see possibilities for concrete change. A number of new mechanisms and policies have emerged at the local level that enable citizens to communicate directly with policymakers regarding their concerns and ideas for improving urbanization and urban structures. Engaging citizens in the management of common goods at the local level helps to encourage participation and enhance sustainability.

The practice of measuring the environmental impact of administrative decisions is well established in Europe, and particularly the European Union, even if it is not always efficient

It would be possible to take a step beyond current practice and incorporate measures of social impact when analyzing each and every legislative or public-policy proposal; this would enable parliaments and governments to be held accountable for the social consequences of their decisions. 

Integrity in this context refers to the application of values, principles and norms in the daily operations of public-sector organizations. It is thus the cornerstone of good governance, since it supports the creation of a level playing field for businesses and is essential to maintaining trust in government.

The OECD is moreover helping countries to review and modernize their integrity frameworks by mapping out good practices and recommending guidelines and oversight mechanisms useful for identifying areas susceptible to misconduct, fraud and corruption. The group also conducts integrity framework reviews, assembling comparative cross-country benchmarks and indicators with the aim of fostering a culture of integrity while measuring progress in the implementation of the principles.

However, according to U.N. figures, a worldwide average of between 10 percent to 25 percent of the value of public contracts’ overall value tends to disappear into the pockets of the corrupt. Within the European Union member states alone, the European Commission estimates that around $163 billion of public-procurement funding is diverted through corruption – a sum nearly as large as the EU’s annual budget.


Currently, we find ourselves in a critical place filled with uncertainty. Some authors even talk about the government of misinformation, about the disinformation age, about the dismantled truth or about the failure of the state (Snyder).

In my opinion, the risks of structural problems on the labour market together with the demographic structure, state of education, health, justice and social justice combined with low efficiency of public administration pose serious threats to the values of liberal democracy, which is then left weakened.

At present, we record economic growth, gross domestic product growth and decrease of registered unemployment, which means a positive trend in terms of macroeconomic indicators. At the same time, however, we are seeing a widening gap between positive macroeconomic data and the actual everyday situation of people. We are still witnessing huge regional disparities that are failing to go away. We continue to see increasing risk of poverty and inadequate social inequalities around the globe.

We live in an organization and organized society, but our fundamental institutions are not perceived by most people as trustworthy. The public perceives and expects as the most important features of institutions their trustworthy, transparent and responsible behaviour. And here is the abyss. Digital communication and social media have worsened the perception of truth. The perception of trust is often beyond reality as a result of creating one’s ‘own reality’ solely on the basis of personal experience. With the advent of the Millennium generation, social confidence is gradually diminishing compared to previous generations.

Low confidence is a breeding ground for misinformation. Populism is then a political manifestation of fear that ‘my place’ in society is at risk, ‘I lose control of my life’ and ‘I cannot trust anyone’. Many people are encased in ideological bubbles with echo effect and no will to engage in constructive political debate. Virtual reality strongly influences our information, conversations, choices of both citizens and consumers. It affects our relationships and our lives. The revolution of growing expectations amplifies the frustration of social reality. The result is a “loser winner” whose human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity are in disarray, perceiving them neither as a right nor as a duty, and who has lost the confidence that he oder she lives in a world of such values. Only a sustainable humanistic vision that will strengthen the fundamental values of liberal democracy can deliver effective support for a democratic government to promote cohesion policy.

The road to freedom has regular phases that cannot be skipped. In the beginning, there were great expectations, euphoria, enthusiasm and approval. However, when the first troubles occurred, many people resorted to nostalgia. At the same time, it was inevitable to agree on new rules of the game and a new constitution.

Both state and governments owe to their citizens, and they need to repay their debt. This should be their commitment, which they can demonstrate by setting solidarity criteria. However, more and more power is placed in hands of a small group of mostly non-elected citizens, which causes increasing dissatisfaction and distrust of such representation.

We have established all the fundamental democratic institutions needed for the functioning of a democratic state with pillars of freedom and responsibility. But it is not enough just to have democratic institutions. What matters is how they actually operate. We have an independent judiciary, which is a prerequisite for the functioning of democracy, but the question is how it actually functions. It is one thing to know the principles and the other to behave accordingly.

The tragic result is when we throw everyone in one bag and doubt liberal democracy as such.

We are all faced with a challenge of resolving problems within the EU. Refugees are far from being our only issue. We will have to solve difficult economic problems: surviving growth model with low wages, which needs a fundamental change, a restart. Severe social problems, employment, landmines in the sphere of education, healthcare and pensions.

We are confronted with three major challenges: work and corresponding income, unfair social disparities and accumulation of wealth by a small group of oligarchs, and ultimately a massive scope of corruption. These are challenges we face at national level, too.

The first step in restoring confidence in politics and democratic institutions is through solutions of an open and transparent governance, i.e. under public supervision.

The second step is a package of anti-corruption measures and their strict application.

The third step is to eliminate colonization of the state by political parties, which cannot be achieved overnight, since we have an administration colonised by political parties. Nonetheless, abovementioned steps are vital for implementation of government manifesto. The answer is to gradually fill certain posts with specialists instead of political nominees. It requires a social agreement on how far the party nomination key should reach and where should the expertise key begin. It is about the time we defined political positions and political liability for these posts and decide which level of state and public administration should not be influenced by political changes.

The next step is to weaken oligarchic democracy. The interconnectedness of financial markets, politics, and in some cases even dominance of financial markets over politics creates an environment where political solutions are paralysed. It is a tough battle that has a transnational character.

World values which I share revolve around the idea that the basis of human dignity dwells in Voltairian facilitation of environment in which I do not have to agree with you, but I will do everything I can to allow you to not only convey your opinion, but be also able to live by it. It requires a great deal of tolerance and protection of the rights of others and the vulnerable ones. The second pillar of human dignity is to make a living and to earn a decent income. Thus, for our everyday reality, the key solution is to revive this concept of human dignity.

This contribution is the second part of a two part series by former Slovak Prime Minister Iveta Radičová.