Addresses at IBA Annual Conference Opening Ceremony 2018

President’s address: Martin Šolc

In his address to the attendees at the IBA Annual Conference in Rome, the IBA President took the opportunity to re-emphasise the role that the legal profession, as guardians of the rule of law, must play in combating the ongoing erosion of core values.

President Martin Solc

When I say thank you all for coming, this time, it has rather a different meaning, because many of you have travelled more than 10,000 miles to be here in Sydney. We have a very loyal group of core IBA members and supporters here.

We say proudly that we are ‘the global voice of the legal profession’. Let me spend some time thinking about when we should use that voice. When should we be speaking up? We may not fully realise it, but we’re living through quite difficult times. We are experiencing an erosion of certain values that we have taken for granted for many, many years. When I speak about values, I refer to the rule of law. There are two important reasons for this erosion. The first is a proposed trade-off between freedoms and the rule of law on the one hand, and a promise of security on the other.

Welcome to the largest ever IBA Annual Conference! First of all, I would like to thank all those who worked hard to make this Conference week happen, despite the inevitable organisational hiccups encountered along the way. I would like to thank the committee officers and speakers who carefully prepared their panels and presentations. Special thanks also go to each and every member of the IBA staff (whether with us in Rome or keeping the IBA offices in London and elsewhere alive and humming). Finally, I would like to thank the excellent Rome Host Committee under the leadership of Claudio Visco and his Vice-Chairs.

So much for thanks and sincere gratitude. But we are not here to pat each other on the back. As I said last year in Sydney, we must realise that the world in which we are living is moving in a strange direction. Certain core values underpinning democratic civil society are being corrosively eroded. I speak of the rule of law and the battering it is facing in these turbulent global political times. A growing number of countries are led or influenced by populists with no ideology, promising what their disaffected electorate wants to hear, which is often reactionary change: an appeal to greater safety and efficiency, the end of so-called elite establishment status quo; and solutions that appeal to sectors of the public feeling disappointed or threatened by globalisation.

This is becoming true for more and more countries, including some in which we have taken liberal democracy under the rule of law for granted, such as my own. We should never stop reminding ourselves of that, particularly here in Rome, the city that experienced the fall of the once greatest empire on earth and, centuries afterwards, the birth of fascism – the beginning of the darkest era in the modern history of Europe.

We, as lawyers, cannot turn the wheels of history but, being the servants of the blindfolded lady holding the sword and the balance, we must do all we can to preserve the rule of law. Not because it is the raison d’etre of our profession; not because it is what we learned in school; but because as guardians of the rule of law, we often understand better than others that when the rule of law is suppressed and forgotten, society falls under the uncontrollable rule of individuals with vested interests and, ultimately, dictators. The legal system and the rule of law are often set up as the adversary of populist movements, which only highlights the significance of the need actively to defend the rule of law in the current political climate. As we are gathered here in Italy’s capital city, the words of that famous lawyer from Ancient Rome, Cicero, are worth repeating: ‘We are all servants of the law in order that we may be free.’

But what can we do to increase the awareness of the general public? With this speech, the IBA is launching the first element of an educational campaign highlighting the significance of the rule of law in everyday life: the Rule of Law videos. So far, we have prepared eight short films, each approximately a minute long, and each of them dealing with one element of the rule of law. The catchphrase that connects them is: ‘Look after the rule of law and it will look after you’, emphasising that if each of us does not take care of the rule of law, if we do not require it and demand it as the key element of our societies, the protection it gives us begins to be eroded and will, ultimately, cease to exist.

Be the true warriors looking after the rule of law, so that it can look after all of us

The first video addresses the right to a fair trial. It is dark. It tries to make the point that any person, in any situation, must be treated and tried fairly.

Maybe the example we use is a touch dramatic, but we felt that, by saying that terrorists must face a fair trial, we surely drive home the point that this principle applies to any and every other person in society. We need to speak out and say that people cannot accept a lynch mob; we must request fair trials. A fair trial for everyone – the accused, as well as the victim – even if we speak about highly political issues, such as the targets of the #MeToo campaign or priests abusing children. Because, as we all know, the blindfolded lady is consistent, blind to any influence and perpetually impartial.

The second video deals with discrimination and prejudice. It is less gloomy than the first one and tries to get the message across mainly by visual means.

We sometimes pretend that prejudice and discrimination do not exist. But they do, in every country: in society, in government offices, in community organisations and in many workplaces, including law firms. There can be no rule of law where discrimination continues to exist.

These eight videos are no more than a tool; each of us now has to invest some heart and soul and a lot of invention and hard work into turning them into a campaign. Help the IBA by translating them for subtitles, to ensure those in your countries can understand them. Present them, for example, in your community, town or village, to clients, to a non-governmental organisation that is interested in the rule of law, in a school. And more than that: ask your clients to make them part of their corporate social responsibility projects, ask your law firm to create a pro bono action plan. Let us create an avalanche. And be at the very front of that avalanche, knocking on doors, freely selling the message so dear to us. Be the true warriors looking after the rule of law, so that it can look after all of us.

Immediately after the Opening Ceremony in Rome, all IBA members received an email from the IBA President linking to the website, where you can freely download all of the videos and begin using them (no copyright issues).

Keynote address: Romano Prodi

In his keynote address at this year’s Opening Ceremony, Romano Prodi – twice Prime Minister of Italy and former President of the European Commission – pinpointed the underlying malaise that has led to the rise of populism and the increasing fragmentation of Europe.

Watch Romano Prodi’s speech at the Opening Ceremony of the IBA Annual Conference 2018 in Rome

It is a great honour for me to speak to such an audience: such a select audience, and such a global audience in a time of global change.

Clearly, history did not end, as Francis Fukuyama argued a few decades ago. History is happening now, and liberal democracies are under threat.

Everywhere in the world, there is a diffuse desire for authority. From the Philippines to China, from Europe to the United States, people seem to be more and more uneasy with the traditional political parties and with the traditional decision-making processes. All democracy is under accusation.

Romano Prodi

It is not a problem of economic growth: the world economy, if we analyse it broadly, is not booming, but is performing generally in a positive trend. This is the case even in developed and developing countries. In Africa, if you look at the last years, it is going much better than we could have forecast, even if they remain the poorest countries in the world; even if now, after ten years of good growth, Africa’s share of GDP in the world is still the same as it was in 1980, there is some new hope. There are countries performing better than others, but many countries are in trouble.

But GDP growth is not the main reason of malaise. The number one problem is not income growth but income distribution. Inequality has increased everywhere in the last generation. Why? First of all, because of the pressure against salaries due to global competition.

“Not income growth but income distribution is the number one problem. Inequality has increased everywhere in the last generation

Second is the use of fiscal policy as an answer to the popular request to decrease taxation. In the last 40 years, nobody has been able to hold an election campaign saying, ‘I will increase taxation’. In previous times, the proposal was ‘more wealth for more taxation; less wealth for less taxation’. Now, we hear only ‘less taxation’.

Third is the mobility of capital, which is much less than labour mobility. There has also been a technological change, with a split between high-level jobs with high salaries and lower and lower salaries for middle-range workers. This is quite new. Initially, farmers who had horses were not happy about the car revolution, but in a few years, new roads and new investment made things better. Now, this kind of change is very slow. The traditional political parties are accused of dedicating themselves to the next election without taking care of the long-term programmes for the people.

These are the issues raised by so-called populist movements that are progressing around Europe. They blame the consequences of globalisation. The unity of this new populist movement is the visible symbol of globalisation: migration. It is not a new event in the world, but because of wars and instability and the strict links among different countries, migration is the target for the world malaise. And clearly it unites the malaise in Asia, Europe, the United States, everywhere. The symbol of all fears is migration. Even if in many cases like Europe, like Italy especially, migrants are indispensable for daily economic life, even if the malaise is sometimes inversely correlated to the number of migrants, the problem of migration is important because it’s a problem of identity.

Clearly, the split in the world demography will bring about this phenomenon of migration more and more in the future. But migration means loss of identity, and the defence for the loss of identity is traditionally the nation. The reason why all the international bodies from the United Nations to the European Union to the World Trade Organization are under accusation is because there is this real split.

A union of minorities

A total change has happened in Europe. The EU was once the symbol of the shared progress of the defence of rights and was the visible instrument of a new social justice in a continent devastated by wars and tragedy. I remember a meeting in the Romanian parliament in the beginning of the EU process where all the parties were speaking in favour of joining the EU. A man who defined himself as a member of the non-Hungarian minority of the Romanian parliament made a strong defence in favour of Europe. I asked him why, and he told me: ‘Look, my grandfather died because he was a member of a minority, my father was in exile because he was a member of a minority. I want to enter into Europe because it is a union of minorities.’ This is the best definition I have ever heard of Europe.

But then things changed; the political atmosphere was influenced by the world, by the split between East and West, by the Soviet Union menace. This materialised in the transfer of power from the European Commission to the European Council; from the supranational body to the national bodies. So the great achievement of Europe stopped. Europe was frozen in some way. There was no more effort to achieve a union of minorities; instead, there arose a challenge for the European leadership that is totally different. In the long period of economic crisis, the strongest countries led. Germany was leading for a long period of time, with a political economy that was harmonised with the German spirit. The authorities developed less European policies and more national ones. Clearly, the Commission was obligated not to tackle the strong political problem but to tackle the technical aspects of the Union. Technical aspects are important; they are a necessity for the common market, but far away from the people’s desire for change.

We had a moment of new hope when Emmanuel Macron was elected a European leader. I expected a European army after the European currency, because the completion of the vast mother state is based on two pillars: the army and the currency. But nothing happened. More and more the French policy was a strong foreign policy, but a French foreign policy with regards to Syria, to Libya, everywhere. There are such cases in international relations, and the reaction is very clear. The German government increased its grip on the economic aspect while France tightened its foreign policy. A Europe that was one engine with two pistons, was now two engines with one piston each, so the car is not going so well.

“I did expect the European army after the European currency, because the completion of the vast mother state is based on two pillars, army and currency. But nothing happened

In the meantime, the EU lost a wheel with Brexit. A particularly important wheel because it was always tempted between East and West, but with a strong army, strong finance, strong research and development, with alternatives in mind. Now, there is this split caused by an unexpected event that sees European unity and negotiation versus unexpected division. The only gain-gain compromise is to save trade and to sacrifice the mobility of workers and cooperative projects. So we are in a very difficult situation.

British academic society and selected groups are promoting the idea of repeating the referendum. I cannot imagine how it feasibly can be done. So we are going into this split that is important, not only because of the dimensions and characteristics of the United Kingdom, but also because a great part of the world was looking at Europe – India for example – through British glasses. Therefore, we have to reshape the Union after Brexit. We have no alternative to this outcome in Europe. Negotiation will be tough, but I think that in the end, there will be a compromise. The compromise in which everybody is a winner is to have free trade and compromise on the other issues. It will not be easy because the links that we had in the past years in the Union were so strong – thousands and thousands of different laws and bills – and to split them will be painful and difficult. Even if we are trying to find a win-win, it will be a lose-lose game in any case. But it’s history, and there is nothing we can do about that.

The great change

Meanwhile, there has been great change, and this clearly is the rise of China. China is absolutely changing the world. The new perspective is completely out of Europe. I can remember the attitudes of the American presidents vis-à-vis Europe changing visibly during my political life. The Bush family, despite the differences between father and son, were European by definition. Clinton was European by education. But Obama was not European; for Obama, Europe was like any other part of the world. The only change Obama made during his presidency vis-à-vis Europe was that in the beginning he was talking with a British prime minister, and in the end he was talking with a German chancellor. Step by step, this was a change that was a consequence of the political change occuring inside Europe.

Clearly, if we don’t have a stronger wake up call, Europe will be like a nut in a nutcracker, because of the different forces that are waking up in the world. We are in Rome now, and I am of course Italian, and I tell the truth when I say that in the Renaissance period, the Italian state dominated the world. Rome, Florence, Genoa, Venice and Milan were leading in technology, weapons, philosophy, art. But then we had the first globalisation – the discovery of America – and we didn’t stick together. We remained divided. No Italian state was able to build the new caravels that were necessary for new trade between America and Europe. As a result, Italy disappeared from the world map for five centuries. The world was under the rule of England, France, Spain, which had the dimensions for the new globalisation. Now we are in the same situation in Europe. Germany, France, Italy, Poland, all the European states are in the new globalisation.

Which are the new caravels of the world? Apple, Google, Alibaba, Ebay, Amazon. None are European. They are all Chinese and American. This is the new world in which we are living now. Even if Europe is still number one in industrial production, number one in GDP, with the split that we have in the decision-making process, we cannot exercise the moderating role that will be necessary to avoid the Thucydides effect of which we are all afraid. We are seeing a repetition of what happened in Ancient Greece when Sparta was dominating power in Athens, was trying to rise up, and war was unavoidable. Historians say that after that, we had 16 cases in which there was some sort of tension between a rising power and an established power. In 12 cases we had a terrible war. In only four cases did we have an agreement.

What is my wish? My wish is for some sort of new European spring, where we can avoid being the thirteenth case of war. I hope that we shall be, for the fifth time, the builder of peace. For building this peace, Europe is absolutely necessary.

So I end my short speech by telling you that in a moment of increasing tension, in a moment in which all the supranational powers are in crisis, think of the last annual UN meeting. To me, it was an incredible meeting: Vladimir Putin did not show up, Xi Jinping did not show up. The only great speaker was Donald Trump and he spoke against the UN. We are in this moment in which we need supranational bodies to remain calm and slow down the tensions that we have in the world. I think that, potentially, Europe can do it. But only if we do it together, because now, even France and Germany are very small caravels vis-à-vis the dimensions of the new global world.

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