José María Aznar, Former Prime Minister of Spain Relaunching Growth in Europe Through Holistic Government Policy, Empowerment, and Leadership

Charles Atencio, MIT SDM'09

Charles Atencio, MIT SDM'09 recaps President Aznar’s presentation yesterday. Published on Dec 6 in Charles´Blog on Systems Thinking, Technology, and Policy

As discussed in my Introduction to the MIT Social Media Club, the unique fusion of research in science, technology, business, and government policy within Cambridge, MA allows the opportunity to discuss many current global challenges with world leaders.

As the European debt crisis threatens to impact the global economy, we received the timely visit of the former Prime Minister of Spain, Don José María Aznar as a speaker for the MIT Sloan School of Management Dean's Innovative Leader program. His discussion touches upon how effective governance European and world leaders must be consider a broad scope of issues in order to be adaptable to change yet maintain a focus on a common core values.

Many of these topics touch upon some of the inter-dependencies explored in my MIT Master Thesis and Blog Post on Latin American sustainable development that involves government policy, economic development, social equality, and environmental protection.

José María Aznar – Former Prime Minister of Spain (1996-2004)

Reflecting upon recent European Union events, Prime Minister Aznar's discussion was focused on an exploration of what are the root causes of the current economic challenges faced by the European Union.

“This crisis is one of the consequences of something deeper and greater. Acknowledging and acting upon the roots of what is causing social distress is what political leadership should now offer to European citizens. (It is not only an) economic crisis, (but also) a political, cultural, and social crisis.” – José María Aznar

Prime Minister Aznar suggests that a “broad historical perspective” is required to properly understand the current crisis.

He explained that after World War II, Europe's security, freedom, and prosperity was based on three fundamental “pillars”:

  1. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a foundation of European security.
  2. Democracy as foundation of European freedom.
  3. A shared welfare model emerging from a broad European social consensus.
  4. The European Union as the result of the state's support of the establishment of a European free market.

However, he has expressed reservations about some recent EU government institutions policies

“We find those who see the world and act upon he mistaken belief that Freedom, Security and Progress are… perpetually guaranteed, whatever we do. This is not so. It has never been so. the current crisis has bluntly shown that it is not enough (avoid the) wrong (policies). It is necessary to (enact the) right (policies)…” – José María Aznar

The above comment is very insightful. In my thesis research, I have found that government policies tend to minimizes disadvantages by any stakeholders. This moderate approach of simply avoiding incorrect policies often results in policies of half-measures that are not innovative and do not foster substantial change. Not surprisingly, these lackluster approaches fail to properly address the most challenging problems of today's society.

The following statement, while probably very true for a current world leader, is indicative of the lack of holistic thinking by all current stakeholders in our challenges.

“Those of us who think the key issues to reflect on the causes of freedom, security and progress consider that they rely on our acts. They would not exist if societies do not protect them through the establishment of institutions that respond to a certain set of values and ideas. … On the contrary, those who think that relevant issues to reflect on are the causes of poverty, war and serious conflict do nothing to prevent them and only look for someone to blame when the (symptoms are) all too obvious.” – José María Aznar

As the total sustainability framework used in my thesis outlined (see figure below and Detailed Blog Post), poverty, war, and serious conflicts are the expected result from an imbalance among the key relationships needed for a sustainable society. I would agree with Prime Minister Aznar that freedom, security, and progress are key levers towards sustainable development. However, they do not seem to encompassing of the “three pillars of sustainability”. It must be noted that a detailed discussion of these specific issues was beyond the scope of a 60 minute discussion.

Ashford “Three Pillars of Sustainability” Framework

“A clash between two opposite views regarding the political, economic, and social world is becoming clearer and clearer every day in European societies. And I believe the true origin of our European crisis lies here. In order to find a solution, a technocratic economic agenda would not suffice. A strong political leadership is also necessary to find a way of pushing for more reformist policies through distrustful societies.” – José María Aznar

He views a root cause of current problems to be focused on four “Post-Modernist Illusions” that have arisen in recent decades:

  1. Illusion of Progressivism – The view that society will continue to improve automatically
  2. Illusion of Social Cohesion – The view that social harmony can be maintained without effort.
  3. Illusion of “Do-Goodism” – The view there are no paths to freedom except through government.
  4. Illusion of the Eternal Teenager – The view that the government is a source of an endless source of economic rights without exchange in-kind.

The interconnected political and economic nature of the European Union forces a decisive and multilateral approach to the economic crisis. Prime Minister Aznar suggests that economic and political sanctions must be used by the EU as a coercive measure to enforce financial discipline by member nations. However, government actions should not violate the spirit of the pan-European pillars of Security, Freedom, Social Consensus, and the Free Market.

“Old categories to understand the world are no longer useful. In short it is necessary that Europe take as its most serious task to strengthen the three basic pillars upon which Liberty, Prosperity, and Security rest.” – José María Aznar

The goal is to seek a way of simultaneously protecting our peace, of acquiring competitiveness to generate employment and real progress in an increasingly demanding global strategy, of renovating and strengthening European welfare models, and finally of taking care of our security in a responsible and predictable way. … The solution we are seeking is not only for the economy, but for society as a whole.” – José María Aznar

A series of questions followed the initial discussion:

Prime Minister Aznar comments on the consequences of the IMF or other outside economic bodies assisting and regulating EU member states.

Prime Minister Aznar speaks about the challenges for the European Union in increasing its influence in world affairs through solid governance, transparency, and communication with constituents.

José María Aznar, Former Prime Minister of Spain Relaunching Growth in Europe Through Holistic Government Policy, Empowerment, and Leadership