The third dimension

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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We all now got used to meet on this two-dimensional surface of our computer screens and we certainly all are impressed by reaching out so easily to our contacts and the society at large, even globally.

Technology saved our communication while being locked down and many companies discovered that say can even function when people are working from home. The process of reorganising work accelerated very quickly and today we cannot say where it will lead us us.

It quickly got boring that these two-dimensional digital meeting rooms not being able to share a drink or a meal at a table and to engage into a real dialogue in a stimulating and, thus, surprising environment.

Young people, in particular, who were already communicating in parallel in many channels before this crisis suffered from not being able to physically meet outside. That was and is an astonishing experience, is it not?

Now the European Commission adopted the package of proposals to make the EU’s policies fit for reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030. A debate which started long before we all knew that our next crisis will be named ‘Covid’.

A crisis that spread around the globe and today we cannot say where this will take us. The decisions to be made are extremely difficult, and the question arises as to how all relevant perspectives can be brought together so that these decisions are of high and democratic quality for society as a whole.

A multitude of structural chances come together ; environmental, technological, societal, and global, and will, in their unpredictable combination, confront us with problems we just cannot describe today.

Remembering the crises we had so far in recent history, dot.com, a meltdown of the banking sector and subsequently an inability to finance unsustainable levels of souverain dept, not to forget the migration crisis and now a global pandemic.

We must not forget that only a constructive dialogue, the ability to come together and argue for a better solution, has enabled us to find it and implement them reliably.

But the European Union was never really good in implementing its strategies (e.g. the Lisbon Strategy in 2000). The idea was born in the aftermath of two just incomprehensible downfalls in the first half of the last century and was challenged by the disruptions following this. It is amazing that this initial idea came so far, is it not?

Dialogue brought us here and dialogue will be the formula that will take us further. So, the key question is whether we can adapt our procedures to communicate to this multitude of structural changes that we know will inevitably come!

In my view, there are three main factors that are putting existential tension on our current system today: geopolitical tensions, very dynamic technological developments and, particularly in Europe, changing consumer preferences and behaviours.

Against this background of diverse challenges, it is crucial that social inequalities do not also lead to inequalities in order to participate in the democratic design of the future. This will happen when politics are unable to cope with the problems. In this case, conflicts of interest threaten to escalate.

Hence cheap money, an indeed huge recovery fund and an ambitioned green deal alone will not be able to design this new kind of a societal model we need. Capital, prices, and market incentive are the recipes of the past that can at its best help to make the existing model survive for some time.

For a true transfer of our economic model into a new architecture of a societal model only Europe alone can develop the plans for. A concept that might also inspire other parts on the globe. If we fail to deliver this new concept there will be tremendous conflicts ahead, also on our continent.

Money is one part of the two-dimensional characteristics of capitalism. The second one is shareholder value! So ‘disruptive’ is the buzzword in management circles. Business models need to be disruptive to be able to survive these turbulences, changing global trade patterns, technological dynamics and now also environmental challenges politicians come alone with. Disruptive to be able to deliver shareholder value, just like before!

Also, a ‘Green Deal’ just by nature does not fit into this dilemma of short-termism our economies are trapped into. ‘Deal’ is just the wrong conceptuality because we do not need a better deal but a better concept!

On top of what we face here, we do discuss the future of Europe, a digital platform has been built up to enable the citizen to bring in ideas, bottom up, and we discuss the future of democracy; yes, we do.

Both are under immediate threat because the third dimension of the space our society is living in has been lost: Our capacity for a true constructive dialogue that leads to inclusive solutions.

Work is that space where all three dimensions still come together also in the modern society of today. It is characterized by diversity and different generations joining forces, exchanging experiences, and innovating new concepts for our future.

That has again been very visible in this crisis, the pandemic, when work had to be organised in a different manner. The rights-based voice of workers and strong unionism have played a tremendous role in this transition forced by a global crisis. Where this culture exists, the trusting cooperation between management and employee representatives guarantees the functioning of our companies.

One of the strongest political instruments accompanying this cooperation was the Sure program to deal with short-time working. The EU has also learned from recent crises by introducing and using new policy instruments.

So why isn’t Workers’ Voice invited more systematically so that collective societal interests can flow into economic and political decisions?

Why should there be a climate-friendly and thus economically successful Europe of the future if it does not serve the better social and peaceful coexistence of its citizens with well-kept jobs?

Workers are not just the “human capital” of change. You are actively helping to shape it – or it will not be successful. Efficiency and willingness to engage in dialogue require high-quality decision-making processes through mandatory participation.

The third dimension is not only about the certainly so important social one, the third dimension is about the quality of our decision making, in democracy and for the future of Europe!

And this third dimension is not only about the compensation of social hardness coming along with structural changes, but also about better choosing the pathway that will lead us to the societal challenges we face.

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