Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt made an appeal to anti-globalisation protesters to support what he calls “ethical globalisation” in an open letter published on 26 September. In the letter Mr Verhofstadt argues that there are a number of contradictions in the thinking of the protesters and that the solution to many of the problems they ascribe to globalisation is in fact more globalisation.
At the heart of Mr Verhofstadt’s argument is a belief that there is a direct relationship between wealth creation and an open economy. He does not dispute the claim that free trade as it stands at the moment favours the rich industrialised nations, but he does argue that this does not mean that free trade should be done away with.
Using contradictions that he identifies as existing in the arguments of the anti-globalisation protestors, Mr Verhofstadt develops the idea that the answer to the problems of globalisation is more globalisation. A truly liberal world trade market – free even from EU quotas on sugar, rice and bananas – combined with the development of democracy, respect for human rights and development aid from the “rich West” could provide the basis for an “ethical globalisation.”
To make the ethical system that he envisages work, Mr Verhofstadt calls for the creation of an enforcement mechanism based around a “new G8.” This would be made up not just of the world’s largest economies, but it would also provide a place for the developing world. He sees it as a kind of “forum where the leading continental partnerships can all speak on an equal footing: the European Union, the African Union, Mercusor, ASEAN, the North American Free Trade Area.”
Mr Verhofstadt concludes by emphasising that there is no reason for the EU to wait for the transformation of the G8. It can begin practising what it preaches in its own policies immediately by testing the impact of the decisions it takes on the world’s weakest societies.
It remains to be seen whether anti-globalisation protestors will respond positively to an appeal that compares some of their views with the far-right and whose central theme is that the solution to globalisation is simply more globalisation. Equally, it is clear that Mr Verhofstadt’s call for the EU to set an example in the fight to create an “ethical globalisation” will meet stiff opposition from partisan Member States when these ethics threaten their own special interests.
Mr Verhofstadt's letter was motivated by his experience of attending the G8 summit in Genoa in his role as Prime Minister of Belgium, current holders of the EU Presidency. The first death of an anti-globalisation protestor at a summit took the globalisation debate to a new level. It appears that Mr Verhofstadt has been prompted by the events in Genoa to try to engage the anti-globalisation movement in dialogue with a view to developing a constructive relationship.