EU’s ambassador to the U.N. speaks about evolving political order

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Conveying a narrative of globalization and political upheaval that has become familiar to western nations in the past year, João Vale de Almeida, the European Union’s (EU) ambassador to the United Nations since October 2015, spoke to a crowd of about 100 Yale community members at Kroon Hall on Nov. 30.

The ambassador offered two views of the current state of the international order: the benign view, in which humanity has reached unprecedented levels of global prosperity, democracy, and respect for human rights; and the darker view, in which the West is in decline, politicians and businesspeople are corrupt, and terrorism is everywhere.

“Both of these are, of course, wrong,” de Almeida said to laughter from the crowd. “Both of them describe parts of today’s reality, but they also translate or reflect not necessarily the reality, but the perception of the reality that many people have.”

The EU ambassador is a recipient of the Chubb Fellowship of Timothy Dwight College, which seeks to foster student interest in public affairs. The fellowship, which is currently directed by Head of Timothy Dwight Mary Lui, has hosted many other prominent political figures since its inception, including president Harry Truman and Burmese politician and diplomat Aung San Suu Kyi.

The world is at the end of a cycle that began with the end of the Cold War, de Almeida theorized. “Those two or three decades have been extremely rich and extremely fast,” he said, adding that future historians will refer to this time period as the “age of globalization.” “Trade grew faster than GDP, China came of age at basically two digits per year, a new technological revolution began, you name it,” he said.

He explained a few factors that have shaped those decades and emphasized the importance of understanding them in order to properly comprehend recent “political earthquakes” — the unanticipated outcomes of the Brexit vote and the recent U.S. presidential election.

First, de Almeida argued that the world shifted rapidly from a bipolar distribution of power (between the Soviet Union and the United States) to a multipolarity power, in which national governments have lost power to businesses and other actors in societies. Secondly, opposing viewpoints on political issues have become more polarized and vitriolic than in years’ past thanks to the rise of niche online news sources and traditional media’s fight to retain audiences. Finally, he emphasized that, while many people throughout the world have been lifted from poverty as a result of globalization, many in particular Western countries have seen their wages and status stagnate for the same reason.

“The issue of inequality is, I think, extremely important, and I think we have all overlooked it for too long,” de Almeida said. “I think we thought that economic development and growth in trade would eventually solve all the problems, spread out in more or less equal terms. That is not the case.”

The ambassador closed his speech with a few ideas on how to move forward in a way that will best preserve and enhance ideals of democracy and equality for everyone, including ensuring the implementation of the Paris environmental agreement and working with developing nations to limit environmental impact without stifling economic growth.

These processes, he admitted, seem daunting. but he remains optimistic. “Against all odds, I trust the wisdom of humankind. I trust the wisdom and energy of younger generations,” he said. “My generation solved some problems and created others — that’s the nature of things. But I trust that, with the younger generation, we can be even better.”

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