Resilience became the word of the day when the coronavirus turned our world upside down earlier this year, packing an array of interpretations and references, from preparedness, supply chains, and stockpiles, to the ability to absorb shocks and continue to operate in spite of hazardous conditions. The panel discussed how resilience is being reconceptualized in the COVID-19 world and how it is becoming a new kind of asset to attract political and economic capital. They defined the concept and agreed that resilience is an ongoing process that underpins an organisational mindset and prepares for scenarios that might never actually happen. Maithreyi Seetharaman underlined the primary role played by leadership and the unfair negative consequences women suffer when resilience is not a policy priority. Philippe Maze-Sencier underscored that businesses expect and need consistency from the government side to be able to plan for future risks. David Earnshaw pointed out the limits of borders and nation-states when disasters and crises like COVID19 hit, re-emphasising the need for cooperation and a reconsideration of the relationship between the elites and the public. Lastly, Josh Polchar cleared the link between resilience and strategic foresight and asked us all to think of our values and let our decisions and planning for the future be guided by them.
The EU Geopolitical ambitions and its role in the neighbourhood amid growing instability were discussed by Majlinda Bregu, Katarína Mathernová, Roland Freudenstein, Jakub Wiśniewski and Tim Judah. There was agreement that we need to use the term “geopolitical” less, as it is often used as a code for power politics. Europe’s ability to act fast is constrained by a decision-making process driven by consensus. While the right decisions are eventually made, it takes a long time to reach them. The EU was able, however, to offer a direct helping hand to its friends in the neighbourhood to overcome the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. In this process, it is not only the financial assistance which matters but also the communication which goes with it. The EU’s role in its immediate neighbourhood is of crucial importance, and not only during the crisis. The speakers concluded that Europe will never be able to become a global player alone and will need like-minded democracies to achieve this.
State capture implies the institutionalisation of corruption in political and economic arenas. Apart from corruption, which is a flaw of the system, state capture determines the way the system itself works. The oligarchy often targets prosecution and judiciary first, which leads to quick power gains over the whole system.
- State capture undermines democracy and produces a dysfunctional system, which may be geopolitically exploited.
- Building strong and democratic institutions is a difficult task, but it is the only way to revert state capture and build a resilient country.
- Civil society has a crucial role to play in the fight against oligarchic and kleptocratic systems, by exposing them to public, international and strategic partners.
- State capture in Moldova happened due to external powers and the danger of state capture is still present. The system cannot be dismantled in mere months.
- State capture is also present in EU and NATO member states.
- To prevent state capture we need smart regulations in national security and public policy.
- Ukraine experiences an oligarchic pluralism, with a competition among more groups. It does lead to a certain degree of political pluralism, where not a single group is able to exercise power over the whole system.
- Ukraine experienced state capture, and is expectant of change but is yet to have its high level of state reform expectations met under Zelensky.
- The problem of state capture is not isolated to a specific region but is global in nature.
Challenges to democracies, both old and those brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, and their impact on public attitudes were discussed by Joanna Rohozińska, Laura Silver and Christopher Walker. Panellists felt the need to uphold and revive democratic principles among the public. Joanna Rohozińska pointed out that sense of inauthenticity about elected officials among people reflects increasingly the feeling that their needs are not taken into account by public representatives. A lack of engagement with non-state actors and the media results in the public not trusting government and people becoming less compliant to government regulation. This has been especially problematic during the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a need for multidimensional responses to address multidimensional challenges to democracies. Christopher Walker noted we have underappreciated the way people consume information, how campaigns are conducted and how information is being spread online, especially the impact of disinformation and conspiracy theories spread on social media. Many societies are increasingly polarized; closed societies, such as Belarus, continue to struggle for their freedom, with online platforms playing an important role in their struggle. The COVID-19 pandemic provides an opportunity to revive our democratic aspirations based on greater transparency and accountability in public matters.
There are two possible ways of looking at COVID-19’s impact at the EU level: positive or negative. Panellists provided their views and thoughts on the pandemic’s effect on European Member State relations and the possibility of an increase in fragmentation at the EU level.
The resilience of the EU was praised by the panel, appreciating the improvement in dealing so quickly with this specific crisis, compared to previous ones. Some pessimistic thoughts were raised on the EU recovery package, the increase of debt and emerging divergence among EU leaders and their values. The future post-COVID-19 scenario still remains uncertain, but some changes will be necessary. The real paradox is that we are seeing a larger role for national governments, but not necessarily greater governance. The EU, thanks to its regional characteristics, still has important cooperative mechanisms. In the long term, the EU may become a loose intergovernmental project but with some states delegating more power to Brussels.
The risk of fragmentation persists as the EU had an agenda of economic liberalism in line with globalisation and the crisis has revived the idea of strong nation-states. This outcome hinders the possibility of finding a common consensus at the institutional and national levels, and ultimately increases the risk of fragmentation. Divergence between north and south and economic disparities could persist despite the financial recovery package. The panellists believe that the EU could either improve its already existing institutional framework or become the engine of a new political and economic model, maintaining unity and homogeneity.
Anita Sengupta is an aerospace engineer who developed expertise on how to land on Mars, something she now teaches. Beginning with the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover mission.
We have been sending rovers and landers to Mars since the 1970s. Each time we send a robot to Mars the robots are always more advanced. Operations are very delicate – if a single component goes wrong, it is game over. Mars’ atmosphere is very problematic, and so a parachute was required, which Anita engineered.
We have two major reasons for exploring Mars. One is for the study of climate change which is a planetary phenomenon, with Mars having evidence of prior geological activity.
The other is for potential future human exploration. One of the things that are very important for human beings is the presence of water, and we have discovered actual flowing water on Mars in the past year. The data exists thanks to robotic exploration. We wish to produce astrobiology research to determine whether Mars once supported like by looking for a biosignature, a chemical fossil which tells you whether life could have potentially existed, in the form of chemical compounds or isotopes.
The new Perseverance mission will be going to Jezero Crater, searching for prior or existing microbial life, sending back a cached sample to Earth for detailed analysis.
One of the new features of the mission is that the rover – a robotic geologist – is able to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. The size of a small car, the rover self-generates its own power and also carries a Mars helicopter, able to fly for 90 seconds once per day, collecting images and making it easier for the rover to understand the surface around it. This will be the first time a device has been flown on another planet.
The future of Mars exploration is to set for human exploration of Mars. Within the next 15 to 20 years we could see the first humans on Mars, but this will require international cooperation. Space agencies around the world must cooperate because it is almost impossible to do anything alone. Sharing equipment, expertise.
The key issues concerning the situation in Belarus – described as in the midst of a revolution – were discussed in the exclusive and powerful conversation with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the main opposition candidate in the 2020 Belarus Presidential Election. She spoke to us from Lithuania, where she has fled to following the situation in Belarus.
Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya analysed the critical situation of her fellow citizens, expressing concerns for the political imprisonments and the general lack of freedom. The possibility of having new and fair elections in Belarus is considered by Tsikhanouskaya as a realistic one because it represents the expression and will of the entire nation. Three steps are fundamental in order to have democracy in Belarus: Lukashenko has to step down, free all political prisoners and grant new elections.
The protests have been peaceful and any integration in the country from a foreign power would be seen as foreign intervention. Sviatlana said that she had talked to the leaders of many countries from their own initiative, and was very grateful to all those leaders, with Belarus open to dialogue from any country. She called for talks and negotiations with institutional authorities through the National Coordination Council body, to act as a bridge between the people and Belarusian institutions.
All mass media in Belarus was shut down by authorities including the internet for a few days, so people can’t see the reality of what is happening. It is important for Belarus to have an alternative and free mass media.
“I left my heart in Belarus,” she expressed. “And I know I’m the same as you are. We know what we want. We know we want a new free and fair Belarus for our children. We will win.”