Jean-Christophe Nothias2012 is dawning much better than our usual fearmongers were predicting. Chiefly, perhaps, because 2011 was a dramatic year, with its share of terrors and a multitude of surprises. From here on, there are many possible prospects on the table. No doubt the Arab Spring surprised the Arabs themselves, and it has certainly undermined the widespread occidental conviction that supporting harsh regimes helps to maintain stability. What will happen in the coming Arab seasons?

In 2011 China and India continued their powerful growth, only held back by the corruption that remains their principle handicap. The US, with dwindling means, has become ‘all mouth and no trousers’. South Africa is trying to persuade the rest of Africa to follow its lead in reconciliation, in order to release the continent’s wealth of talent. Brazil is prancing before the admiring and somewhat jealous gaze of its neighbors. Closer to home, a new generation of Russians would like to escape from ‘Putinia’, while, equally, the nearby Belarusians would like to free themselves from their dictator, and the Ukrainians, to establish a democracy whose identity is not yet very clear… 

But as 2011 fades into the distance, let’s focus on a critical phenomenon: the European Union and the return to London of the good soldier Cameron – who didn’t have any choice, he complains. Because, whatever their allegiance, be it left, right or center, the European speeches of our dear Britons have never varied: “Let’s be European as far as it serves our own interests.’’ That may reassure, even flatter, the island nation, but it will also harm their future – the British Empire is now only a vestige of its past. The euro crisis is above all a question of confidence – and solidarity between 500 million citizens. National debts are not new, and their size has always been considered exorbitant. Nothing could be clearer than the British response to the proposal of a new European budgetary and financial treaty. Exit Britannia, the City ‘oblige’. Europe can now move forward, on condition that the debate on ‘why solidarity?’ is not taken out of our hands by the technocrats. Solidarity is above all a cultural, not a financial, issue. At the Global Journal, we journalists, humble observers of global governance, see just how far culture is at the heart of these new governances. Professor Fukuyama, in front of a packed audience at the Latsis Foundation prize-giving ceremony at the University of Geneva, declared that Europe had not yet defined its cultural identity: ‘’Without identity, the EU is heading for catastrophe.’’ 

Jean Monnet, founding father of the Union, is said to regret not having started with culture – it actually started with coal and steel. If the Quebecois can say “I remember’’ and the French, “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” what could the Poles, the Italians, the Greeks and the rest of the European citizens say to express a similar sense of belonging? “We stand together”? It would be a start. And that moment will come, even if people are not allowed to vote again when they don’t do what the political powers of the moment want, or if the European Presidency – in the hands of Belgian Guy Verhofstadt in 2001 – entrusts the preparation of a European Convention, announced at the end of the Laeken European Summit, to the American cabinet. We know what became of this Convention, a gigantic democratic farce finished off by setbacks in the ratification of the 2004 Treaty of Rome – rejection by referendum in France (54.6% against) and the Netherlands (61.6% against), then suspension of the process. In 2011 bad boy Greece at least reopened the debate. The euro is not dead, far from it. 

In 2012, another world will achieve new maturity – the world of non-governmental organizations. In less than thirty years they have grown well beyond being groups of well-meaning volunteers, television charities or tax-advantaged philanthropists. NGOs have become catalysts for societal transformation, like governments, local institutions, companies, multinationals. They employ staff, develop professionalism and jargon, direct (and sometimes bias) debates, they communicate and they attract bigger financial resources. Even if making money is not the primary objective, they have to be financially sound, as well as addressing the societal aims they have set themselves. Noble, generous and ambitious aims, for the most part. There is room, therefore, in this new and disparate world of NGOs, for classification, however imperfect. It’s a question of transparency as much as awareness. Citizens need to measure how much the world is transformed through the intervention of these new actors, without simply assuming that the NGO is synonymous with a benevolent joy in the service of others. What’s good about ranking is that it excites curiosity and interest. It generates standards, and who doesn’t need those? It also whets the appetite.

December 2011, Jean-Christophe Nothias, Editor-in-Chief