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Leadership and vision – or the possible lack thereof – was in the focus as the Bled Strategic Forum got under way with the Leaders’ Panel debating what the EU in particular needed to do now and in the future in the face of increasing global uncertainty.

“We’re at a crossroads, we can deepen the EU and preserve the legacy of the last 50-plus years and ensure young people have a safe and secure future…or go back to national politics,” said H. E. Mr Borut Pahor, President of the Republic of Slovenia. Mr Pahor also emphasised that leadership was not only about national politics but also international institutions, noting that it was time for the European Commission, the Council and European Parliament to step forward and become much more active.

H. E. Ms Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, President of the Republic of Croatia, said that the world faced the fundamental choice between closed and open societies. She also pointed out migrations, along with terrorism, were an “existential threat” to the EU. “We must be humane, but not delude ourselves…that by accepting a million refugees we’ve cleared our conscience,” Ms Grabar-Kitarović said, noting that more needed to be done to help countries that are the source of refugees. She said that leaders needed firm action and stop blaming each other. The forthcoming summit of EU leaders in Bratislava is a good opportunity to take the long-term view.

Mr Pahor similarly said migrations were the basic issue now for the EU, which will face a huge crisis if the Commission and Council do not deliver solutions within a matter of weeks. If the people perceive the EU as failing to address the most pressing issue, Europe faces a return to national politics. “This is the turning point,” he said. Mr Pahor proposed calling a new convention on the future of the EU to produce a pragmatic vision addressing the concerns of those who fret about the future.

H. E. Mr Edi Rama, Prime Minister of the Republic of Albania, also cautioned against a return to national politics, emphasising that it was impossible to address global issues at the national level. Indeed, there is a need to reform and strengthen institutions at the international level. As things stand now, however, the solution all over Europe appears to be a return to the past of national politics. “This is wrong,” he said.

Mr George Furey, the speaker of the Canadian Senate, opined there was no lack of leadership, but it was necessary to refocus on the global level. “Stability and security are not just issues for point of contact countries, transit countries and destination countries, they are global issues” which require thinking about them in a global context. Mr Furey also urged thinking outside the box, noting that global disparities were being caused by so many intertwining issues it was impossible to address them in a national context.

The panelists also discussed their visions for the future, with a view to including all stakeholders, in particular youths, in the debates so as to preclude feelings of alienation that for example led to the British decision to leave the EU. Touching specifically on job prospects for youths and equality, the panelists said more needed to be done to address people’s concerns.

Mr Pahor suggested that a kind of “positive populism” may be needed, one delivering a message of solidarity and values important to the future of the continent. Equality needs to be on the agenda of debates on the future as well.

Ms Grabar-Kitarović noted that policy makers needed to start thinking about jobs that will be rendered obsolete by machines, which they are failing to do now. “We should open up the space for debate.” As for youths, Ms Grabar-Kitarović said youths had great expectations, but also needed to become active and offer solutions.

The debate was preceded by Mr Michael Møller, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, who delivered a keynote on behalf of Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Mr Møller said there was an increase in unilateral approaches to challenges when multilateral cooperation is better. He said an inclusive approach was needed to safeguard the future.