On 14 October, The Hague Institute welcomed former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok, who delivered a lecture on “Fostering Democracy and Good Governance as a Contribution to Global Justice”. Dr. Kok’s lecture was the fourth and final installment of Premier Perspectives – a unique edition of The Hague Institute’s Distinguished Speaker Series, which also featured former Dutch Prime Ministers Dries van Agt, Ruud Lubbers and Jan Peter Balkenende.
Drawing on his experiences as a former Prime Minister of the Netherlands and a former President of the Club of Madrid, Dr. Kok observed that advancements in achieving democratic rights and institutions are not a guarantee that democracy will endure. Dr. Kok then focused on the rise of new transnational challenges that cannot be addressed by individual countries, no matter how powerful. He called on the international community to work together and develop multi-faceted responses to the pressing issues that the world currently faces.
Dr. Kok paid special attention to the issue of international migration and the current refugee crisis in Europe, noting that “the flow of migrants we see now is unmatched in our history.” According to Dr. Kok, the present crisis is a litmus test for countries within and outside the EU, requiring innovative and cooperative approaches to address the problem in a humane manner. Dr. Kok reminded the audience that diversity is a fact of life, and called on politicians to explain to their constituents how diversity can be an asset and a catalyst for economic development.
Dr. Kok also addressed the issue of climate change, warning that we have “reached a turning point.” Current levels of resource exploitation cannot continue over the next decades without adverse consequences. Achieving environmental sustainability must therefore be our priority in the coming years and the Sustainable Development Goals recently adopted by the United Nations are a step in the right direction. Dr. Kok underscored that we must not only set goals, but also ensure their rapid and effective implementation.
Dr. Kok concluded his lecture by offering his thoughts on the limitations of the democratic process in addressing global problems. According to Dr. Kok, politicians often adopt policy positions that are likely to lead to re-election, rather than advocating for policies that will serve the public interest in the long-term. He observed astutely that “political courage that is meaningful and necessary for a country often doesn’t pay off in electoral terms.”
Reflecting on the role of social media as a tool for democratization, Dr. Kok emphasized the importance of translating the activism that is voiced through Twitter and Facebook into tangible political action by participating in electoral processes. The Q&A session following the lecture was moderated by the President of the Institute, Dr. Abi Williams, and afforded Dr. Kok the opportunity to address additional questions about the causes of migration, democratization processes and his own experiences as a politician.
On migration, Dr. Kok stated that a distinction must be made between refugees and economic migrants. He opposed strongly the negative rhetoric used by certain European politicians in the current debate and urged politicians to engage with their constituents to better understand and address their concerns about the refugee crisis, while upholding Europe’s international obligations.
Listen to Dr. Kok’s lecture below: