Last Monday, May 7th, 2012, UCSIA invited Herman Van Rompuy, President of the Council of Europe, to deliver a talk about “Balanced Leadership in a Globalized Economy”. From his very challenging address – e.g. on the importance of institutions and on how, precisely in times of financial and economic crises, the political commitments of the European countries towards one another have to deepen -, I want to highlight two ideas that struck me particularly.
1. His reflections about leadership where those of a European top politician who, in these times of crisis, has a keen sensitivity for people’s anxieties and insecurities. I was struck by his very realistic considerations on the balance between long-term, visionary leadership (where the common destiny is emphasized) and the short-term leadership in need of the approval of the people. “Those who want to move too fast are prophets, those who move too slow are historians”. How does one balance the need for the larger and broader vision with the concern to bring people along so that one receives their mandate for the long view? How can a prophet respect the rhythm of the people his or her prophecy wants to serve? And, how can people, who live with day to day concerns and fears, become the heirs to a vision that moves them beyond their direct world into uncharted territory? How do politicians articulate a “patient firmness” in the midst of a crisis?
2. I was also particularly struck and happy with H. Van Rompuy’s clear statements about the seriousness of the climate crisis: it is, in his eyes, a “potentially dramatic situation” and he obviously considers it a priority, precisely in that tension between the long-term prophetic vision and the short-term challenge to involve people in profound changes. Unfortunately, I cannot say that this kind of public show of awareness of the crucial importance of the climate crisis appears often in the discourse of key politicians, and I hope that the words of H. Van Rompuy will have been heard. Sometimes, the discrete but firm statement of a matter may have more effect than the passionate prophetic shouting.