Remarks by Frans Timmermans at OGP’s UNGA72 High Level Event
These remarks are from the transcript of the event’s video feed.
Macron did not win the election by informing people, he won the election by inspiring people. He couldn’t have inspired people if they didn’t trust his character or his professionalism. It’s a combination of factors that creates that success.
People have feelings of insecurity about their future. They are not necessarily unhappy with the present – but they fear the future. If you have governments who don’t trust the people – we always talk about citizens not trusting government, but there are also governments not trusting people – then in a situation of insecurity, they will take that insecurity, turn it into fear, and feed that fear. And then they will try to control those informations that lead to their citizens forming an opinion. In countries where governments fear the people, they always try to control the media, whether by economic, political or legal means. But this will not work for a long time. For a little while, trust can be created through fear: they’ll claim they are the only ones that can protect you. But the things with fear is, that you need an enemy, either within or without, and the enemy is always ‘the other’: another culture, another religion. If you start using that as political tool, it only goes one way: tighter and tighter. Once you go down that road, you cannot go back, and it will end in confrontation – and eventually violent confrontation – because you leave no room but for people to defend themselves.
You want to avoid that trap, but still recognise that people fear loss of control of their destinies (Brexit was all about a desire to regain control). The question then is: how do you regain control? By giving people much higher levels of transparency in government, and by sharing the possibilities but also the limitations of government. People aren’t stupid – they understand that governments can’t deliver everything in their lives, they know they have a responsibility. My experience is that If you’re open about this – this is what we can do, this is what we can’t – you get the trust back, but you must be entirely transparent. If you make a mistake, be transparent about the mistake: sorry, got that wrong, need to correct that. That’s an attitude that requires having a certain vulnerability, allowing criticism, giving the fullest transparency possible. In my organisation, every meeting with Commissioners has to be made public. People who want to see us who represent an interest have to be registered publicly before the meeting takes place. These are things that do help to create more trust. It’s an element, but it’s not all.
At the end of the day, it’s about creating partnerships with all interested persons. I want to echo what Emanuel Macron said about this. We are no longer in a ’trust me’ society – We can no longer get a vote every four or five years and say to people ‘trust me, we’ll take care of it and at the end of the day you can judge us’. We’re in a ‘show me’ society. People want to see what we do on a daily basis, and if we don’t adapt our political systems to that, there will be a temptation to go for the alternative of pandering to lies and half truths as a means of gaining political control, as is happening too often in societies today.
So: don’t look at it from the angle of citizens not trusting their citizens. There are also governments who don’t trust their citizens, and this dictates their behaviour towards them.
First Vice-President, European Commission