by Ceri Parker*
One hundred years on from the end of the First World War, Merkel said that leaders had “sleep-walked” into that catastrophe.
“Have we actually learned the lessons of history? We haven’t really,” she said in a plenary session at Davos. The spirit of multilateralism that rebuilt Europe and formed our international institutions in the aftermath of the Second World War was now under threat, she said.
“We see populism on the rise, we see a polarising atmosphere and a polarising state of affairs,” she said.
While tackling challenges like migration, Chancellor Merkel called for cooperation, not isolation. “Ever since the Roman Empire, ever since the Chinese Wall, we know that shutting ourselves off doesn't help to protect your borders. You also need good cooperation with your neighbours, you need good agreements, valid agreements, that are respected.”
The Chancellor also said that Europe had a responsibility to address the migrant crisis at its source and to “partner” with countries on the path to development.
“We don’t want a paternalistic approach: we want to be at eye level with Africa. It’s a completely new approach to development and cooperation, we want to help them and be partners.”
The Chancellor also signalled a more assertive foreign and defence policy for the European Union.
“We need to take more responsibility; we need to take our destiny into our own hands,” she said, adding that there had been significant “convergence” in the EU on this issue.
The digital economy was another major theme in her speech. The Chancellor of Germany’s largest economy, currently enjoying strong growth and record low unemployment, said there were long term challenges amid a huge digital shift.
“If we don’t manage it we will have Luddites as we did in the past,” she said. “Data will be the raw material of the twenty first century” – which brings with it complex challenges, from economic inclusion to privacy. The EU would shift towards a "common digital market," she said.
*Commissioning Editor, Agenda, World Economic Forum
*First published in Weforum.org