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AD Talks: Closing of the online version of the Atlantic Dialogues conference, attended by over 25,000 participants worldwide

Press Release | December 25, 2020

"AD Talks", a special online edition of the annual high-level Atlantic Dialogues conference, took place from November 3 to December 23, on "The Covid outbreak viewed from the Southern Atlantic".

A total of 17 sessions involving 80 speakers from 37 countries across four continents (Africa, the Americas, Europe and Asia) addressed the impact of the pandemic on geopolitics, economics and democracy.  Among the speakers were many former Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leaders and young professionals from across the Atlantic Basin.

This edition, fueled by US election and Covid-19 vaccine distribution news, was a great success.  The debates were attended by over 25,000 participants from 170 countries.

"Dialogue matters," Karim El Aynaoui, President of the Policy Center for the New South, declared on December 23.  "It is a common good that we bring, with values of tolerance, respect for facts, science, and curiosity for other cultures".  Of the AD Talks, he said that "we are at a crossroads, and our choices will affect future generations, particularly in terms of climate change.  Governance is essential, as is solidarity.  Morocco proved this by raising the equivalent of 3% of its GDP to address the pandemic.  The demand for protection is high, as is the capacity to implement safety nets, provide the necessary treatments and vaccines.  In short, the State is back".

AD Talks key messages

• The "Introductory conversation: A North and South overview of the pandemic" recalled the relevance of the principle of non-alignment for Africa, a continent that does not want to choose between China and the West.  Concepts of West, North and South seem increasingly outdated in the global order according to Hubert Védrine, former French Minister of Foreign Affairs.

"Globalization is overrated, and it took for Covid-19 to happen for us to realize how fragile it truly is.  The United States' first knee-jerk reaction was to seal the borders and repatriate populations, disrupting supply chains and wreaking all sorts of chaos." - Aminata Touré, former Prime Minister of Senegal

• "The Rise of Asia: Lessons Learnt" panel focused mainly on China's management of the Covid crisis with extents of individual liberties suppression that would not have been possible in open societies, in addition to taking stock of the mixed performance of a number of democratic countries in managing the Covid-19 crisis, including the United Kingdom, Brazil and France.

"Has the time not come for Europe, Russia and developing countries to consider a new form of non-alignment with the United States and China, to contain the arms race and ensure there is no serious confrontation between these two countries?" -  Amre Moussa (Egypt), former Secretary General of the Arab League and former Egyptian Foreign Minister

• On the issue of "Health Capacities as a New Power Instrument", the inward-looking attitude of countries in the face of the pandemic highlighted the absence of global negotiations in which Europe and Africa could have joined forces.  In a prelude to the world's attitude towards climate change, a global vaccination strategy is needed. 

• As far as "Global Cooperation to Address Global Crises", the United States’s return to the global stage with the Biden administration may not be particularly forceful, considering the energy to be deployed internally in fighting the pandemic, and a diminished interest in acting as the world's policeman. 

“For too long, European and African nations have relied on the United States, no longer interested in fulfilling its former role.  In the face of climate change, a way will have to be found to see developing nations take a greater place at the negotiating table." Bronwyn Bruton (USA), director of programs and studies for the Atlantic Council.

America will be back, despite isolationist currents in US public opinion, reported the "What the US election means for the wider Atlantic?" session.

Europe has reason to hope, because the transatlantic relationship is to be mended.   In addition to NATO and WTO reconstruction, issues of climate change and the confrontation with China are to take a different turn.

Frustrated expectations arising from democracies and the capitalist system were highlighted in "The Geography of Discontents in the Global South".  While environmentalists are alone in speaking of the future, in predicting disasters, populists tend to look to the past.  In Africa, corruption undermines democracy, and the impunity of leaders is partly the responsibility of citizens for failing to hold them accountable.

In "States and the Future of Democracy", emphasis was placed on the resilience of democratic values, despite declining Western influence.  Even though terrorism hampers democracies in Africa, as does populism and Islamophobia in India.  There is hope: renewed enthusiasm for democracy can result from the expected rapprochement between the United States and Europe.

The "Pandemics: Saving human lives or the economy" session focused on the stronger recovery of the US and Asia compared to Europe, as well as on the effects of populism, which has seen a number of heads of state refuse to wear a mask, as in the United States, Brazil and Mexico.

"Of the ten countries with the highest number of deaths, eight are led by populists, both right and left.  Populism is a simplification, while the pandemic is complex: the United States, Brazil, Spain and Italy have all found ideologies more relevant than public safety".  Paulo Portas, former Portuguese Minister of Foreign Affairs

On "Covid-19 and International Trade", it is noted that Latin America was the worst hit region globally, with a 16% drop in exports for the first half of 2020.  An international framework on trade and health is needed to prepare for the next pandemic, so that medical product supply chains are not disrupted.

• The panel on "The Impact of the Crisis on Energy Markets and Energy Transition" noted that green energy is growing everywhere. However, the economic crisis risks delaying necessary energy transition measures, even though the transition seems more necessary than ever because of climate change.

• The closing session, attended by three former presidents, of Costa Rica, Ecuador and Argentina, focused on the economic impact of the Covid crisis in Latin America.

"We suffered the worst impact on unemployment in Latin America, with the rate in Costa Rica doubling from 12 percent to 22 percent. We are one of the sub-continent's most indebted countries, along with Brazil and Argentina, and the population is very dissatisfied with the situation.”

Miguel Angel Rodriguez, former President of Costa Rica

Other sessions, available on the Atlantic Dialogues website, focused on "The Age of Misinformation", "The Role of ICTs in Global Crisis Management", and "The Impact of the Crisis on Mental Health".  All these topics will be covered in the upcoming Atlantic Currents annual report, reflecting AD Talks' themes, when it is published in early January.