Transnational Risks: A New Challenge for a Global Civil Society

First Berlin Roundtables on Transnationality, January 3-9, 2004

Transnational Norms and Regulation
The opening panel discussion which took place in the Humboldt-University’s lecture hall touched upon fundamentals: Amitai Etzioni, American sociologist, mentor and leading voice of contemporary communitarianism, stressed the importance of common ethical standards, or as he puts it, of core values which are to serve as normative bonds in a global community that is transcending the limits of the traditional nation state. In contrast, Susan George, Vice-President of Attac France, who is best known for her anti-capitalist utopia "The Lugano Report", claimed the necessity of international laws and regulations against the exploitation of the human workforce and environmental resources. Klaus Töpfer, Director of the Environmental Programme of the United Nations (UNEP), struck a similar chord in his keynote speech. According to him, transnational risks that affect people around the world like global warming can only be controlled if the most powerful and influential states are willing to put their own interests into perspective. Only by upgrading its human and financial resources, the United Nations can hope to gain influence in a field where economic interests are at present pursued mainly outside a system of legal accountability.

Risk Society versus State of Precaution?
Risk society vs. culture of precaution - this juxtaposition marked another focus of the conference. François Ewald, French philosopher of securitization and editor of the works of Michel Foucault, interpreted the planned inclusion of the precautionary principle into the French constitution as a sign of progress but also as a political challenge for the future. He deemed the obligation for state action to avert or mitigate potential negative consequences (e.g. caused by technological developments) promising, but found that the ideology of the preemptive strike unveils the cruel travesty of the applied precautionary principle. Within this dilemma, scientific advisory panels do not constitute a reliable adjustment factor - this was mutually pointed out from different perspectives by Bärbel Höhn, Minister for Environmental Affairs and Consumer Protection in the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Sheila Jasanoff, Professor of Science and Technology Studies (Harvard) and Charles Perrow, risk sociologist (Yale).

Science as Network
The conference included six workshops each lasting four days organized by the Irmgard Coninx Foundation. In a special retreat - a conference center on the Hermannswerder peninsula in Potsdam - 65 younger scholars and journalists from 40 countries had the opportunity to analyze and discuss challenges and chances of transnational risks. High on the agenda were issues of the future of public health services, the preconditions for international financial crises and the role of the mass media in global catastrophes like the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Over and above the question was raised, whether the reduced responsibility and credibility of nation state action can be balanced by a transnational civil society. Finally, the results of the workshop discussions were presented by participants at the WZB.