2016 was not a good year for democracy. The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union, the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, Turkey’s move towards a despotic authoritarian regime, pervasive restrictions on civil society in numerous countries – all of these events and trends are signs of a major anti-liberal backlash.
These developments go hand-in-hand with a far-reaching shift in international power relations. Rising powers – most of all China – are asserting their voice. All around the world, multilateral cooperation and the universal application of human rights are being challenged. The old world order is gone, but a new one has yet to take its place.
As a political foundation, we are needed more than ever. Promoting democracy and the rule of law are two of our core tasks. As the scope for civil society initiatives becomes increasingly restricted, this means that we also have to find alternative ways to support the work of our partners. Another one of the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s central tasks is to provide background information on international developments and to explain key trends to German audiences.
Europe is experiencing rough times. Burgeoning nationalism obstructs the project of political union. A common refugee policy appears to be out of reach. The latent, smoldering euro crisis is dividing Europe into debtors and creditors. High levels of youth unemployment in southern Europe and the associated lack of prospects for an entire generation create a heavy burden for the future.
Our vision is a Europe that combines social participation and environmental modernization and that opens up prospects for the younger generation. We want a Europe that strengthens our ability to take joint action and that leaves room for difference and diversity. Fortunately, last year also spurred many people to take a greater interest in politics and to demonstrate a willingness to resist the trends that are undermining European unity.
One of our leading priorities is to foster the social and environmental transformation of economies and societies. Here we seek to link technological innovation with political governance and individual responsibility. Social participation and environmental sustainability are inseparable from the question of democracy.
Our studies, policy recommendations and discussion forums help to sharpen people’s awareness that this great transformation is both necessary and possible. One of our major successes in 2016 was the book Iss was?! Tiere, Fleisch & ich (“Had enough?! Animals, meat and I”), which targets young readers. We took special pride in the book’s nomination for the 2017 German Children’s Literature Award in the non-fiction category.
Our work would not be possible without our staff and partners in both Germany and around the world. We would like to express our thanks and appreciation for their dedicated and responsible efforts, often in countries and regions where taking civic action requires working under inhospitable conditions. Our heartfelt gratitude also goes to the many people who are members of the Foundation’s volunteer boards and commissions. We look forward to forging our shared onward path.
Berlin, April 2017
Ralf Fücks and Barbara Unmüßig
Presidents, Heinrich Böll Foundation