Crosswinds of Change Over the Atlantic

A Running Commentary of The Atlantic Dialogues: Day 1

By: Guillaume Xavier-Bender, GMF Non-Resident Fellow

The sun is finally peeking through the clouds. The morning grayness is persistent, but slowly dissipating. I am reminded by the freshness of the air that despite the desert all around, we are in December. Marrakesh. The year 2016, with its unforeseen political, economic, and social storms, is coming to a close in a couple of weeks. Finally. And as the second day of the 5th Atlantic Dialogues is about to start, I wonder if today’s discussions will be as clouded as they were yesterday. Yes, the times they are changin’, yet again.

Mindsets and mental maps have always been at the core of The Atlantic Dialogues. How to challenge them? How to ensure that our understanding of the Atlantic space, and of global affairs more broadly, takes into account fundamental disruptions and ongoing transitions? How to anticipate instability when openness, mobility, tolerance, and trust are questioned on all shores?

Yesterday the scene was set: collective dialogue is what can overcome individual entrenchment. The pace of change, whatever and wherever it takes place, is challenging existing systems and institutions. Whether it is in demography, democracy, technology, finance, trade, labor, security, health, education, migration, gender equality, religion, environment, diplomacy, networks, or any other element that cements societal choices, the risks associated with not adapting to new realities are reaching unprecedented highs. Certitude has rarely been so uncertain.

That might actually be the thread connecting the discussions to come for the next day and a half. It is not an easy feat to change mindsets in an uncertain and unpredictable world. People tend to cling to what they are familiar with when facing the unknown. Especially at a time where the given stability and prosperity of the North Atlantic is no longer; where peace itself is shifting from the unthinkable to the conceivable. A time where peoples and societies across the Atlantic are more urgently expressing their desire to determine and lead their own future — whatever the cost might be for the world we know.

Clouds are not a bad thing. They indicate what the weather will be, more than what it is. They show where the wind blows. They filter what is blinding. They can be turbulent, yet also cushioning at the same time. Clouds allow us to notice clear skies. Our discussions in Marrakesh do look cloudy, but out of them will come some clarity on the way ahead. Of that I am certain.

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