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Helsinki forum pushes for 'inclusive' globalization

Endy M. Bayuni,
11 February 2005 | The Jakarta Post, New Delhi

GN3 Editorial Comment: Recent headlines have been replete with references to Davos and Porto Alegre and the competing visions of globalization and development among civil society, government and business. While the World Social Forum is primarily a civil society gathering, the World Economic Forum tends to be associated with business and political leaders. In the article below, a relatively unknown effort referred to as the "Helsinki Process" seeks to build consensus through a tri-sectoral approach involving the three global powers civil society, government and business.

The old saying "if you can't beat them, join them" underpins the attitude of many around the world who are becoming increasingly skeptical about the true benefits of free-for-all economic globalization, but somehow feel powerless to stop it and all its negative excesses.

But if that is the attitude, it begs the question: How? Or more precisely, how do you join globalization?

Finland and Tanzania, two unlikely players in a game dominated by giants, have come up with a noble idea of a more inclusive globalization -- one that brings together all the stakeholders: governments, civil society organizations, and the business world.

Participants in what is known as the Helsinki Process for Globalization and Democracy met in the Indian capital this week to hammer out their thoughts of what can be done together to give globalization a more human face.

Launched in the Finnish capital in 2002, the group has since met in Brazil, South Africa, and this week in India, to garner interest as well as wider publicity. It plans to hold the big conference in Helsinki once again in September.

The Helsinki Process seems like a modest start for a highly ambitious project.

Only the two initiator governments are represented in the forum, and even then, they are here in their individual rather than official capacity.

The other participants are representatives from the business world, the academe and non-governmental organizations from different countries.

Nearly three years in the work since its launching in the Finnish capital, the Helsinki Process has enjoyed little media publicity.

Even the Indian mainstream media gave this week's meeting little coverage, while the global media seemed to have ignored it completely. But such media skepticism is not unfounded in a world already filled with so many proposals on how to deal with the excesses of the unfettered globalization of the 1990s.

"We're not trying to reinvent the wheel here," Abdulkader Shareef, Tanzanian deputy foreign minister who cochairs the New Delhi meeting, told reporters. "We seek to reinforce many of the initiatives that are already on the table."

Finland's foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja, the other cochair, said he recognized the need to expand the forum to include more government representatives if the Helsinki Process is to be treated more seriously by the major players. A foreign-ministerial level meeting will be held in Helsinki on the sidelines of the September conference, he added.

The New Delhi meeting reviewed three reports, or "tracks" in the Helsinki Process parlance, that were published last month. Representatives of the Helsinki Group presented these reports, detailing some of their proposed processes, simultaneously at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss city of Davos and the World Social Forum in the Brazilian town of Porto Allegre.

The two forums perhaps represent the two extreme poles of the globalization divide: One fully for it (Davos), the other trying to oppose it (Porto Allegre).

One of the premises of the Helsinki Process is that given the impact globalization has on the lives of every single person living on this planet, its trends and pace must be decided jointly by as many stakeholders as possible.

Currently, the Group of Seven of the wealthiest countries in the world, led by the United States, is calling most of the shots in its annual summits and ministerial-level meetings.

This, according to the Helsinki Group, is symptomatic of the democratic deficit in the governance of many of the international organizations, and thus of the decisions that affect the lives of people all around the world.

To remedy this, the group proposes, among other things, the expansion of the G-7 forum (or G-8 as it now includes Russia) to 20, or "thereabouts".

Lending credence to the group, among others, is India's Nitin Desai, former UN undersecretary general for economic and social affairs. "This is not just another one of those commissions. This is all about the process," he told reporters.

But as the world is searching desperately to put a more human face on economic globalization, the question that comes to mind is "is there really such a thing as "fair globalization"?

Vandana Shiva, long a staunch critic of globalization, seems to think so, pointing to the global response to help victims of the deadly December tsunamis hitting Indian Ocean states, including Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India.

Speaking at a conference on the media and globalization on the sidelines of the Helsinki group's meeting in New Delhi this week, Shiva says: "Now, that's fair globalization. People felt connected and found a way of helping others."

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