Deciphering policy-making beyond the state
Alex Stubb, Director of the School of Transnational Governance at CIVICA member EUI, talks about the defining policy issues of our times, the sweet spot between theory and practice, and the complexity of policy-making.
In Spring 2020, Alex Stubb was appointed Director of the School of Transnational Governance at the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence. As a former Prime Minister, Finance Minister, Foreign Minister, Trade and Europe Minister of Finland, he brings in a wealth of expertise across national government and EU policy-making.
In this interview Stubb talks about the defining policy issues of our times, the sweet spot between theory and practice, and the complexity of policy-making: “Our students will have to understand things both international and transnational, comprehend how different streams of decision-making link to each other.”
The EUI’s new policy school, built on an international and transnational ethos, goes hand-in-hand with CIVICA’s concrete mission to better understand the complexities of present-day governance. It also positions Europe as a player in the training of current and future policy-makers, worldwide.
In Spring 2020, you were appointed Director of the recently established EUI School of Transnational Governance. Tell us something about your first months on the job.
I have had a great time so far. Time has gone by really fast, it almost feels like I have been here a year, since my informal nomination at the end of January 2020. It is like being part of a start-up, something new and exciting is going on. I feel that we are very much part of the EUI community, trying to make it global. The staff is great and international, the faculty is fantastic. And the whole atmosphere of bringing theory and practice together works for us.
The School aims to improve governance beyond borders, training both current and future policy-makers. What is the current state of global policy-making?
I think of global policy-making almost as a moving target. Our basic thesis is very simple. We don’t believe nation states are the only ones that take decisions. They don’t work in a vacuum. Therefore we think people need to learn about governance beyond borders. About transnationality, which basically brings together decision-makers from politics, civil service, academia, journalism, the private sector and civil society. Together, all of these actors work on different types of decisions globally. That is what we are trying to figure out and teach.
What do you consider crucial global policy issues for the decade ahead?
At any given time there are three or four policy issues the world can focus on. For the coming decade, I think there are a few obvious ones. Number one is data and more specifically the control thereof. We live in the middle of a digital revolution and we don’t know exactly how to cope with it. Number two is climate, another transnational and global issue which affects all of us in one way or another. The third one at the moment is health. We saw how quickly things can deteriorate during a pandemic. These are the type of issues we will have to deal with. And of course there will always be one or two major surprises.
A first group of international students is currently following the new Master in Transnational Governance in Florence. What skills will they need to succeed?
We are in the business of teaching future leaders. I expect and believe that our first cohort of students will find various leadership positions around the world. They will need skills regarding negotiations, analysis and don’t forget an important one like empathy. Our students will have to understand things both international and transnational, comprehend how different streams of decision-making link to each other. That is what we are teaching them at the School of Transnational Governance.
The School of Transnational Governance also offers a range of executive trainings for high-level professionals on thematic issues, as well as on practical matters like crisis management and leadership. Based on your experience, what are the keys to success in an international policy environment?
We try to bring together the best experts on both practice and theory. I always stress it is good to have a theoretical framework to understand how international or transnational policy works. At the same time, it is extremely important to have people in executive trainings who have the practical experience, who have been in the room where decisions were made. If I were to name two of the most underrated success factors in international negotiations it would be personal connections and social skills.
Interview by Roeland Scholtalbers (EUI)