The Crisis of Trust in Europe: trust and transparency

Do we really need to see everything?

Thierry Baudet


TUE 05.11.13 | 19:30

deBuren, Leopoldstraat 6, 1000 Brussels


This debate is organised in collaboration with The Institute of ideas, and is a satellite debate of the debating festival The Battle of Ideas, organised in London every year since 2005. Like deBuren, The Institute of Ideas is a member of the European debating network Time to Talk

THE DEBATE | Not many areas of public life are immune from demands for more transparency today. Governments pride themselves on their openness and accessibility. The media put intense pressure - even running sting operations - on politicians to make sure that private interests are declared. Senior figures in public life are expected to reveal their salaries. So virtuous is being transparent considered today, that the most high-profile anti-corruption organisation in the world is called... Transparency International. Whistleblowers - once considered disloyal - are the new moral heroes. Lobbyists the new zeroes. It seems that the mantra - if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide - has become universally accepted.

But is this an unqualified Good Thing? After all, as private individuals we still expect a degree of confidentiality although there are arguments - for example in the case of medical records - for us to be less precious about it. Might it not be the case that demanding transparency could have the perverse outcome of breeding secrecy and an increase in secretive off the record corridor discussions? Can government actually work without the freedom to discuss alternatives behind closed doors? Has society run out of trust? Do we really think that people will do wrong if they aren't watched? Is it right to assume that those who trumpet their transparency are necessarily squeaky clean? 

Speakers from the Netherlands, Belgium and Britain will debate on the transparency theme at deBuren led by Claire Fox, director of The Instute of Ideas. Each speaker gets five minutes to make his or her point. After that, the public is invited to voice its opinion. We aim for a lively discussion during which the audience is just as important as the speakers on stage. 


Dr. Albena Azmanova is a political philosopher, commentator and activist. Educated in Bulgaria, France, and the United, she has taught political theory at Sciences Po in Paris and at the New School for Social Research in New York. She currently teaches at the University of Kent's Brussels School of International Relations. After taking part in the dissident movements that brought down the communist regime in 1988-1990 in her native Bulgaria, she took a critical stance towards the post-communist regimes in publications (beginning with "Dictatorships of Freedom",Praxis International, 1992), and in policy advisory work at international bodies (among which the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and Commission). She is a founding member of the Forum of Concerned Citizens of Europe. Key themes of her recent publications are the replacement of the left-right ideological divide with an opportunity-risk divide in the early 21st century, the emergence in Europe of ‘economic xenophobia' (she coined the concept in a report to the European Parliament in 2003), her analysis of the nascent post-neoliberal capitalism as ‘aggregative capitalism', her diagnosis of the crisis of Europe as EU-driven socially irresponsible rule rather than as deficiency of democracy; she has put forward solutions to the crisis within a policy platform she has named ‘a political economy of trust'. Her latest book is The Scandal of Reason: a critical theory of political judgement (Columbia University Press, March 2012).

Dr. Thierry Baudet (b.1983), Ph.D, LLM, is a Dutch academic, journalist, and public intellectual. He is the author of a several books, including, in English, The Significance of Borders: Why Representative Government and the Rule of Law require Nation States (Boston 2012). The book argues that supranational institutions, such as the European Union, the World Trade Organization and the International Criminal Court, as well as the multiculturalism that European elites have pursued in the past decades, are fundamentally irreconcilable with democracy and constitutional government. Challenging the dominant trend in contemporary legal and political thought, The Significance of Borders defends the nation state as the most attractive form of political organization.
Baudet is currently working on two new books: one on the development of the BRIC-countries and the implications of their growth for the global balance of powers; another on the United States from a eurosceptic perspective.
For the past seven years, Baudet has filled teaching positions in law, history and political philosophy at Leiden Law School, the University of Amsterdam and the Academia Vitae in Deventer. A columnist for the national newspaper NRC Handelsblad between 2011 and 2012, he frequently appears in Dutch media, and he is a member of the advisory board of the political tv-show Buitenhof. In 2013, Baudet acccepted a position as a post-doctoral research fellow at Tilburg University and a visiting fellowship at the Royal Dutch Institute in Rome.

Manu Claeys (Belgium, 1964) is an essayist, op-ed writer and campaigner for citizen's rights. He studied English and American literature at the universities of Louvain and Minnesota, was editor of the publishing house Kritak (‘critical action') and is currently chairman of the citizens' collective stRaten-generaal, based in the city of Antwerp. In 2010 the collective received the Prize for Democracy. Earlier this year, he published the book Stilstand, Over machtspolitiek, betweterbestuur en achterkamerdemocratie (‘Standstill. On power politics, wiseacre governance and back room democracy' Van Halewyck, 2013). As can be expected, transparency or rather the lack of it plays an important role in that book. Manu lives in Antwerp, with his wife writer Anne Provoost and their three children.

Kirk Leech is the interim director of the European Animal Research Campaign Centre, a lobby that defends the right to use laboratory animals in research. 
He also works in government affairs for The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI).  Kirk's work is currently focused on communicating the political and media position of the ABPI and its members on the need to undertake animal research in the UK.  Before his involvement in the defense of animal testing, Kirk acted as a consultant for the White House Writers Group (WHWG) a strategic communications consultancy based in Washington, DC, founded by a group of former US Presidential speechwriters. He was engaged to advise clients on influencing public opinion on the environmental, economic and cultural impact of a new Billion dollar Goldmine in Transylvania, Romania. Before this position Kirk advised Action Research in Community Health and Development (ARCH) a tribal rights organisation working in the eastern tribal areas of Gujarat India on influencing public opinion on the economic benefits of the Narmada dam and in opposing the imposition of wildlife sanctuaries on tribal land.

Dr. Erna Scholtes has 30 years experience in public sector, 25 years as a consultant. She works on assignments for government, regulatory agencies, municipalities and NGO's. Themes: governance, policy advise, evaluation studies, communication. Her PhD on transparency (2012) is based on interpretative content analysis of over 5,000 documents in parliamentary debate in the Netherlands. Research questions were: What meanings are given to transparency in administrative sciences? In what way was the concept of transparency used in political and administrative discourse in the Netherlands in the period between 1995 and 2010? What are the presuppositions on which the meanings in political and administrative discourse are based? How are these presuppositions met by actors in political and administrative discourse? How can the popularity of the concept be explained en understood?
The PhD got a lot of attention in the media and in scientific debate. Erna is often invited for lectures. She is member of the board of Technasium, a formula for better beta education, and of the board of trustees of Wellant, for education in agriculture. Erna is president of the jury that decides about the best book for management consultants each year.

This debate is also a satellite debate of the Battle of Ideas; a two day festival of high-level, thought-provoking, public debate organized by the Institute of Ideas at the Barbican in London on October 19 and 20. deBuren and the Institute of Ideas are both member of Time to Talk, European network of houses of debate.