School of Transnational Governance

Hillary Clinton: "Democracy is a fragile human invention"

Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton officially inaugurated the STG academic year.

Hillary Rodham Clinton said threats to democracy are her biggest concern as she inaugurated the STG academic year in a conversation with Director Alex Stubb, students and fellows. Connecting via videoconference from New York, Clinton shared insights about women’s leadership, public pressure, international policies and democratic transition.  Thousands of viewers tuned in to the conversation on Thursday 19 November.

I love the idea that you are emphasising transnational governance,” said Hillary Clinton at the start of her conversation with Alex Stubb. “We have to do a much better job in applying rigour and analysis to the problems we face across borders. And in today’s world, that’s a lot of problems.”

Referring to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Clinton added that this is the right moment to see “what we can learn and how we can better deal with the problems we face. You have a perfect set-up to do that at the Institute.

As the conversation unfolded, the 67th US Secretary of State proffered plenty of insights about leadership and global politics, as well as advice for the STG master’s students. 

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Foreign policy and democratic transition

Clinton said President-elect Joe Biden would re-join the climate accord and some version of the Iran deal. “He is going to reach out and reassure our allies and friends around the world that America’s presence is back and we’re wanting to be a good partner in dealing with both global issues and those that are of particular interest to many of our allies. I think you’ll see an underscoring of the importance of NATO, a real support for rule of law, for human rights.”

When Stubb asked about her views on democratic transition, Clinton responded: “A good transition is a real hallmark of a democratic governance model. You have to be willing to give up power.” Referring to Trump’s refusal to concede the elections to his rival Biden, she added “this a terrible aberration and it sends a very troubling signal about the value that Donald Trump and those who support him and enable him have for our democratic system.”

Clinton said Trump was not the only leader who disregards democratic norms and the rule of law. “There are sadly other leaders on the scene today who get themselves elected and then begin to shut down the press, so that they don’t face press questioning and criticism, shut down their political opposition, begin to favour their cronies and start acting corruptly. We’re seeing that. And this is something that threatens democracies wherever it has taken root. We can’t ever take it for granted. It’s a fragile human invention.”

She added that democracy “has to show more results for the great majority of people, and that is particularly true when it comes to economic equality, racial and other forms of equity."

Lively exchange with students

Next, three STG master’s students and a policy fellow took the stage to quiz the United States’ most-travelled Secretary of State in history.

Don't let the fear of not being perfect hold you back from taking on responsibility,” Secretary Clinton replied to a question by Ingerid Bratz about women in leadership roles.

Zakaria Al Shmaly, who fled war-torn Syria, quizzed Clinton about the US approach to the conflict in his country. She acknowledged the US should take a less restrained approach, helping to rebuild civil society in Syria.

Ma Pengheng touched upon trade with China, prompting Clinton to answer that she believed the US under the Biden Presidency should get back into a trade agreement, “because we need global standards”. President Trump pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership back in 2018.

Policy leader fellow Joshua Gimba asked Secretary Clinton about solidarity in post-COVID global economic recovery. “Any post-COVID recovery action needs to focus on those populations that have been most drastically impacted. And we have to make sure that public action, and private sector action keeps that in mind. Because otherwise we are going to have even more inequity,” Hillary Clinton explained. She went on to say that it cannot be just the developed countries taking advantage of COVID-19 vaccines. “We need a global strategy for vaccinating the world. It is not going to be possible to recover as fully as we should without that.” 

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A historic occasion

STG Director Alex Stubb was delighted to welcome Secretary Clinton for the official inauguration of the School’s academic year 2020-2021: “We wanted to open this academic year in a special way to celebrate our first class of master’s students. No one knows better than Hillary Clinton what skills are required on the international stage. Discussing with her was a great learning moment for our students.”

The academic year 2020-2021 is momentous for the School of Transnational Governance, and the European University Institute as a whole. In September 2020, the first batch of students from around the world started their training in the first master’s programme in the Institute’s history.

During the two-year programme, students prepare for a career in international policy-making through a mix of theory and practice. In the process, they focus on pressing issues related to digitalisation, economy, politics, security and sustainability. 

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