The axis of power is shifting from West to East as visionary leadership is surpassing democratic governance as key to stability and prosperity, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy told the Abu Dhabi Ideas Weekend forum.
Mr Sarkozy was the final speaker to address the forum hosted by Tamkeen and The Aspen Institute at New York University Abu Dhabi, touching on themes of globalisation, leadership and Brexit.
“Where you see a great leader, there is no populism,” said Mr Sarkozy, who was president of France from 2007 to 2012. “Where is the populism in China? Where is the populism here? Where is the populism in Russia? Where is the populism in Saudi Arabia? If the great leadership leaves the table, the populist leaders come and replace him.”
Modern democracy “destroys” leaderships, he said, noting some of the world’s greatest leaders today come largely from undemocratic governments.
“How could we have a democracy and at the same time accept leadership?” Mr Sarkozy asked the audience. “How can we have a vision that could look into 10, 15, 20 years and at the same time have an election rhythm in the States, for instance, every four years? The great leaders of the world come from countries that are not great democracies.”
Mr Sarkozy pointed to the UAE as an example of a country that was able to rapidly succeed and prosper because of its Rulers.
“I believe that it’s the leadership that makes the country. We are in Abu Dhabi. In 50 years, they built an extraordinary country because they had the leadership,” said Mr Sarkozy.
Mr Sarkozy credited Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, having the vision to bring the Louvre to the emirate.
“I was the head of state who signed for the Louvre Abu Dhabi project. I put my entire energy and Sheikh Mohammed put his entire vision,” said Mr Sarkozy. “We needed 10 years - 10 years - and we were quick.”
The Louvre Abu Dhabi was a manifestation of cultural exchange and open-mindedness, he said.
“I don’t know any other place in the world where we had taken the risk and managed a project such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi that goes way beyond any figures,” said Mr Sarkozy. “The success of the Emirati model is probably one of the most important subjects for us and for the world.”
On Brexit, the departure of the UK from the European Union, Mr Sarkozy said it has been a “nightmare for everybody”.
“Everyone is losing,” he said.
Mr Sarkozy suggested that Europe be “restructured”.
“The European project is old,” he said. “We need to put in a new European treaty on the table that rethinks Europe - not considering the past 60 years, but the next 60 years - and tell the British: you have decided to leave old Europe, here is a new Europe, vote to know if you want to be a member of this club, of this new Europe.
"That is a winning thematic, and that’s what we need to do. But in order to do that, you need a leadership.”
Mr Sarkozy also emphasised that demographic pressures will create new political and economic challenges as populations in Asia and Africa grow.
“The world axis is migrating from the Western world to Asia. During centuries, the world axis was Occidental, was Western,” he said. “Today the world axis is Asian. Out of seven billion inhabitants, four (billion) are in Asia, and that’s the demography that creates history.”
The population growth and associated immigration challenges could be a serious threat for Europe, he said.
“We need a fantastic plan to develop the African economy and allow the young Africans to find work employment in their countries,” said Mr Sarkozy. “The future of Africa and the future of Europe is linked, but if you don’t develop Africa, Europe will explode.”