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The challenge of change

The old year exits leaving the air replete with the challenge of change. In effect, nothing stands still and the world is changing all the time. But the reference now is to particular change, particularly in the international sphere.

The unthinkable is being thought – France might be forced out of the eurozone
- Lino Spiteri

For instance, how is the world’s leading economy going to cope with change from sense to madness. If the President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives do not agree to fundamental taxing and spending change within the next few hours, the US will fall over what has become chillingly known as the fiscal cliff.

This means that taxes will rise for practically everybody while defence spending will fall. Gasping under such a double squeeze American GDP could fall by a massive five per cent.

The spirit of change also continues to haunt the eurozone and the rest of the EU. There are several critical points, all of which taken together count to the question whether the Union as we know it can survive. A gloriously mixed up challenge is taking place in Italy. The premier everybody wanted, Mario Monti, has resigned because the ex-premier nobody now wants, Silvio Berlusconi, does not want him anymore. Will Monti ride back into a glorious new dawn? Or will Italy sink?

The Italian change in the offing is frightening not least because of an outsize chance that Berlusconi might change back into his bold role as reviled Prime Minister.

A bit further up the challenge of change faces France. One of the two main pillars of the EU, along with mighty Germany, France is shivering. Hollande received a terrible inheritance, but he does not seem to be remedying it. Rather, industrialists talk of leaving France. The new President’s popularity has halved to 30 per cent.

The unthinkable is being thought – France might be forced out of the eurozone. That is really the zone’s big one. If the change happens, it would be disastrous since it is likely to be followed by total collapse. Amid all this possibility of unnerving change, the old problems of the euro peripherals seem light by comparison.

And that is before taking into account that Spain, too, is changing the nature of its particular bullfight. Cash strapped and with its back to the sharp horns in many regards, its Prime Minister insists he does not need a bailout from the EU. Well, that breeziness could change and then he and the rest of Europe will know what’s what.

Stepping out of the eurozone into the broader union, the likelihood of change is just as remarkable. One of the other heavyweights of the EU, the UK, is talking increasingly louder of leaving the bloc. Meanwhile within Great Britain there is also talk of Scotland going it on its own.

All this potential change carries myriad implications for Malta, who cannot lift a finger to stop or influence any of the changes listed, except perhaps joining the Vatican in praying for Monti to continue to serve as Prime Minister to restore his country, an important part of the EU, back to health.

Before trying to build scenario strategies for the implications, we have our own packet of change to deal with. Some of it came about already. Unexpectedly, both the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party changed deputy leaders. In both cases, there was dramatic irony involved. In both cases too, the change was presented like a change in leaders.

It wasn’t so, of course. The change is in appeal to the electorate – will the new deputy leaders seem more attractive to particular pockets of electors, starting with the business community and the so-called middle class?

The biggest looming change is the general election. Either of the two possible outcomes will usher in change. If the Nationalists win, Lawrence Gonzi will be changed from a mere mortal into a saint or, if you prefer secular terms, a wizard. He will be canonised and lionised. A statue of him will be built in his lifetime as in the case of that bigger saint, Sir Alex Ferguson.

If Labour wins, Joseph Muscat will immediately be crowned Malta’s youngest king. Canonisation will come later, should he win a second term. The startling reality is that change at the top will change nothing at the bottom. The country’s finances will remain in the same parlous state the bureaucrats at the Treasury know they are in.

The economy will still be split into the good sectors because they are fashionable (services), the bad sectors (declining manufacturing) and the ugly (construction). The remedies, to the extent that they exist, are there for both parties to dip into.

Notwithstanding that static conclusion for the first few days, the supporters of the winning party will change into Brazilian dancers whose wriggling and undulating torsos never seem to run out of steam.

So much change to think about. Except that it doesn’t make me change my own mindset. All this change is predictive and descriptive. How about, for a change, as bit of a deep exercise into prescriptive thinking. Into not waiting for change to happen, but thinking deeply of what change is needed or wanted and considering proactively how to make it happen?

We are thinking about change – the domestic part of it – like old rape. If it’s going to happen, we might as well lie back and enjoy it. Except that it may not be so enjoyable.

We should be less resigned and set about thinking what change we can bring about where it depends on us.

Impossible? No. But it would take a great change in mentality to bring it about.

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