ZAK asked Wolfgang Gründinger to answer the following questions:
1. Has our need for security grown, or has our perception of danger and uncertainty simply changed?
All of the above. The modern feeling of security certainly cannot be reduced to the longing for security of the 1950s, nor to factors from the Middle Ages or even the Stone Age. This is as it should be, however, for we are ultimately dealing with the protection of human lives. The fundamental change in the nature of the threats facing us is inextricably bound up with this. One cannot feel, see, or taste radiation, the hole in the ozone layer, or greenhouse gases. Modern technological dangers elude the perceptions of the human senses. They have to be explained through science. And this cannot fail to have an effect on how we perceive these threats. At the same time, there has always been a different social acceptance of certain risks, for example according to whether they occur naturally, whether they are assumed of one’s own free will, or whether they are imposed. Yet nothing is wrong with this in principle, since no one can be held accountable for an earthquake, whereas blame can be attributed for a dangerously-operated nuclear reactor.
2. To what extent are the interdependencies among individual risks increasing? Can a domino effect be seen here?
In a highly complex and interdependent world, there can be no social developments that progress in an entirely isolated fashion. Energy politics is one example: Nuclear power does not release any greenhouse gases. Yet if we were to pin all our hopes on nuclear power as a global climate protector, we would be taking on the immense risks of radioactive material spreading further, of the military misusing this power, of atomic waste, and of nuclear accidents. Does it make sense to replace the devil of global warming with the Beelzebub of nuclear power? The banking crisis is another example: the roots certainly lay in the irresponsible use of cheap loans, the lack of transparency with regard to financial derivatives, and the stock markets’ focus on short-term profits. Yet higher energy prices were in fact the trigger: suddenly, Americans with their energy-wasting suburban houses and their overly-powerful cars could no longer afford the costs of heating their homes and of commuting. Suddenly it became apparent that they were not creditworthy. And just like that, everything came crashing down.
3. In light of the current crisis, should more decision-making authority be transferred to European institutions/organs?
There has already been a massive transfer of authority to the EU. The bulk of national legislation is no longer an independent matter but rather the application of guidelines from Brussels. This has occasionally done us good, for example with regard to smoking bans, air quality standards, and emissions trading. Yet whether it would really be helpful to transfer more authority to the EU is questionable. It is more important in this context to clearly divide authority – who is allowed to decide exactly what? – to democratise the EU, and also to strengthen national parliaments against the insinuations of the governing administrations and of lobbyists.