Friday, May 25, 2012

European Union - An Outsider's view

The following write-up summarizes my impressions about the European union, on attending the Jean Monnet circle seminar series (ongoing) held at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany. Envisaged as a non-academic article, I don't guarantee factual and political correctness of the ideas expressed here.

It is always a daunting task to achieve any degree of "integration" in a geographically vast region encompassing various forms of diversity viz. language, culture, religion etc. The idea of European Union is very much a work in progress and it presents an excellent study-ground to observe possibilities of integration in a culturally pluralistic environment. 

The European Union (EU) had its seeds in the European Coal and Steel Community of the 1950s and was initially charted out to ensure trade co-operation between France and Germany. More importantly, its agenda was to effect peace amongst the European states after two shattering wars within a span of 30 years. As long as the idea of the union was business/commerce centric (such as the free market for goods and free movement of workers etc), it is an arguably successful model. But, when the union gave rise to other institutions such as the European court of justice, European commission etc, it very much touches the political, cultural and social lives of every citizen in the EU and hence might question the very existence of individual sovereign states in Europe.

Leaving aside the widely criticized "democratic deficit" in the institutions of the European union, the sheer power dynamics amongst the member states of the union should be discussed. It's an open secret that Germany (amongst other members) with its rock-solid economy enjoys an absolute political clout in the union. Germany's political stature in the union is inevitable but this accumulation of power with a single state will gradually lead to a situation where Germany (or for that matter, any other country or a clique of countries) dictates terms influencing common lives in the region. That will only pave way to a new form of imperialism - annihilating economic, cultural, social and linguistic interests of other states in the union. This is exactly the way British colonization worked - start with trade (East India Company in India, for example) and then increase spheres of influence. We can't rule out the possibility that the whole of Europe might be speaking German (or French or whatever) thousand years from now.

Another possibility might be the case where individual states of the continent can be forcefully affiliated to the union citing economic (or other) benefits. This might lead to a situation resembling the erstwhile Soviet Union, where states were either annexed or held by force, eventually leading towards disintegration.

As of today, the idea of a "unified Europe" can safely be considered to be in it's infancy, looking at the loyalties (or nationalism) of citizens towards their own countries than a harmonious "European Nationalism". This is quite explainable - Europe has been a war-torn region for a very good part of the twentieth century and hence overtones of cultural nationalism are expectedly dominant. A sudden shift in the loyalty towards a totally new political entity will not happen. But, if at all that happens it would be killing all indigenous cultures, languages, religions and other forms of social expression, paving way to a unified continent ("monarchia universalis") with nil diversity. On that day, there won't be German automobiles, no french fashion, no swiss watches and no italian art but the kind of political & economic authority that the EU will have on the rest of the world will be phenomenal.

To be optimistic for a change, India presents an amazing living example of a culturally pluralist state held together as a successful democracy for more than sixty years now. India as a single entity was a very fancy idea which was somehow successfully achieved integrating more than 500 princely states - diverse on all possible parameters. Many intellectuals predicted doom, Selig Harrison for example wrote in his 1960 book India: The Most Dangerous Decade, “the risk of India being split up into a number of totalitarian small nationalities”. But India survived (with many a hiccups though). Of course, the ground realities are different but the point is, it is not impossible.

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Might be continued ...

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