Monday, February 06, 2006

St. Gallen Symposium

Yes, this actually refers to the St Gallen in my description of the blog above. The following was my essay contribution for the symposium. I plead with my readers to understand that due to an Aristotlean confluance of events, I wrote this under rather severe time constrains. Not to mention a word limit of 2,100.

Europe: Example for Post-Modern Hegemony

Europe and the European Union (EU) are not the problem but the solution. The inherent tensions and conflicts between the various state and non-state actors provide a navigational map for those who would brave as bold a political experiment as the EU. And ultimately, these problems will form the basis for consensus and reform. And the promise of reform seems imminent.

The author submits that the individual “post-modern states” that make up the EU have, through the interactions of its state and non-state actors, set up the basis of a new paradigm, that of the post-modern hegemony. That this hegemony must been seen in the light of past ‘great empires’ and the (peaceable) ‘neo-imperialism’ of the United States of America (USA), where it borrows positive aspects of these systems while avoiding much of their pitfalls. Furthermore, that this form of hegemony promises to be a much better and viable alternative to the rise of other possible hegemons.

The actors in the EU are numerous but can be generally divided into state actors and non-state actors. Under state actors, we have supra-national agencies, individual states, independent organisations and various contesting political parties. Non state actors include Inter-Governmental Organisations (IGOs), Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and the ever-growing Multi National Corporations (MNCs).

Given these disparate actors with their attendant often conflicting and contradictory interest have generally given a tremendous dynamism to the system. Their conflict and resolution (whether through compromise or overwhelming power of whatever form) have created a fascinating equilibrium that is marked by flexibility within order. The relative inertia of the past 4 years must be put in its proper context and in the light of the EU's unique and historical achievements. For given the acrimonious history that is Europe, where places still bear the scars of two World Wars, it is nothing short of incredible to see the tremendous progress that the Union has made in resolving the conflict between historic enemies. Where bitter rivals once stared at each other across the borders, they now sit at the same table. Where conflicts were once resolved by force, there is now the common determination to work things by consensus and diplomacy.

But more than that, we enter a tipping point for Europe. We see a system that is not inert but is in transition. It nevertheless is an ordered one that promises to revitalize Europe and harkens back to the optimism and energy of the European Spirit at the turn of the century.

The state actors might seem stuck in a political quagmire coming on the heels of failed referendums in two of its founding and heavily pro-European members. And this may seem particularly so given that the ‘No’ vote encapsulated diametrically opposed viewpoints e.g. being too economically liberal or socialist. However, arguably, all this really means is a greater need to sell the message.

Even if we do not accept this argument, the fact has to be accepted that it generated debate and that the discourse enunciated the fears, ideals and desires of the people of Europe. And this debate at the very least provides a roadmap to how the EU should develop. The legitimacy of the Union must necessarily ultimately derive from the people. And this desire for greater communication and accountability can only be good in the long run and this has to be the path the EU must take.

But the reality on the ground points to a much happier and less dire situation that may have been presented above. There is a new spirit of cooperation in the air. So where one might have expected the recent budgetary talks to start and end in tears, acrimony and recrimination; British PM Blair and French President Jacque Chirac were able to end their impasse with the aid of new German Chancellor Angela Merkel. And this is despite her torrid electoral situation in Germany.

This cooperation is not just confined to economics but includes the political as well. The Union may have been strained by their divergent positions in the most recent Iraqi war. But while that arguably had as much to do with domestic political opportunism as principled ideals, nevertheless, the EU-3 (U.K., Germany and France) recent ongoing cooperation with regards to the Iranian nuclear problem marks such resurgence.

However, this notion of 'an ever closer union' has had its hiccups recently. Firstly, new member nations are subject to migration restrictions, and secondly, the referendum failed in part due to fears of being swamped by new poorer members. These point to a disturbing possibility (or even probability) of either a freeze in expansion (thereby going against the promises made to the prospective entrants, or alternatively, forcing more stringent and onerous restrictions on new members. Europe has to be more than that. It was and should be better than that.

Even if we were to disregard the role of the state-actors, the non-state actors have made tremendous strides perhaps even in spite of the actions of the state-actors. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the so-called European model is the reinvention of the private-public partnership. While the common perspective is that of the moribund German Business-Labour partnership, the fact is that it has already developed a separate, more fulfilling tangential path. We have seen the rise of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to the mutual cooption and cooperation by Civil Society and Corporations e.g. research and funding of orphan drugs. As such one can say that the Lisbon Declaration of 2000 has indeed been sustained and improved upon these six years.

We too see the synergy from the interaction between the state and non-state actors. The debate between the so-called Anglo-Saxon model versus the European one will result in the creation of a new and better social contract, one which has the dynamism and freedom of capitalism while being socialised by the influence of civil society. So just as Europe recognises the need to compete, they would not abandon the needy to their fate, nor allow inequity to exist due to lack of opportunity. In other words, if capitalism with a human face were to succeed anywhere in the world, it would have to be within the EU.

In short, the EU while under performing, nevertheless has the capacity to not only step into the US's shoes but to actually be a greater force for good than the US could ever be. By Paul Kennedy's thesis in "The Rise and Fall of Great Empires", it is inevitable that the hegemon of every age will be supplanted as its position in the world is eroded in relative terms. As things stand, the USA's hegemonic position is diminishing vis a vis the rise of China and India. However, unless there is fundamental change in the domestic and foreign policies of both nations, it would be actually be a deterioration of status quo. China because of its political system placing the supremacy of territorial integrity to the extent it would go to war. India because of Pakistan and Kashmir.

As things stand, the Euro could fulfill the financial position that the Dollar provides. London and Brussels are already competitors to New York. Even with the German-French economic engines being somewhat out of commission, it still ranks as one of the top economies of the world.

Where the EU has a distinct advantage over the USA is most evident in the areas of what Joseph S. Nye termed 'soft power', getting people to want the same things you do, so changes you desire occur without the need for hard power and the acrimony that often entails. The EU does not face the same anti-USA sentiment that the USA faces. It is not instinctually associated and 'tarred' with the ills of globalisation. Ironically, it has even less historical baggage than the US has in many places around the world despite its colonial past.

But what the EU possesses now in particular that the USA has seemingly lost is that abstract notion of moral authority. The EU has moved past the Iraqi war and it has not had the scandals that plague the USA through the abuses in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Grahib, or those of 'extraordinary rendition'.

Furthermore, the EU’s experience would be invaluable in demonstrating how it is possible to run an organization made up of disparate actors and interests. This also has the benefit of granting it a special sensitivity when dealing with and within such organisations. The problems of the 21st Century are going to be transnational and even global in nature. One can no longer really go at it alone or even with a small coalition for the willing. For it has a greater tendency to be simply fire fighting.

Even its ostensible lack of the capacity to project a military force or presence is not as severe a problem as it may seem. Firstly, the EU has a military force more than suitable for the problem it is likely to face in the near future. Secondly, NATO buttresses their military capacity. Thirdly, it easily has the capacity to step up their military spending. Fourthly and most fundamentally, an EU led world would be less likely to require a military solution.

And historically, one can see the important role that the EU has played in maintaining the stability of the regions it neighbours i.e. Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the dissolution of USSR in 1991, there was a very tangible fear that the individual states, thrown literally into the wild, would end up as failed states not unlike the Balkans. The role that the EU played in ensuring that this did not occur cannot be understated. What it did was to act as a stabilising influence in two ways. Firstly, just by being there, it acted as a bulwark against a descent into Balkanisation. Secondly but more importantly it was willing to admit them into the EU. This incentive proved more than sufficient for them to implement the institutional and political reforms required by the Copenhagen Criteria that firmly establishes democracy in those regions.

A similar situation is playing out with regards to the perennial Israeli-Palestinian problem. With Hamas winning an electoral majority in the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the associated problem this poses, the EU is in a tremendously and remarkably influential position to navigate this treacherous political grounds. Not only is it one of the largest funders of the PA, but it’s relatively neutral stand in the Middle East wins it more friends and less hostility than the USA (‘too’ pro-Israel), China (no real historical ties only commercial and energy ones) or Russia (‘too’ pro-Arab) could. And being in their immediate vicinity, there is huge self-interest for the EU to intervene and mediate.

At the same time, their influence also extends to being trendsetters in furthering Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. By establishing the EU Declaration of Civil and Political Liberties in all its member states, pushing for and creating the International Criminal Court and being a tireless advocate for such rights, the European Union in a manner of speaking has become more than a geographical expression. It has established itself as a beacon and bastion of Democracy, cooperation and amity.

What we also see perhaps is the birth of a new identity, the European that transcends the narrow petty concerns of race, religion, creed, language, geography and sexuality. Instead it envelops them and channels them towards a higher united force and promises a solution to the problem of social integration in the long run.

But what really makes the EU a true experiment in Freedom is the following. It establishes a new social contract not just between the people and the government but between governments, such that sovereign nations have actually given up some of their powers in order that their citizens can enjoy more rights. Most telling is the freedom of movement and its associated rights, where we have members of the Union traveling freely between member nations and enjoying not just the right to work but also the right to vote where they reside.

Closer to home, that this ‘ever closer union’ sprang forth from humble economic cooperative beginnings to the notion of gives great hope that the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Constitution can work and that one day we will be more than simply the sum of our parts.



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