Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Concept of Europe is still relevant today

Jean Monnet, the Father of Europe
Yesterday, the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Price for 2012. 
It is a well-deserved award for a concept which one day, one hopes, willl be emulated in South Asia.
A communique from Oslo stated:
The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2012 is to be awarded to the European Union (EU). The union and its forerunners have for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe.
In the inter-war years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee made several awards to persons who were seeking reconciliation between Germany and France. Since 1945, that reconciliation has become a reality. The dreadful suffering in World War II demonstrated the need for a new Europe. Over a seventy-year period, Germany and France had fought three wars. Today war between Germany and France is unthinkable. This shows how, through well-aimed efforts and by building up mutual confidence, historical enemies can become close partners.
In the 1980s, Greece, Spain and Portugal joined the EU. The introduction of democracy was a condition for their membership. The fall of the Berlin Wall made EU membership possible for several Central and Eastern European countries, thereby opening a new era in European history. The division between East and West has to a large extent been brought to an end; democracy has been strengthened; many ethnically-based national conflicts have been settled.
The admission of Croatia as a member next year, the opening of membership negotiations with Montenegro, and the granting of candidate status to Serbia all strengthen the process of reconciliation in the Balkans. In the past decade, the possibility of EU membership for Turkey has also advanced democracy and human rights in that country.
The EU is currently undergoing grave economic difficulties and considerable social unrest. The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes to focus on what it sees as the EU's most important result: the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights. The stabilizing part played by the EU has helped to transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace.
The work of the EU represents "fraternity between nations", and amounts to a form of the "peace congresses" to which Alfred Nobel refers as criteria for the Peace Prize in his 1895 will.
Five years ago, I wrote this article about Jean Monnet and the relevance of the European Union. It is all the more relevant as the Union is today facing a serious economic crisis.

Is the Europe relevant?
Towards Unity
March 2007
2007 is a year of celebrations; not only for India, but for Asia and Europe as well. In August, India will commemorate the 60th Anniversary of her Independence from the British. This week, while Europe observes the 50 years of the Treaty of Rome, Asia remembers that 60 years ago, the first Asian Relations Conference was organised by the Indian Council of World Affairs in Delhi.
Year 1947 saw a new birth for India, “when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance” as Nehru put it.
Probably because the soul of the Indian nation had suffered so much during two centuries of colonisation, the first Indian Prime Minister thought that India should take the lead to unite Asia. Thus was born the concept of a pan-Asian Conference. In 1946, Nehru had already written to Gandhi: “Almost every country of Asia from the west to the east and south, including the Arab countries, Tibet, Mongolia and the countries of South-East Asia as well as the Asian Republics of the Soviet Union, will be represented by leading men. That is going to be a unique event in history.”
Ten years later, six European States (France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) decided to focus their energies on integration and union. Europe was born on 25 March 1957, when the Treaty of Rome was signed in the Italian capital. The main object of the Treaty was set up a customs union and a common market between the Member States.
Is it possible to make a comparison between these two attempts at greater unity and cooperation between neighbouring States?
The situation in each continent was similar for one thing: both had suffered a great deal, Asia under the colonial powers and Europe for five years of a ghastly war.
At the end of World War II, Europe was going through one of the most traumatic periods of its history; paradoxically this helped create the ‘circumstances’ under which a successful partnership could take shape.
The urge for closer cooperation often arises from the difficult times a nation or a continent has to go through. Unfortunately, the comparison stops here.
For India and Asia, the Asian Relations Conference was a continuation of their freedom struggle. An official document states that one of the purposes of the event was: “How to terminate foreign dominion, direct or indirect, and to achieve freedom to direct their affairs in accordance with the will of the people concerned.”
The motives of those who built Europe were different. Jean Monnet, the father of Europe and his German colleagues believed that to avoid a new conflict, the surest way was to unite on the very same materials which had previously divided the nations. Immediately after the war, Monnet took the initiative: “Coal and steel were at once the key to economic power and the raw materials for forging weapons of war… To pool them across frontiers would reduce their malign prestige and turn them instead into a guarantee of peace.” That was it.
As both Germany and France had to rebuild their industries; the proposal was to create a supranational High Authority which could manage the resources in coal and steel for both nations. This was the birth of the European Coal and Steel Community. A treaty was signed in Paris in 1951 establishing the embryo of the European Community.
A close partnership between the enemies of yesterday was set in motion, though (or because) no ‘ideology’ was involved. Probably due to the fact that the ‘trigger’ was very practical (even if de Gaulle made fun of the ‘mish-mash of steel and coal’), Germany and France were able to collaborate and work together.
But let us come to back to the Asian Relations Conference.
The plenary session of the Conference was held in Purana Qila on March 23, 1947. The leaders of each of the thirty-two delegations were sitting on the dais behind a plate with their name and their flag. Even Tibet, then  independent had its own flag with the snow-covered mountains and the two snow lions representing the dual powers of the Dalai Lama.
In his opening speech, Nehru spoke about peace which “can only come when nations are free and also when human beings everywhere have freedom and security and opportunity.”
After the inaugural session, the participants were divided into small groups to discuss various subjects. The proceedings lasted till April 2 when Gandhi delivered the valedictory address: “I want you to understand if you can, that the message of the East, the message of Asia, is not to be learnt through European spectacles, through the Western spectacles, not by imitating the tinsel of the West, the gun-powder of the West, the atom bomb of the West. If you want to give a message again to the West, it must be a message of Love; it must be a message of 'Truth'.”
Here lies the difference of approach between the two continents. While the Europeans were not bothered about philosophy and ideas, the Indian leaders thought that they could build the future of Asia with beautiful concepts.
Tragically hardly 5 months after this first attempt at uniting Asia, the subcontinent was itself partitioned.
On the momentous day of August 15, 1947, Sri Aurobindo the great nationalist leader and yogi who had initiated the purna swaraj campaign in the first years of the 20th century, wrote: “India is free but she has not achieved unity, only a fissured and broken freedom...”
Today the tragedy of the partition is still ever-present in the subcontinent. Whatever other progress India has made in the fields of economy, development or education, this milestone remains heavy around the subcontinent’s neck.
By the end of 1947, the circulation of people and ideas between South Asian nations and particularly India and Pakistan had stopped while at the same time, former enemies in Europe had no problem to travel from one country to another. Sadly, sixty years later, the situation has not significantly improved in the subcontinent.
Gandhi’s words at the Asian Relations Conference seem far away today, though the SAARC has been a timid attempt at cooperation. But once again, it is based on ideals and principles and not on concrete needs. At that time, as Monnet had prophesied, Europe would be built “through concrete realisations, creating at first a de facto solidarity… it is essential to develop habits of cooperation among nations which had so far only known relationships based on power.’’ These habits do not exist in South Asia.
Another big difference: the European experiment had the full support of its allies, particularly the United States. This is a crucial point as the subcontinent never had this good fortune. At the time of the creation of
the Common Market, the US patronage certainly made the difference for Europe. In the case of South Asia, the role of the Western powers was more ambivalent to say the least.
At a Seminar recently organized in Delhi, a participant said that Europe was a ‘boring’ entity, I even heard that she was not ‘sexy’ anymore; it might be true, but the fact remains that the united approach of 27 nations in certain fields such environment makes the European experiment worthwhile. Whether it is due to wisdom or necessity, the spirit of ‘sharing’ common responsibilities initiated by the founding fathers 50 years ago when six European nations agreed to have a Common Market, is still alive.
In the subcontinent, unless the ‘original sin’ of the partition is, in one way or another, made irrelevant, ‘composite dialogue’ will not lead very far.
The fact that the SAFTA is a non-starter is there to remind us that the journey will be long and arduous.

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