When I say I admire Europe, I am not referring to the natural beauty it has on offer, right from the fjords in Norway to the Alps straddling Switzerland. Nor am I talking about the excellent civic infrastructure it has built up, backed by a deeply ingrained civic sense amongst a vast majority of its inhabitants.
I believe that Europe happens to be a great crucible of experimentation in the area of global governance, already practicing models which are likely to shape up the way humanity would control its global affairs in the times to come. Also, over the past few centuries, it has played a crucial role in a renaissance of sorts in the field of science and technology. It has done so by assimilating, enriching and disseminating major breakthroughs in science, making it accessible to the whole of humanity.
The European Union
The EU is an interesting organization. Of its 27 members, 22 have abolished passport controls under the Schengen pact. Only 17 share a common currency. They have a common market and work towards free movement of goods, services, capital and people and a common security policy. People cross over to Germany, splurge on goods there, claim a refund of excess VAT paid and drive back into Switzerland. There are a plethora of bureaucratic bodies which govern various aspects of a citizen’s life, while maintaining a distinct regional identity of their own. The continent also has nation-states like Luxemburg and Vatican City.
Recently, EU won the Nobel Peace Prize, indicating the potential an association of diverse nations has. Asia is already taking some baby steps towards aggregation, and one hopes a similar arrangement would pave the way for cessation of hostilities and for disabling the man-made borders in not so distant a future.
A Living Laboratory of the World
The future is the model of transnational cooperation that EU represents. Globalization is a process that enhances interdependence across the world. For such interdependence to produce in welfare but not chaos and frustration, the world needs governance structures that mediate this interdependence. As to how, guidance comes from EU’s myriad bureaucracies, apart from accepted transnational bodies such as the UN, the IMF and the WTO. Then we have the WEF, contributing to the thought processes aimed at improving governance globally.
In fact, scientists and thinkers in Europe borrowed key concepts from other civilizations of yore, built upon the same, and refined the way we look at the universe today.
The mathematical foundation of Western science is a gift from the Indians, Chinese, Arabs, Babylonians and the Mayans. Planetary astronomy also began with the Indians, developed further by the Chinese. Arabs built the first observatories. Five thousand years ago, the Sumerians said the earth was circular. In the sixth century, a Hindu astronomer established the reasons for the rising and setting of the sun.
Chinese alchemists realized that most physical substances were merely combinations of other substances, which could be mixed in different proportions. Islamic scholars are legendary for translating scientific texts of many languages into Arabic. Iron suspension bridges came from Kashmir, paper making from China, Tibet, India and Baghdad and printing from India, the Quechan Indians of Peru were the first to vulcanize rubber; Andean farmers were the first to freeze-dry potatoes.
European explorers depended heavily on Indian and Filipino shipbuilders, and collected sea-charts from Javanese and Arab merchants. The Mayans invented zero about the same time as the Indians, and practised a math and astronomy far beyond that of medieval Europe. Native Americans built pyramids and other structures which were larger than anything then in Europe.
Preserving and Propagating Knowledge
Europe has had a successful brush with Renaissance, which also covered the entire gamut of art and culture. State of art centers of learning came up, accompanied by libraries and research outfits. CERN is the latest feather in its cap. Above all, a patent regime got introduced. As someone who has dealt with intellectual property registrations the world over, in Europe I invariably dealt with a robust system of trademark laws. Most other countries have designed their own patent regimes based on the European system. This made our technical and scientific advances publically available, thereby ensuring that knowledge was not lost to humanity for posterity, like it happened in India where it got confined to limited circles.
Mighty Challenges Ahead
It would be naïve to believe that all is hunky-dory on the European front. Protectionism appears to be on the upswing. Whether it is immigration, transnational trade or environment, contentious issues are getting addressed only with restrictive policies. In quite a few countries – like in Greece, Italy, France, Spain, Austria and Denmark – right-wing sentiments appear to be on the rise. There is a clear tendency to discourage immigration, thereby accusing ‘outsiders’ of pinching jobs and being a ‘drain’ on the resources. UK is already at loggerheads with Romania and Bulgaria, and the issue may well land up at the doorstep of the European Commission.
The Euro’s roller coaster ride is another area of concern. Experts point out that for its long-term survival, a fiscal and banking union would be essential. However, without a more effective political union, this would not be possible. There could be two scenarios resulting into a heightened state of political engagement in the continent – either a visionary leadership with a statesman-like approach to problem solving, or a super-ordinate threat of some kind. As a well-wisher, one would like only the former possibility to fructify!
Real globalization lies in an interdependence which leads to a fundamental shift in our attitude towards fellow inhabitants of Mother Earth, recognizing each other’s equitable rights to the limited resources available to aggregate humanity. An equitable distribution also makes eminent economic sense, and that is what gives one hope of a truly globalized world order coming about sometime in the future.
In the immediate future, Scotland could soon be negotiating subsidiarity directly with the EU. So could Sindh and Chittagong in a South Asian confederation. By living out the pains of experimenting with transnational coordination, the EU leads the humanity’s quest for an effective governance of globalization.