Now that extreme right parties are gaining in popularity, the very future of a closely integrated EU is at stake. Will each country go its way as Britain is doing, free from the larger bloc?
“Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again. And then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again.”
— Caliban in Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’
The European Union (EU) celebrated on 25th March sixty years of its founding by six of its current members – Italy, France, Western Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg – in Rome. It was a sort of willingness to relinquish separate national identities, a progressive relinquishment towards the ultimate goal of “an ever closer union”. This was a remarkable decision. Nation states in Europe had been warring against each other for centuries over disputed territories, ethnic differences or, more commonly, in the quest of expanding political dominion.
The Treaty of Westphalia, 1648, appeased such aggressions for a while, by laying down strict boundaries to respect for each acknowledged nation-state. But the First World War (1914 -1918) and the Second World War (1939-1944) disrupted the relative calm which appeared to have set in. There’s no need to elaborate on the disaster that these wars wrought on a Europe that had grown richer in the meantime thanks to colonising of remote places in Africa, Asia and America.
For holding together without another war during the 60 years since the basis of a European Union was first laid down, the Nobel Committee awarded a Peace Prize to the EU in 2012. Closer European integration has brought freedom of movement of people in the Schengen area; it has created a single market for goods and services; from the original six members in the EEC, European membership went on enlarging to accommodate up to 28 un-federated states at different levels of development, soon to become 27 after Britain makes its exit from the Union. There is a European Parliament, a European Commission, a single currency, the euro, a banking union, a central bank, the ECB. A European Court of Justice has also been established.
Despite the relative prosperity of the EU bloc, serious divergences have surfaced up due to the perception that little attention has been given by the central authority in Brussels to the negative impact of EU’s policies on the lives of the EU’s most affected populations. There’s the perception of a multi-speed EU with countries at different levels of development, pressed down by a heavy-handed bureaucracy from Brussels, detached from ground realities in individual countries.
All this creates uncertainty. Now that extreme right parties are gaining in popularity, the very future of a closely integrated EU is at stake. Will each country go its way as Britain is doing, free from the larger bloc? Or will the EU be able to hold together despite the fissiparous tendency threatening to spread out to other members?
The 60th anniversary of the foundation of the EU is being celebrated in the midst of an absence of clear outlook on its future. Optimists say that the EU has overcome previous such crises and that it should be able to ride over the present one as well. Time will tell. Our intimate wish should be that the EU, our principal export market, should hold together after making needful compromises and defining more clearly its social togetherness for a better balanced good of all.
The experience of Mauritius
Independent Mauritius will be celebrating 50 years next year. Yet, in the elections before the birth of the nation in 1967, 10 years after the foundation of the European Union by the Treaty of Rome, there were dire forebodings that we might not be able to hold together. The reason for the then prevailing pessimism about the future of Mauritius was a potential clash among the diverse communities living in the country.
There were a few private brawls afterwards which took on communal colours here and there but they proved to be passing events which did not prevent us from consolidating our togetherness. We did not, like certain other newly independent countries, prioritize the economics over the social-politics. We persevered however giving an overall sense of justice and fairness towards all. This has possibly kept us from having to perpetually struggle against centrifugal forces.
However rough-hewn our life may be, we have, like Caliban quoted above (the Man Friday from the wilderness) dreamt of improving the conditions in which we live, daydreaming, like him, sometimes that “the clouds would open and show riches ready to drop upon us”. We haven’t always got it as easy as to remain ever in a blissful dream-state, like him. But we have managed to maintain a joie-de-vivre which many people don’t recognize readily.
Sailing through very tough times on occasion, we’ve yet not turned against each other, accusing the “other” one of being responsible for what ailed us on one occasion or other. We’ve tolerated differences. With our meagre resources, we’ve transformed the country into something better over past decades. Despite the odds, we’ve pursued a relentless effort to overcome obstacles standing in our way, hoping to head for a richer togetherness tomorrow, to which everyone contributes according to his manner and his means.
The overall canvas didn’t get torn apart. We always managed to skirt far past the breaking point. Differences are reasonably reconciled, to everybody’s satisfaction, or nearly so. We haven’t seen a decline of living standards and little new prospects for the future as it has happened to the Europeans since the crisis of 2007-08. By contrast, there have been periods of prolonged economic austerity in Mauritius. We’ve put up with them stoically in the hope brighter prospects will dawn up soon enough. Never by parting company from those who have been by our side, in good times or not so good.
Being caught up in the global race, Mauritius cannot, like Caliban in ‘The Tempest’, passively solicit dreams of a calm repose to keep recurring. But, surely, we must struggle together against unfavourable headwinds with that spirit of solidarity, few speak about, that has kept us afloat against all the odds. And keep our dreams of a better future alive by dint of unceasing effort.