The outgoing President of India, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, has been the first citizen with a difference in many ways. Due to his non-political, non-aligned attitude and being somebody from science & technology background, he was always keen on adopting workable technical, political governance models from all around the world for the benefit of the resurgent India. Some of his dreams included the national river-linking project, two-party political model in India and Asia adopting the European Union model. In the past, several intellectuals around the world have debated over the issue of EU model adoption in the Asian context. In this article, let us analyze how EU was evolved and the preparedness of Asia to adopt such a setup.
History of European Union
The present economic-political setup called the European Union, is the culmination of half a century long planning and consolidation of several trade agreements, treaties and alliances initiated by some of the greatest politicians and visionaries in modern Europe. The call for a ‘United States of Europe‘ was arised due to the huge loss of human resource and money during the World War II, that shook many of the European countries badly. However, due to the differences in cultures, medium of communication, differences in economic status and various alliances during the war, it was not possible for all front
runner countries to come together and arrive at common agreements easily. It took almost 40 years to consolidate European Economic Community, European Community, Euratom etc into one single strong community that promoted free trading and boasted the unity of a federal country that has its own currency, president, flag, national anthem and official languages. As a result the countries that fought each other few decades back became strategic trade partners in the new setup that stood for the common cause of strong economic development.
How EU was possible?
Europe had several political, cultural and geographical advantages that made EU practically possible. First of all, most of the countries that were to be part of European Union already had reasonably stabilized economies and living standards. The disparity between member countries were not too obvious which allowed them to take a leap together for faster economic growth.
Secondly, most of the Europe has similar culture when it comes to religious practices etc. Christianity is more or less the only religion there – with one or two countries as exceptions – and hence practically the religion related issues across the board and within the boundaries are minimal (One may remember that, religion has been the single most catastrophic cause behind almost all troubles that human beings are facing in the earth right now).
The third biggest advantage for the Europe was the geographic similarities such as climate and terrain across almost all nations. Also land transportation across national boundaries was so easily possible with well-connected road and rail (Eurorail) networks.
Is Asia ready for similar model?
Coming back to the original topic, let me analyze the key issues that Asia is facing right now due to which an Asian Union is far away from realization.
Most of the Asian countries were colonies of European nations midway thorough the 20th century. Many of these countries were looted and were destabilized due to the divide-and-conquer policies of the smarter aliens. Due to the same reasons, with one or two exceptions, none of them really scaled up economically even after 30 or 40 years of achieving their freedom. To make things worse, cultural and religious priorities were took prominence over economical independence.
Asia hosts the largest number of religions and caste system among its countries. There are countries that call themselves as Islamic nations, Hindustans (Hindu prominent nations), Buddhist prominent provinces and Christian countries. There are a lot more religions that play the second roles in each of these countries. Due to these huge cultural differences within the country as well as across the border, maintaining common rules, regulations and peace is relatively a costly affair. To make things worse, reservation systems, separatist movements and terrorism plays its bad roles – that mainly sprouted out of inequality.
Two of the most populous countries are from Asia (To be precise six of the ten most populous nations are in Asia). The challenges thrown up by almost half the population of the world is far from manageable for India and China. Case is not different with other big countries such as Indonesia and Pakistan. Population explosion has put additional burden on the planning process of these nations, that otherwise are doing extremely good with respect to agricultural production, manufacturing and educational/health reforms.
The Asian terrain is not exactly the best suited for land or sea transportation. Historically we did not have great relationships with our neighbouring countries that road and rail networks building was never given the due priority. Even the sea transportation is not at its best here. However, this is a minor point compared to others and can be worked upon if required.
Unions for different causes
There are several treaties and unions such as ASEAN, SAARC, OPEC etc in the region that stands for cooperation among selected set of countries that are ‘united’ (if you can say so) for a common cause. However, none of them are really pushing towards achieving that accelerated growth and helping each other to solve similar issues.
What’re the possible models?
I strongly believe that a single Asian Union can never become a reality in the near future. However, what can work is two or three unions that are geographically, economically and culturally similar. For example, a West-Asian union and East-Asian union are very much possible. The west Asian countries are mostly oil producing nations that are also culturally similar Islamic nations. It may be good to have a trade union among them that stands for more than oil. Similarly an East or South-East Asian Union between countries like Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, China, South Korea etc would definitely make Asia a strong player such as European Union. However, what is not practically workable at the moment is any association between the spin-offs from old USSR and its neighbouring nations. The case is not different with South Asian (SAARC) countries – there never seems to be any smooth relationship between these nations.
So dearest Kalam, your dream – of uniting Asia for free trading and economic growth – has to wait for a decade or two before it can become a reality. Hopefully by then anti-social activities such as terrorism will come down, huge disparities will cease to exist, economies will surge ahead, and public health/education systems get better throughout Asia.