Both EU and ASEAN are the examples of regional connectivity, coexistence and the aim of a shared future. Despite the economic benefits of such platforms, SAARC and its member states are yet to accrue such benefits, owing to India’s hegemonic ambitions.
Membership of Regional Organisations: Voluntary or a Compulsion
It is universally accepted that ‘regional organizations are international organizations that offer membership to geopolitical states. These organizations encompass geopolitical entities that operationally transcend a single nation-state.’ Globally, most of the states are either associated with a regional organization or have a desire to be part of one; this need could be voluntary or a compulsion. Nevertheless, one of the motivations for the establishment of regional organizations is that they are created to enhance cooperation, and provide a congenial atmosphere to hold a political and economic dialogue, even for states who have disputes with each other and find these forums or their sideline ‘opportunities’ ideal to hold a discussion. In other words, neutral places allow leaders of states at loggerheads to have effortless meetings. For the feuding states, being part of these institutions can be termed a compulsion. These states strongly believe that conflicts or misapprehensions between neighboring countries can be resolved by these organizations to promote regional stability. Most of the regional organizations can rightly take credit to have contributed to the lessening of tensions amongst member states and therefore, supplementing foreign relations amongst members of regional organizations is also central to these organizations.
The main focus of states who voluntarily join regional organizations, is on areas that improve the lives of their people. It is because of this people-centric emphasis that regional organizations are found to be mainly involved in the economic domain. These regional arrangements are also termed a 'voluntary association of sovereign states within a certain area and have a common interest aimed at preservation and maintenance of peace.’ The compulsion component is marginal.
The European Union: Post World War II Realism
The First and Second World Wars were led by known European colonial powers; the exception was the United States, but its role was indeed crucial in turning the tide in favor of the allied forces, against the Axis Powers – Nazi Germany, Italy, and Japan. The result for the winners and the losers of the last war was the utter fatigue of the general masses; incalculable loss of human lives and near destruction of the war-affected states. Their yearning for peace and security was no surprise. Germany and France gained prominence during the last war on account of these two countries' historical enmity, going back to the time of Charlemagne, whose vast empire included most of the area of both modern-day France and Germany as well as some other parts of Europe. Germany and France also took a lion's share of the news emanating from the war fronts.
The advantage of the EU to the people as a regional organization is that 370 million European citizens work together ‘to promote economic and social progress, and peace and security in the world.’
The French initiative to the idea of setting up the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in May 1950 was visionary; a new economic and political framework to avoid future Franco-German conflicts. The ECSC Schuman-Monnet plan was a dream of France and Germany's peaceful coexistence reflecting realism. The 1951 Treaty of Paris turned the vision into ECSC, which included France, Italy, and the Benelux countries together with West Germany. A protocol was attached to the Treaty reflecting German and French leadership's desire for a conflict-free relationship. The ECSC was the springboard leading to the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC) or Common Market created in 1957 by the Treaty of Rome and signed by several West European countries. Politically, the EEC's aim was grounded in Europe’s quest to lessen tensions post-World War II. EEC progressed in 1993 to the European Union (EU). Within the EU, supranational institutions were created: The Council of the European Union, the Council of Ministers, and the European Parliament.
France-Germany Relations: Hatchet Buried
France and Germany had been adversaries since 1871 and their ‘competition’ was reflected in the near annihilation of their population. Post-Second World War, saner elements in these two countries, particularly France and the neighboring countries looked at ways to put an end to conflicts and usher an era of prosperity for the people of the war-torn states. In hindsight, steps were taken by the visionaries, especially the setting up of the European Union, and predecessor institutions in which both states were working in unison. Subsequently, these skilled statesmen were French President Charles de Gaulle and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, two of the key architects of Franco-German transformation who not only had the will, but also the political authority, charisma, and moral stature to credibly execute the break with the past and put forth a new vision and purpose for the present and the future.’ They also understood that for such a union to be successful, Germany and France would need to learn to come to terms with their past and devise a vision for a shared future. These two, once feuding states, are now seen and noticed to be coordinating so regularly and intensively at all political levels and in all areas. Post-World War generations of France and Germany have no memory of their countries going to war against each other.
Dispute Settlement Bodies: Upholding Rule of Law
Regarding disputes among member states, not only does the EU have the ability to force its member states into arbitration to resolve conflicts among member states, but the EU has also worked to actively resolve disputes and manage crises internationally. The bodies included the EU Arbitration Convention and the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The EU experts credit this regional organization for having contributed to the continent being at peace, and freedom for its citizens to live. In brief, EU ensures that issues are resolved not by threat, not by trade sanctions, but by democratic means of cooperation and consultation. Not surprisingly, the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 for its contribution to democracy, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law across the globe.
EU: Benefiting the Populace
All internal trade tariffs among EU members have been removed which continues to benefit the people of EU member states. The advantage of the EU to the people as a regional organization is that 370 million European citizens work together ‘to promote economic and social progress, and peace and security in the world.’ Towards this aim, the EU has been consistent in its efforts to ‘either remove or reduce across their four freedoms: the free movement of goods, services, capital, and people.’ As a result, the EU has created a single market reflecting a system of regulations that facilitates trade and mobility across jurisdictions between member states. EU has established stronger rules for internal openness than any other polity in history. EU’s populace-centric policies have been summed up as ‘the EU is a model of peace, democratic stability, and socioeconomic progress. It reflects accomplishments when countries put their differences behind them and work together towards the common goal of improving the lives of their people, challenges that no country can address on its own.’
The Common Agricultural Policy: Protecting Farmers
While most of the EU member states have a fairly developed industrial base, which puts them in a privileged bloc, just behind China with an industrial output of $4.184 trillion, most of the EU member states also have a strong agricultural base, on which the livelihood of a substantial number of its citizens depend. Agriculture and food-related industries and services provide over 44 million jobs in the EU, including regular work for 20 million people within the agricultural sector itself. EU is one of the world's leading producers and exporters of agricultural products. It is because agriculture plays a significant role in the lives of the people of EU member states, that the EU has a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Launched in 1962, the CAP is a partnership between agriculture and society, and between Europe and its farmers. It aims to: support farmers and improve agricultural productivity, ensure a stable supply of affordable food, and safeguard European Union farmers to make a reasonable living. The EU supports its farmers financially and encourages sustainable and eco-friendly practices, while also investing in the development of rural areas. The CAP, like all support policies, has its critics and the United States is on the top of the list. CAP has been a major stumbling block during trade negotiations between the EU and the rest of the world. The EU has reformed CAP but has ensured that it does not hurt its citizens who are connected with agriculture.
The Euro: A Quantum Jump in Common Currency
Euro was introduced by the Europan Union as its new currency on January 1, 1999, and is used by the majority of the European Union's member states and has contributed to growth, stability, and economic integration in Europe. The euro is also widely used by other states outside the EU. Before the euro, the need to exchange currencies meant extra costs, risks, and a lack of transparency in transactions between countries. Using a single currency makes doing business and investing in the euro area easier, cheaper, and less risky and also help individual consumers and businesses secure the best prices. The euro reflects the attainment of the tall vision constructed by three generations of political and economic leaders.
Bailing Out Greece: A Member State in Need
Successive governments in Greece's management of its economy in the last many years caused the country's economy to suffer; overspending of public money contributed to triggering the financial crisis. The alarm was raised in 2009 and the EU grasped the gravity of the situation reflected in Greece moving towards default on its debt. Subsequently, in three years, this crisis escalated into the potential for sovereign debt defaults from Portugal, Italy, Ireland, and Spain, but Greece was the top priority. The European Union, led by Germany and France, took the initiative to support these members. They initiated bailouts from the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund. In May 2012, the then German Chancellor Angela Merkel spearheaded a 7-point plan to create a fiscal unity parallel to the monetary union that already exists. As of January 2019, Greece has repaid 41.6 billion euros. It has scheduled debt payments beyond 2060. In hindsight, the opinions of the economists about the Greek financial predicament had been summed up as, ‘While the EU-led initiative rescued Greece from a financial crisis going worse, it was a genuine example of European solidarity for the direct benefit of its citizens and halted extreme poverty and unemployment’.
The EU's response to the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Joint Caring Effort
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the EU has been focused on: Research funding for the most promising vaccine leads, and coordinating a joint effort to secure the production and delivery of a sufficient quantity of vaccines to EU countries. The European Medicines Agency authorized five COVID-19 vaccines for use within the EU and massive vaccination across the Union. By February 2022, the EU reached a vaccination milestone: Over 80% of the EU adult population was fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The EU agreed to issue a common EU digital COVID certificate that facilitated safe and free movement during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing proof that a person had either been vaccinated against COVID-19, received a negative test result, or recovered from COVID-19. The EU and its member states are working together to reinforce national healthcare systems and contain the spread of the virus. The EU and its member countries are also taking action to mitigate the socioeconomic impact of COVID-19 and support the recovery. The development and distribution of safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19 represent a lasting solution and a cornerstone of the EU's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
EU: Pillar of Strength
The European Union ‘project’ was ambitious by any standards, but it has met the dream of its founding fathers, ensuring peace and steadying economies across the continent. Europe has been free from war since the foundation of the EU – an extraordinary accomplishment, given the history of violent conflict in the first half of the 20th century. Maintaining peace among members through economic partnership remains the EU’s primary purpose. EU’s various bodies ensure coherence and strive for unanimity, which it mostly achieves. Brexit has not dampened the EU’s forward march and one of the UK’s former Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted early this year that UK’s dismal trade performance compared with other G7 countries is likely because of Brexit. At the time of the referendum, there were concerns that Britain’s exit from the EU would lead to a mass exodus of other member-states and the eventual break-up of the Union. However, these concerns were just misapprehensions and most Europeans are convinced of the unity of the EU and have little to fear of a possible Brexit fallout.
ASEAN: The Southeast Asian Miracle
As the United States and the Soviet Union – the flagbearers of their opposing ideologies during the Cold War – had continued to confront each other at various fora, smaller states preferred to put their heads and energies into devising ways and means to form permanent forums, where they shall be able to sort out their differences and work together to improve the lives of their people. The result of their genuine ambition and dream ultimately took the shape of the EU and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Globally, no one doubts when it is stated, ‘In an era of growing cultural pessimism, many thoughtful individuals believe that different civilizations – especially Islam and the West – cannot live together in peace. The ten countries of ASEAN provide a thriving counter-example of civilizational coexistence. Here 625m people live together in peace. This miracle was delivered by ASEAN.’
ASEAN prides itself in that the norm and value of non-interference in the affairs of another country in the region is one of the fundamental and binding principles of ASEAN that strengthens the concept of comprehensive security and the ASEAN Political-Security (APSC) blueprint.
No region is free from disputes relating to the demarcation of boundaries, especially when the states have emerged from a colonial history. The to-be members of ASEAN were no exception. It was while Thailand acted as a ‘bridge’ in the reconciliation among Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia over certain territorial disputes that these four countries realized that the moment for regional cooperation had come and a regional organisation needed to be set up. Subsequently, the ASEAN was formed in 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand to promote political and economic cooperation and regional stability. Five other states in the region joined ASEAN in succession; Brunei in 1984, and Vietnam as its seventh member in 1995. Laos and Burma (Myanmar) were admitted into full membership in July 1997 as ASEAN celebrated its 30th anniversary. Cambodia became its tenth member in 1999. The bond that keeps ASEAN member states united is the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) established in 1976 and embodies universal principles of peaceful coexistence and friendly cooperation among states in Southeast Asia. It is a legally binding code for inter-state relations in the region and beyond. This treaty makes a clear statement of peaceful resolution of disputes. Prof Susumu credits the treaty as, ‘The Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia is not a treaty in ASEAN but a Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia.’
Resolving Internal Disputes: A Peaceful Coexistence
Despite minor irritants and annoyances between member states, ASEAN as a regional organisation remains robust, even though the regional organization does not have the required high standard of dispute resolution mechanism found in the EU. ASEAN prides itself in that the norm and value of non-interference in the affairs of another country in the region is one of the fundamental and binding principles of ASEAN that strengthens the concept of comprehensive security and the ASEAN Political-Security (APSC) blueprint. The decision-making process in the ASEAN is lengthy but insulates member states from conflicts. The ASEAN way is claimed to have been responsible for thwarting inter-state armed conflict for nearly half a century. An apt example is a territorial dispute involving Indonesia and Malaysia, which was resolved through a judicial decision, reflecting how the culture of ASEAN countries comes into play in resolving the dispute and implementation of a judicial decision.
ASEAN: Policies Benefiting the People
Trade: Connecting People
Since the inception of ASEAN in 1967, this regional organization can rightly claim to have implemented pro-people policies, benefiting the population of the member states, especially in the economic domain. The trade between member states has increased, which is reflected in the integration of markets, increasing competition, and opportunities for the organizations operating in these countries. Reduction or outright removal of tariffs between countries has caused a visible increase in the free trade between countries; consumers can now choose from a broader range of goods and services. Tax-free market activities among the member countries of ASEAN have visibly dented the differences and historical grudges among the people of member states; wisdom dictates the people to prioritize economic prosperity and peaceful coexistence. Led by able leadership and an equally wise public in member states has benefited ASEAN. It is now a significant trade entity, benefiting all member states, irrespective of their size and the result is that ASEAN is one of the fastest-growing regions in the world.
ASEAN and COVID-19: Joint Effort against the Pandemic
ASEAN member states, like other parts of the globe, did not escape the horrendous impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. ASEAN heads of states and governments launched the “Strengthening ASEAN’s Economic Resilience in Response to the Outbreak of the COVID-19,” which called for collective action to mitigate the impact of the virus by working with external and development partners. The result was the convening of a virtual conference organized under the ASEAN Emergency Operations Centre Network for Public Health Emergencies (ASEAN EOC Network) in which health officials of member states focused on major government policies for containment, mitigation, and recovery phases in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. Health experts also deliberated on the potential challenges and how to move on to the next phase of their response which primarily was and remains screening/testing methods, including management of asymptomatic cases, surveillance and control measures in communities, and the reopening of communities and relaxing of lockdown measures in ASEAN member states. Efforts continue to address the shortages of test kits, personal protective equipment, and vaccines through the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund. A humane, rather unique aspect of the ASEAN fight to contain the COVID-19 pandemic were the steps taken to protect everyone without discrimination, regardless of their migration status.
ASEAN: Beacon to the Globe
Southeast Asia reflects a rainbow; meeting of different cultures and civilizations. This is a pot of diversity that no other region in the world has, where millions of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus coexist in a relatively small geographical space. The founders of ASEAN were a little hesitant if asked about its future, however, ASEAN has not only survived, but succeeded in a big way. The regional organization has done enormously to improve the living conditions of a large chunk of humanity. ASEAN can be credited for having brought peace and prosperity to a troubled region, generated inter-civilizational coherence in the most diverse corner of the planet, and brought optimism to many people. Southeast Asia also provides a burst of optimism in an era of growing economic pessimism. This once-impoverished region has experienced remarkable economic growth and raised its people out of abject poverty – combined ASEAN’s GDP is now the fifth largest in the world. Conceptually, ASEAN should not have succeeded; on the contrary, it has succeeded impressively. Once a conflict-ridden and poverty-stricken region in the 1960s has been transformed into one of the most peaceful and prosperous regions. It is clear that ASEAN has delivered a true miracle; it is truly a beacon for the rest of the world.
The writer holds a Masters in Political Science (Punjab University) and Masters in Diplomatic Studies (UK). He has served in various capacities in Pakistan’s missions abroad and as an Ambassador to Vietnam and High Commissioner to Malaysia. He is on the visiting faculty of four mainstream public universities in Islamabad and Adviser to the India Centre at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad.
E-mail: [email protected]
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