EU squirms under French ?non?, Dutch ?nee?
By Sandhya Jain
After France, the Netherlands, and certainly Great Britain. Europe now seems set to vote with her feet against the European Union, sacrificing continental fraternity for a more familial national unity. Liberty, the clarion cry of the French Revolution, returned to the centrestage to rescue her children from a stifling economic inequality that would have been their lot had they cast their bread upon European waters. Anxious and aware, France preferred the death of the European Union to the loss of national liberty and economic sovereignty.
The French vote is significant because it signals an end to the jargon of post-nationalism, borderless nationalism, internationalism, etc., that became fashionable after the end of the Second World War, when nationalism in Europe lost legitimacy owing to two fratricidal World Wars in the space of barely three decades. It was a classic case of missing the wood for the trees, because the continent'sbloody contests were spurred by colonialism?the race for colonies in Africa, Asia, and America?rather than nationalism.
Nationalism is simply the loyalty of citizens towards the nation, historically the creation of a more or less homogenous group of people living in a particular territory over a period of time. The idea of the State, whether modern or pre-modern, was rooted in the collective welfare of its people, and though there have always been privileged classes in all societies, the State as an entity functioned for the common good. It commanded fierce loyalty precisely because all members believed they had a stake in it.
Post-nationalism denigrated honest patriotism and privileged ?rational? economic aspirations at the cost of the individual, the family, and the society. It appeared successful because it was driven vigorously by powerful economic and political interests in the First World; because its early successes produced the seemingly eternal welfare State and the unemployment dole; and above all, because its victims were external to its national boundaries and hence, invisible.
A reassertion of sovereignty and nationalism that may weaken EU.
Those of us who were students in the 1960s and 1970s may recall how the Third World countries routinely described the economic policies peddled by the World Bank as neo-imperialism because they promoted national indebtedness and perpetuated the old cycle of former colonies selling raw materials and buying industrial products and obsolete technologies. A few countries managed to modernise on their own terms and break this vicious cycle.
Today, the profit-mad culture of the First World ? far from raising the prosperity of its own people as in the colonial and early post-colonial era?has started devouring its own children, taking away jobs and bread from the mouths of thousands upon thousands of families in the hunt for cheap labour abroad. It is capitalism run riot, and it was waiting for correctives to be applied. As ever, France has led the way: for, the business of business is to generate wealth and employment and avoid loss; it is NOT to make profits without proportion and at the cost of everything else.
It is a very Hindu lesson: artha, kama, dharma, moksha. The pursuit of wealth is a duty because it enables the righteous enjoyment of material, cultural and spiritual well-being. This means that it is the means to an end, and not an end in itself. As the creator of wealth in society, business must have a congenial environment to operate and grow. Europe and America have erred in legitimising a promiscuous relationship between capital and politics, allowing public policy to be dominated by notions of profits and stock market ratings, at an untold cost of human mental and emotional stability.
Today, the profit-mad culture of the First World?far from raising the prosperity of its own people as in the colonial and early post-colonial era?has started devouring its own children, taking away jobs and bread.
The late Pope John Paul II warned of a moral crisis caused by a unfeeling capitalism, and now this crisis has turned political as Europeans seek accountability for the political theory of ?economics before people?. Because economics, like politics, is supposed to be for the people and not at the cost of the people.
What is the message from France and the Netherlands? In purely ?rational? economic terms, the message is simple enough: it is that there is no value addition in joining a union that enhances unemployment among native populations by exploiting ?cheaper? East European and possibly, later, also Turkish labour. That is why, a continent under pressure of rising inflation, growing unemployment, sharp cuts in the old age pension and benefits of the welfare State, and overall sluggish economic growth and budget cuts, is bristling with resentment against the political regimes perceived as responsible for this state of affairs.
Anxiety breeds insecurity, and in Europe this has taken the form of a cultural phobia against being swamped by Muslim hordes from Turkey. These have been vastly reinforced by growing Islamic fundamentalism in several countries, especially in the Netherlands after the gruesome murder of Dutch filmmaker, Theo Van Gogh.
As of now, the European Union appears to be an idea whose time never came. From an apparently rational ?free trade zone? for capital, goods and people of Europe, it became the political tool of big business and bureaucracy. Recollecting their pent-up grievances like Charles Dickens? legendary Madame Defarge, Frenchmen guillotined the Constitution! Reading the writing on the wall, Britain has wisely decided to give the EU a quiet burial. There is little point in laying manure for a garden that has withered even before it could bloom.