By Tulsathit Taptim
“Show me a man or a woman alone and I’ll show you a saint. Give me two and they’ll fall in love. Give me three and they’ll invent the charming thing we call ’society’. Give me four and they’ll build a pyramid. Give me five and they’ll make one an outcast.
Give me a population the size of Europe and they’ll form a political bloc, which can morph into a free-trade bloc. And in a few years some members of the bloc will vote to leave it. Everyone will insist that the evolution has nothing to do with warfare but history will be watching with growing unease.
A population the size of Europe will fight one another first, of course. The political bloc is meant to end the fighting, albeit one that involves tanks, machine guns and bombers. Every such war is exhausting after a while, so measures are introduced to support the feeling of the hours that it shall never happen again. One of the measures will call for boundaries to be lowered, for nationalism to be lessened, so that “harmony” or “togetherness” can extend beyond conventional borders.
That was how the European Union came about. A lot has been said economically and financially lately, but the EU initially was all about politics, about the need to stabilise and unite a region torn by conflicts that led to two world wars. The trade privileges among members and immigration free flows came later. Why fighting one another when we can be stronger together? Instead of having to be worried about one another, we should stick together and let somebody else worry about us.
It was a noble idea, but it wasn’t the noblest one. Somebody was always bound to be an outcast. Prejudices would finally lurk, although most of them would target outsiders. Nationalism would remain stubborn, and problems could be compounded or complicated by regionalism.
When the United Kingdom voted in a referendum to leave the EU last week, the motivation was purely economic and financial. It was obvious, though, that world leaders were aware that the issue was on the brink of turning political, and probably dangerously so. The EU may not fall apart in a day or two, but the “Brexit” has planted large seeds of doubts on the grouping’s viability.
Is something wrong somewhere in the EU? A disdained member like Greece has somehow managed to remain in the grouping whereas an important member has walked out on the bloc. A soul-searching is definitely going on, but those concerned about the future of the grouping may as well have to think beyond Europe’s existing frontiers. In other words, the whole concept of free-trade blocs may need to be rethought and revised.
Brexit is an entirely different issue, as it concerns a country big and powerful enough to impact the EU structure. But Brexit should also provide an opportunity for everyone to take a step back and review the pros and cons of trade blocs or at least see how the groupings can really be improved to avoid serious conflicts or something worse that could mock the founding purpose of the likes of EU and Asean Economic Community in the future.
What does the Brexit referendum tell us geographically? It seems people not threatened by stronger competition like the adaptable residents of London feel more at ease with staying in the EU. But there were others who thought they were taken advantage of or at least the give and take in the system were imbalanced. When even the United Kingdom, a member of the EU, felt it, imagine what outsiders must have felt about the bloc’s policies.
People talk about borders being dissolved all the time, as if new ones have not been elected. The EU’s biggest question is simple although not so easy. It has to find a way to avoid ending up like a superstore giant, which brings together a united front of great and cheap products and competitive manufacturers while leaving a few mom and pop shops to suffer.
The concept of the strong carrying the weak is noble, but it’s not the noblest if that is being done at the expense of “the other weak” outside the group. The United Kingdom may have decided that it’s through carrying the weak, but the issue represents just a fraction of the whole picture. Europe, having come together to fight the kind of biases that can turn dangerous, must not fall into the trap that can make it become its own worst enemy.