EU advice for nations with big visions

A leader of the European Union reflects on the need for values as other parts of the world try to link up Asia into EU-style unions.

Reuters
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker addresses the European Parliament during a debate on The State of the European Union in Strasbourg, France, Sept.13.

A good reason to watch the struggles of the European Union is that much of the world is trying to imitate its successes. How has the EU been able to link half a billion people across more than two dozen countries for so long? In a Sept. 13 speech, Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, gave the simplest answer yet: “Our values are our compass.”

By values, he meant only a few: freedom, rule of law, and equality, as opposed to oppression, personal rule, and what he called second-class citizenship. The EU was set up in postwar Europe to prevent a recurrence of such practices. Now its purpose is less defensive and more demonstrative.

“For me, Europe is more than just a single market. More than money, more than the euro. It was always about values.” Mr. Juncker said in a State of the Union speech.

Over the past decade, the EU has had to keep falling back on its ideals to survive economic and political storms, such as Greece’s ruinous debt, a refugee influx, and Poland’s attack on its independent judiciary. The latest is Britain’s planned exit by 2019. The loss of the continent’s second-largest economy may actually help the EU. More than 80 percent of a shrunken EU will be using the euro as a common currency, allowing for easier integration and trust-building. “Europe was not made to stand still. It must never do so,” Juncker said.

The EU, he might have said, is a giant geopolitical experiment in creating linkages across diverse countries. At first, the EU may have bonded in trade and hard infrastructure. But it has really endured difficult times by practicing the “soft power” of unifying principles. This lesson is now more relevant than ever as a number of powerful nations are competing with visions to connect the Eurasian landmass.

The most ambitious plan is China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which aims to build a “silk road” for the 21st century, both on land and sea. Russia has launched its own infrastructure vision through the Eurasian Economic Union. Turkey has its Vision 2023 plan to link its economy with railroads across Central Asia. Japan is using its technological expertise to create land and maritime corridors across Asia. Iran, South Korea, and the 10 nations of Southeast Asia have similar visions of being the centers of interconnecting transport and other economic activity.

What may be missing in these transborder plans are the binding values that go beyond material interests and institutional power. The EU has learned by hard experience that its “soft” ideals provide the links that endure the occasional frictions between nations. That is why a speech by a well-seasoned EU leader like Juncker comes with lessons for much of the world.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to EU advice for nations with big visions
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/the-monitors-view/2017/0914/EU-advice-for-nations-with-big-visions
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe