Nationalism and its alter ego, patriotism which have been basking in political correctness are becoming dirty words following BREXIT which was last week presented as a cautionary tale to SADC member states.
The European Union which for decades was a model of regional integration and peace is being undone by the withdrawal of a nationalistic Britain. “Is the EU, one of the most successful peace projects in history falling apart and what is its status? What lessons can Southern African Development Community draw from EU?” These are some of the questions the University of Botswana and the Delegation of the European Union to Botswana and SADC grappled with on Tuesday at a UB public lecture.
EU Ambassador to Botswana and SADC Alexander Baum outlined how 60 years ago when France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg signed the Rome Treaty that established the European Economic Community, the philosophy was that their economies should grow together in a way that it would be hard to regress back into conflict. “It was a peace project, but recent events of Britain voting to exit EU are shining the global spotlight on Europe.” Baum said it was now time to reflect on the past and use the experiences to rebuild a strong EU as the world had come to respect it. “In this reflective process it would be wise for SADC to pick up valuable lessons along the way,” he advised. Baum said one of the major challenges of EU is the nationalist tendencies that keep surfacing within its member states. “The EU is voluntary but built essentially on compromise and solidarity to enable it to function and serve its members as it should. Solidarity no longer exists in EU, nationalists governments don’t compromise nor share burdens easily and unfortunately EU governments are growing increasingly nationalist,” said Baum. He said SADC should learn from EU in its efforts towards regional integration that if member states become nationalist, their efforts will be counterproductive. “This is not to say the EU is falling apart but it should be acknowledged that its internal problems are very real.”
He said with more honest discussions and with BREXIT as an example of what can keep happening to the EU there might be a reversal in the attitudes of EU member states.
He said BREXIT is somewhat reflective of the fears that the rest of Europe has towards EU. “The younger Europeans tend to trust EU better than the older generation and that is how the BREXIT vote turned out.” He said people also voted depending on where they are on the social ladder. “Unemployed people trust the EU less, students and those that are employed seem to be more in favour of the EU.”
“The migration crisis that swept Europe recently could have been solved better if countries came together rather than try to solve it individually, this is another thing that I hope SADC followed closely as a valuable lesson to benefit the region,” said Baum. He said governments should take ownership of their decisions and in that realise that if they are to solve regional problems together, nationalism will not take them very far.