Regional Integration: an opportunity to face the crises


A. GLOBAL AND HISTORICAL PREMISES OF REGIONAL COOPERATION



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A. GLOBAL AND HISTORICAL PREMISES OF REGIONAL COOPERATION
Regional integration in the context of collapsing neo-liberalism, authoritarian capitalism and the search for cultural alternatives
1. “Neoliberalism died in 2008-2009. ” Is this statement true or false?

It is true in a limited sense. The state is back in the economy. Simultaneously deregulation, privatisation and trade liberalisation are all on a hold or they are rolled back. George W. Bush goes down in the books as the greatest socialiser of banks and enterprises in world history. Market fundamentalism will not come back easily as an economic orthodoxy. So far so good.

Nevertheless, as we have seen during the past months the demise of neo-liberalism does not mean the end of capitalism nor does it automatically change the balance of power or fundamental policies. Banks are bailed out and the costs of enterprise failures are carried by tax-payers. In the EU the centralising and liberalising Lissabon treaty is back on track. In India the elections were won by a centre right still pursuing growth through exports, international competitiveness, intensified exploitation of domestic natural resources and deepened integration into global markets. Obama brings the US back on a more Keynesian track and into multilateral cooperation, but his victory was more due to the catastrophic results of Bush’s politics than of a desire for fundamental redirection of US power. Financial regulation remains weak, tax havens still work as usual and even the Tobin tax awaits its implementation. In the global arenas, at WTO, the World Bank or even in the climate negotiations positive news are yet to come. All in all, it is clear by now that radical shifts in power structures, economic distribution or national or international policies are not easily within reach.

The main lesson of the past winter is that neo-liberalism was always only a radical fashion, a tip of the iceberg. When it goes away we can see again clearly that the modern state in most countries remains committed to a development model in which a mix of capitalist, growth dependent exploitative economy and consumerist, individualistic, civilisational values remains central. The global trend in the last years and months is not that neo-liberal capitalism is replaced by socialism, a new green politics or even social liberalism but, unfortunately, by authoritarian capitalism. In fact, what we witness on all continents is a colossal lack of political and cultural creativity in the state and corporate sector. Hence, and this is my first point today, people seeking social and ecological justice need to recognise that the shift to politics for sustainable futures that the world so badly needs will not come about just because neo-liberalism goes away.

The good news is that with neo-liberalism gone, with George Bush down and out and with the states and business sector at a loss both intellectually and morally we can begin to understand our responsibility and define our tasks and challenges more clearly than has been possible during the past ten years.

Everywhere people recognise that the ruling elites are failing and at a loss. We need a new internationalism that is not founded on state to state cooperation or market integration. The regional cooperation we are looking for must protect and build upon people-to-people solidarity and conviviality. It must draw its strength from the confidence and creativity of ordinary people who are engaged in a multitude of local struggles and in a plurality of efforts towards decolonisation and civilisational renewal.


2. Too often only the global and national level are recognized as relevant political arenas. They are important, but should not make us overlook the relevance of the local and regional levels. From the perspective of radical and comprehensive democracy building from below and strengthening the disempowered is essential in all responses to the crisis. Democratising the politics and economy of globalisation is important but difficult. In global efforts large corporations and states still have a relative advantage over other actors. Hence, as long as power structure are not altered, we should not expect too much good to come out from institutions working on global regulation of e.g. finance and climate.

The experience of the past years has shown clearly the inadequacy of the current structure, instruments and policies of global financial regulation and economic development. The Bretton Woods institutions and the WTO-framwork have been insufficient or even dysfunctional for development, ecological responsibility and economic stability, especially for the global South. This much should now be uncontroversial. It remains open, however, what the implications are for the politics of global governance and the role of regional and national politics.

Regional politics needs to be recognised more than before as a relevant arena of political initiative in its own right. The regional arena is too often considered to be only complementary to nation states and global institutional arrangements and global governance. Regional cooperation in the South can provide protection from dysfunctional and failing global institutions. It can also strengthen the bargaining power of the South, especially the smaller countries of the South, in global politics. Thirdly, regional political instruments may play a huge role in achieving at the regional level governance services and functions that are not available at the global level. These can include for instance protection and support of micro and small enterprise as well as of local knowledge systems and forms or democracy, the launch of local and regional currencies with high social and ecological value, and so forth.

3. State borders are becoming more porous than before, people are meeting and mixing more than before. The future belongs, as Indian social philosoper Lohia said fifty years ago, increasingly to “the bastards.” We see every day along the Southern borders of the US and the EU that efforts to keep borders closed and nations clean lead to disaster. Regional cooperation presents major opportunities if the physical and cultural mobility of peoples in the region and between them is enhanced. The opposite politics of regional integration which allows mobility only internally and is closed to the outer world, with exceptions allowed only for selfish reasons or on market premises is a false and dangerous model.

In societies atomised socially and empoverished culturally by late capitalism and consumerism nation states are often seen as competitors. The sense of competition fosters widely felt anxiety. As we have seen in South Asia, Europe, North America and elsewhere the consequence is often un upsurge of xenophobic identity-politics, increasing militarisation and securitisation and even terror by states and non-state agencies.

Regional protection and strategic cooperation should be built with a clear commitment to global solidarity. (More on this below.)

In building regionalism for a new internationalism it is essential that we go beyond the current logic of competetive identity politics. In this a people-to-people cooperation and diplomacy, as pursued for instance in the World Social Forum and by a multitude of innovative smaller groups and movements during the past years, can play an important role. The legitimacy and need for non-state political cooperation is obvious and in regional cooperation as well tax-payers money and other public resources should not be exclusively spent on state and market driven integration.

Having said this let me stress that our efforts must complement and give life to, but not undermine the UN centred multilateral system. The G-192 that met in June 2009 for a UN General Assembly on the financial crisis and its impact on development also needs strengthening.

4. Regional cooperation in the South should not only protect the weak today. It should also lead the world out of its multiple crises on the long-term. Globally the political debates seem to be moving from a discussion of separate crises to a discussion of inter-connected crises: of the finance sector, the world economy, political governance, food, water, development and climate. I welcome the synthetic framework of this conference. I only want to add that not only are the different areas of crisis interconnected and systemic. They should all be seen as symptoms of an underlying cultural crisis; a crisis of development models and the fundamental aspirations and ideals of modernization.

My fourth suggestion is that all political reforms and initiatives now of the short and medium term should be shaped so as not to hamper but rather support a civilisational shift in which the ultimate goals and ideals of development are reconsidered. It is clear that people, states and corporations in Europe and America must be pressed to responsibility and that those of us who belong to the global North must pay for the mess we have caused during five hundred years through exploitation of other continents and mother earth. Nevertheless, for historical, cultural and social reasons the global North cannot be trusted much in the search for new civilisational visions and new socially and ecologically enriching models for progress and development. The global South must take the lead. Regional cooperation in the global South and between increasingly self-reliant but co-operating Southern regional blocs can be essential for gaining economic, political and cultural autonomy from Europe and the US, serving global solidarity and environmental responsibility.

Latin America, with its strong tradition of mass participation in politics, progressive left movements, liberation theology and its great cultural variety should be a strong region in this search. In recent years the increasingly lively alliances throughout the region of indigenous and other emancipatory movements, that has given one country a president coming from the indigenous movements and another country a constitution that recognises Mother Earth is of particular interest for people on all continents who are searching for new political tools, ideas and visions. In decolonising development, articulating new visions of good life (buen vivir) and building radical democracy the movements South America are today a great source of energy and hope for people on all continents. It is important for us all that this political and cultural resurgence is placed at the centre of regional integration here.

5. Nuclear proliferation, the totalisation of war through the war on terror and anti-hegemonic insurgency with little or no dependence on states, and the largely uncalculable threats of new military technologies combining e.g. new IT, nano-technology and genetic engineering make 21st century questions of war and peace more intractable than before. For this reason pro-people regional cooperation should systematically promote cultures of sustainability and peace.

Peace-politics cannot imply thoughtless pacifism. We can still draw insight and inspiration from the Gandhian notion of and experiments with truth-force (“satyagraha”). This year 100 years have passed since Gandhi wrote his definitive statement, the pivotal pamphlet Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule on board a ship between Britain and South Africa. The new politics of global security that we need, must, as Gandhi and others have clearly seen long back, be linked to the construction of pro-people and environmentally sound development models. These can emerge on the basis of the variety of sustainable life-styles, democracies and civilisational values existing today especially in the global South.

The industrial growth centred development model that first emerged in Europe and North America in the 18th to 20th century needs to be seriously reconsidered. The global record seems to be that industrial growth economies are not capable of overcoming poverty and deprivation everywhere. Without a commitment to peaceful cooperation and civilisational alternatives zero-sum competition for growth and unsustainable life-styles among nations and regions is likely to dominate global politics in the 21st century. Then, regions are more than likely to develop into competing, protectionist blocs forming strategic alliances. Even under the condition of functional interdependence globally of the competing blocs, climate change, development failures and resource depletion combined with nuclear proliferation and the evolution of new military technologies may easily lead to completely new types of wars with planetary consequences. Hence, regional cooperation in Latin America, in other Southern regions and between them needs to be globally oriented towards cooperation and solidarity, not competition. It may be helpful in this regard to think of the global North in a new way: not as the developed regions that have made it, but as regions suffering from serious development failures. Even quite conservative new models for measuring overall success in development, such as the so called Happy Planet Index, indicate that life-conditions in the US, Sweden, Germany and other similar countries reached an all-time high in the 1970s and haved steadily deteriorated since then.





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