Monnet’s Lessons for Global Governance
Could a global emissions-trading system serve as the European Coal and Steel Community of our times?
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary ideas, like the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, which later became the European Union. That idea transformed a continent of conflict and hatred into a haven of peace, stability and prosperity.
Jean Monnet conceived of it becoming even more. In his memoirs, he wrote that “the Community we have created is not an end in itself. The sovereign nations of the past can no longer solve the problems of the present; they cannot control their own future.” The European Community should only be a stage on the way to the organised world of tomorrow, he wrote.
The London G20 summit was a success in global crisis management, but it failed to show a direction for the climate crisis. These are extraordinary times that demand extraordinary ideas about how we can organise the world. Those grappling with global challenges such as climate change and globalised finance should learn three lessons from Monnet.
Firstly, Monnet and the other founding fathers seized on the yearning for a new order. Europeans pooled sovereignty only after having exhausted all other options and paid overwhelming costs. There is a growing understanding now that the forces that influence our daily well-being are not restricted to national borders. Securitisation practices in the US’s financial sector affect economies half-way around the world. Carbons released in China influence crop yields in Africa. An epidemic in Africa may well depress air travel in Europe. Something better is needed, an increasing number of people believe.
Secondly, big ideas need a pragmatic foundation. Monnet had a big vision for Europe but he started very pragmatically by pooling sovereignty over the issues of coal and steel. Might it be that a truly global emissions-trading system, which addresses the most fundamental global issue of today, climate change, could become this century’s equivalent of coal and steel?
Thirdly, the European project highlights the risk of overshooting. In 2005, two of the EU’s founding members – France and the Netherlands – voted down steps considered vital by their political elites. Decades after the pooling of sovereignty began, European societies continue to view the nation state as their primary medium of participation. Enthusiasts for global governance should accept that few people will opt for an abstract world government over nation states, that most of us feel allegiance primarily to others who are like us. That is no bad thing. Nor does that spell trouble for better global governance. One needs to be multilateralist to be patriotic precisely because you cannot achieve the outcomes desired by your nation state by acting alone.
Monnet had the wisdom to view the EU as a step towards better world co-operation; he also had the pragmatism needed to roll out his vision in manner that outlived him. Advocates of enhanced global governance should learn from Europe’s experiment.
Hakan Altinay is executive director of the Open Society Foundation (Turkey), and Andre Wilkens is a member of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
Tags: Global Governance