Monnet’s lessons for global governance

Could a global emissions-trading system serve as the European Coal and Steel Community of our times?

First published on April 14 2009 on Copyright © 2009
European Voice.

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),
Andre Wilkens is a member of the European
Council on Foreign Relations.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


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