Europe’s nation state dilemma
The result of the UK referendum has struck a heavy blow at the very foundation of European unity and the vision of a continent of nation states being able to deal with regional and global crises in any coherent and unified way. The credibility of Europe has already been left shattered over recent months with the European Union’s (EU) failure to formulate and hold a common policy to address the tens of thousands of migrants displaced from the conflict in Syria.
Lacking the standards of even the most basic form of humanity European countries have reneged on previous promises to take care of migrants fleeing persecution. Borders and crossings have been closed at will with migrants rounded up and penned in like animals in Greece and Calais. In Britain, those given some refuge have been forced to wear armbands to show their ‘foreign’ origins; Denmark has allowed state sanctioned ‘theft’ with a law that permits authorities to seize migrants cash and valuables and many have had the indignity of being treated like criminals with their photos and fingerprints routinely taken.
EU attempts at unity on broader issues have also failed over the years as member states traded national self interest in place of a joint European position. The Eurofighter jet debacle, a collaboration between UK, Italy, Spain and Germany in the 1980’s (the French soon pulled out) suffered from conflicting priorities and acrimony to become a by word for rising costs, endless delays and no end product. A European Army, first touted in the 1990’s as a counter to NATO, amounted to nothing. The development of an EU constitution, with greater powers in the hands of the European parliament, has never been ratified by member states. On an economic level, Europe’s most powerful country, Germany, has shown zero compassion on the Greek debt crisis as creditors have insisted on loan repayments with ever more stringent terms despite the huge harm inflicted on a fellow EU and Euro country.
Within Europe the migrant crisis has seen country after country put up blocks to prevent migrants from entering their territory or forcibly moving them on at the earliest opportunity. Commitments to the safe passage and flow of migrants have been terminated as easily as the treaties they are built upon have been shredded. The Schengen agreement, nominally to allow free movement of EU citizens within certain European countries, has been amended to extend checks placed upon non-EU peoples to all citizens with increased surveillance and checks. Moreover, a number of countries have reimposed border controls to stymie migrant flow, in violation of Schengen rules citing ‘exceptional circumstances’.
Nations once seen as favourable to migrants have given in to nationalistic fervour and set in train measures to quell numbers, intent on shifting the migrant problem out of Europe. The March 2016 German brokered EU-Turkey deal to return migrants in Greece back to Turkey, and create a de facto migrant entry barrier to Europe, was only signed with a blatant bribe of 6 billion Euros to Turkey and visa rights for its citizens.
Undoubtedly, much of Europe’s treatment of migrants has been driven by blatant racism, prejudice and xenophobia fuelled by European governments. Some have justified closing Europe’s borders as defending European values from Islam and acting as a bulwark against Muslims. However, this only goes some way to explaining Europe’s response.
The root cause of Europe’s disunity on the migrant crisis is due to the more profound contradiction of a political union of nation states. Europe’s deeply held nationalism means that people expect the laws and government to primarily serve the interests of its people – England for the English and France for the French etc.
Successive governments of all spectrums have conveniently used the EU as deflector for mass dissatisfaction of their own domestic policy failings. The migrant issue further highlights the inherent tension of preserving national boundaries and interests against the increased jurisdiction of supranational institutions and laws – hence the debate on giving up decision making powers to others.
At times national autonomy has had to be reluctantly given up, such as Western Europe’s subservience to America under NATO since the end of WWII, as a necessity due to a lack of military or financial resource.
Inevitably, such compromises lead to political unhappiness and a battle between those seeking to wrest back control versus those who have a desire to further give up powers to European or other institutions. The UK’s Brexit Out vote on the referendum, in simple terms, was a test between two competing visions. States wishing for greater political and economic integration [‘A United States of Europe’] and their opponents who simply wish to have a trading relationship amongst one another with control of their own borders and laws [‘A Europe of nation states’].
For the West, this dilemma has never been fully resolved and harks back centuries to the early development of Capitalism and the nation ntate model; that is, a ruling authority that represents a group who share a common linguistic or ethnic heritage living in a particular territory. The state acts in the interest of this group, and produces legislation to protect their interests (man-made law). Therefore, Capitalist states will always struggle to function in any pan national institution or cooperate with other states. And at times of political crisis, the default will always veer to countries protecting their national, self interests at all costs with the resultant misery and disunity that has been seen in Europe.
If the idea of European Unity is crumbling this does not mean unity is dead for every other people.
Islam, and its political system of Khilafah, addresses such issues with clear guidelines on how unity on a state level is maintained. In contrast to Europe’s constant disunity, the relationship of the provinces [wilayah] with the Khaleefah or capital are balanced so as to the meet the needs of the regions whilst also fulfilling the demands of the centre.
Firstly, the Islamic system is unitary which means that the [wilayah and their rulers [walis] are not ‘independent’ little states within a larger political system. They are not ‘mini Khilafahs’ that make up a larger Khilafah state. The analogy with Capitalism’s nation state model is absolutely not applicable; hence the contradictions faced by European states having to balance preservation of their own laws, customs and traditions with those that are imposed or dictated upon them are not evident in the Khilafah.
Secondly, Islam produced legislation to take care of the affairs of all people, without regard to their ethnic or even religious background, hence no need for tension between Wilayahs.
Fundamentally, the governors of the provinces, the Walis, are deputies for the Khaleefah in what he authorises of them. Hence, they are not rivals or in competition to the Khaleefah and the Shari’ah laws enacted by Khilafah state apply in all provinces. It was such a clear understanding that enabled the Islamic system to prevail for so many centuries encompassing so many different people and backgrounds.
At the same time, the structure of the Khilafah is decentralised with administration delegated to local levels to ensure simplicity and effective guardianship of people’s affairs. Each of the provinces has a Majlis ul Wilayah [Provincial Assembly] that is elected so that people can raise issues and complaints. The degree of leeway given to the Wali, by the Khaleefah, is discretionary and can be flexed such that the rulership in a province can be restricted to certain functions or extended more broadly if needed.
The boundaries of the Wilayah within the Khilafah state will be geographically based but if these were to become rival centres of power to the Khaleefah, as they did at times in Islamic history, or act as bases for rebellion the executive powers of the Khaleefah enable him to take swift action against the Wali or in the management of the provinces.
The lessons from the failure of the EU to address the migrant crisis and its descent into nationalism should not be lost upon the Muslim community. The western world will always suffer from the battle between the nation state model and pan national institutions as to which is ultimately supreme. Unity on an Islamic basis means altogether different things and the Khilafah State will once again be such a model for the whole of mankind.