October 7, 2013
I seem to be writing the word “introduction” an awful lot recently. However, this is because all good work, academic or literary begin with an introduction. Even our relationships begin with an introduction: “Hi, my name is Chris and you are?” . . . “Delighted to meet you.”
I note that I am beginning a relationship here with Euractiv and its readership, so likewise, I should introduce myself.
My name is Chris Shannon. I am a part-time a lot of things. I am a part time author. I am a part time blogger. I hope to hear back today that I am a part time interviewer for the Canadian government. Some might consider this to be misfortune, that my focus is so divided, but I think I am quite lucky to have the opportunity to work in such a number of different directions. Beyond my occupation, I did my Master’s in European Studies at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Leuven, Belgium and my Bachelor’s with a dual major in Political Science and German. I focused fairly heavily on political theory and foreign policy, which goes a direction why I’ve honed in on European Foreign Policy as my area of academic focus.
For followers of political theory, the EU is the most sexy thing in the world for the past two-hundred years. Maybe. I find it to be, at least. In a world where the most proliferated form of government is using 18th century methods and technology, the emergence of a supranational proto-state is an earth-shaking event. I personally think the emergence of the EU as a power in the world is especially exciting, as it seems to carry with it renovated ideas, which the Americans seem currently too inflexible to adopt: for instance, environmentalism and more inclusive vision of human rights. This isn’t to criticise the Americans, but rather to point out that the stress of their position as hegemon of the Western World prevents them from adopting 21st century sensibilities as freely as their partners.
Another reason why I, a Canadian who currently lives in Canada, value the EU is because of the amazing cultural space that Europe can be. Here, in Nova Scotia, almost every person I run into is Canadian. The goods I buy are Canadian. The language I speak is English. If I want to change any of this, I either have to import goods, skype my friends or buy a plane ticket. We in Canada tell ourselves that we celebrate diversity, but when I can go to the supermarket and pick up products from dozens of different countries and choose exactly the permutation of them that I want my life to be any particular day? That’s a diversity and a freedom that I simply do not have at home. But it’s not just the food, it’s the international spirit of a city like Brussels. Such a rich diversity of experiences and ideas, I have never known. Even though those people may be lacking faith in their collective political destinies, in knowing them I certainly do have faith.
Human rights is another topic, to which I have always been drawn. Ten years ago, as a passionate youth, I was a communist and drawn to the idea of helping the poor. Before that, as a small child, I was pondering how I might solve the world’s problems, even at great cost to myself. Since then, I’ve written a number of horrid undergraduate papers on the effects of globalisation in alleviating poverty. I’ve taken courses on the UN and I’ve realised that ideas like “human security” have been drilled into my head as a part of the Canadian mythology. Growing up in that late Pearsonian-era of Canadian politics (i.e. 1963-2006), I was taught about the virtues of UN Peacekeeping and foreign aid. We were taught about conciliatory diplomacy and international cooperation. Whether I want to accept these doctrines or not, they are an immutable part of my life.
But why should Europeans care about some Canadian anyhow? So what if he has a connection to Europe. What is his opinion worth to Europe? I would argue that the EU and Canada are not so dissimilar constructs. In my Master’s thesis (The Effect of Public Opinion on European Foreign Policy: Decision making in Humanitarianism and Interventions, likely available from the KU Leuven library) , I argued that:
“For some the comparison between a bilingual former British dominion and an international organisation created to internationalise coal and steel production in West Germany and France would seem odd, but the similarities between the EU and Canada merit closer inspection. Canada is perhaps one of the only polities that could be compared with the EU. Both are multinational federations with long standing traditions of support for humanitarianism, environmentalism and multilaterism, although Canada can be said to be found lacking in its environmental efforts as of late.”
“Both Canada and the EU consist of over thirty distinct groups claiming to be nations; the majority in the Canadian example coming from Canada’s “First Nations”, the name given to the indigenous peoples within Canada. This sheer diversity requires the EU and Canada to be sensitive to the needs and interests of marginal groups, rather than try to strong-arm minorities to co-operate under assimilation policies. Do not mistake this for utopianism; both Canada and the European Member-States have taken less than admirable stances towards minorities, such as in the case with the residential schools in Canada and the treatment of the Basques and Roma populations in Europe. It could be concluded that this experience with dealing with minorities has contributed to the development of the consensus style of government, and affinity for dealing with other countries within a multilateral framework, such as the UN, the WTO and other international organisation. In this comparison, it should be noted that this consensus style of governance applies for the EU internally and internationally. Whereas, the Canadian example, strongest in the so-called Pearsonian-Trudeuan period of Canadian politics, applies mostly in Canada’s contribution to international governance, such as its contribution to UN Peacekeeping and the development of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
I apologise for that wall of text, but what should have been gleaned is that there is in the similarities between the EU and Canada and that perhaps there exists something to be learned from the experiences of one to inform the future actions of the other. I think Canada has a future closer to Europe than we might normally believe: blinded under the shadow of NAFTA. I also think that the EU can learn from Canada going forward– if it wants to go forwards. I think that my similar, but external viewpoint, holds a value on providing useful input into European questions, especially those on defence and human rights. I hope you stick around to find out.
My name is Chris Shannon and it is very nice to meet you.C. Shannon