by Irene Janette Tanhuanco
European Studies Major, Ateneo de Manila University
When we mention the ASEAN, a close comparison to the EU would not always come to mind. Technically, as much as they are very similar, they are both quite different too. For example, the ASEAN is not as integrated economically and politically, and as prominent as the EU. However, the ASEAN is currently gearing towards further integration and relevance to the region. But, is further integration what this region really needs to develop?
Should the ASEAN choose to become like the EU, major changes have to be undertaken. Nations would have to surrender some of their political and economic sovereignty to a supranational body. The question is, will it work out the same way as in the EU? With the diversity of economic, political and social development among the member countries, there is bound to be more disadvantages than advantages.
Let us take monetary union as an example. If the ASEAN were to adapt this system, many countries would experience massive inflation and deflation. With the large value difference between the Singaporean dollar and the Indonesian rupiah, one of them will definitely have to be disadvantaged. This issue is actually evident even in the EU.
With the sovereign debt crisis in the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) countries, some economists say that the region would be better off if they all had different currencies, because now that they are united, the country in trouble can no longer exercise sovereignty over their monetary and financial policies.
They cannot lower their interest rates, nor can they devalue to save their economy. They are all tied to each other – monetarily and financially; a crisis in one economy affects the others. In this case, for the betterment of the entire region, the EU has resorted to bailing out these countries to avoid contagion. And in this bailout, every member state has to shoulder a portion of it. If this were to happen in the ASEAN – since most of the nations are developing countries – the impact would be harder and more fatal.
Despite these debt issues, however, the EU remains stable. They have the stability that came with their political, social and economic development. The member states were able to stabilize their inflation rates, exchange rates, human rights, etc. Cultural differences may be prevalent, yes, but like their motto “unity in diversity” states, they strived to be united in terms of their foreign policy. These made them enter into agreements that paved the way for a political and economic integration with ease.
What the ASEAN really needs is economic, political and social stability on all its member states. It’s a herculean task for most countries, yes. But, in order to achieve a regional integration that would cause the positive development of the entire region, these elements are of the most basic necessity. Sadly, these are the very same elements that the ASEAN still needs to hone.
Taking a step at a time, what these developing countries need are what would alleviate poverty: education, health care, employment, and most importantly, good governance. In the Philippines alone, good governance is already a gargantuan task. Every election, it is what is promised by every candidate. But there are things that cannot be changed or abolished altogether – corruption.
Sure, corruption exists in the first world countries too. What makes the difference is, that the citizens of these countries do not have to suffer for it as much. Their economy is performing splendidly. What the developing nations need is a big boost – a boost that cannot be achieved as long as these so-called public servants remain to be servants of themselves and their own interests.
If the politicians and those who run this country are astute, the economy will flourish. If it does, then, employment will not be a problem. With unemployment out of the picture, poverty will slowly be alleviated. Also, for better economic and social development, what we need is better health care system and education. Just in healthcare, medication and hospitalization alone, billions are being spent in every country all over the world. These billions are not only in terms of money, but also in costs for sick leaves causing them to lose a day’s pay or a day’s production.
Thousands and thousands of children across the ASEAN region are unable to pursue higher education due to financial reasons, mostly. While they can get a job and join the labor force early, it is a question of how far that will take them. Maybe if they’re lucky enough, they can pull a Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg and become a billionaire.
However, education can take someone to places. They learn not only from the books about technical matters, but also values, moral judgment, critical thinking, effective decision-making, and so much more. They also learn of philosophies, theories, and all other things that would make them become future better and effective leaders of a nation on the way to development. These are what the ASEAN nations need. This is what the EU has that has made them stable after all these years. It’s not going to be a piece of cake, but even after hitting rock bottom following the Second World War, Germany shows us it can be done.
Change starts small, they say. Starting small, NGOs and groups like ASSIST can start this ball rolling. With its expertise in awareness raising – campaigns, trainings, etc. – project management, capacity building in their initiatives, ASSIST can start a nation-changing project or projects that will not only enable the region to become a developed supranational body, but countries to become on-the-way to development as well. Just as faith like a mustard seed can move mountains, by educating people and gearing them towards social improvement, ASSIST plants a seed in society that, with determination and perseverance, might grow and nurture change and development.#