An Indian Perspective on the European Union
India and Europe have different historical narratives but the journey of several European nations to come together to form the European Union (EU) has brought Europe closer to the Indian reality. There are several striking similarities between India and EU today than it was ever before. The origins of the EU dates back to 1952 with the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community comprising of 6 nations. At about the same time, India emerged from the British colonial rule in 1947 and adopted a Federal Republican Constitution in 1950 under which the first democratic election was held in 1952. Inspired by much older European democracies, India has become one of the most populous democracies in the world. Today, the EU and India share democratic values which bind them together closer than ever before. Today, the EU comprises of 28 sovereign States with a population of 508 million spread across an area of 4.38 million km² compared to India, which has 29 Federal States having 1.276 billion people living in a land mass of 3.29 million km².
United in diversity
Indian democracy has been an anti-thesis of the concept of the 19th century European nation state which was homogenous in terms of religion, culture and language. The narrow understanding of nation state was the source of division and conflict in Europe resulting in several wars, including the two World Wars. The widespread destruction of Europe after World War II compelled Europeans to rethink their concept of nationhood and move from an attitude of confrontation to that of cooperation, with Robert Schuman proposing the Coal and Steel Community of six nations in 1950, which developed into a 28-nation EU. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the Schengen Agreement that abolished border checks and harmonized visa policies to allow free movement of goods, services and peoples between European nations hastened the growth and development of the EU.
The development of Europe from nations with a homogenous cultural and linguistic identity to a multi-cultural and multi-lingual European Union has made Europe resemble the Indian reality even more closely. For example, the EU has 24 official languages, which is exactly the same number recognized as official languages in the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution. While all official languages are treated equally in the EU, English and Hindi are regarded as national languages, while 22 other regional languages are given due recognition for official purposes.
India has been a home to people of diverse ethnic groups. There are 645 indigenous ethnic groups recognized as Scheduled tribes in India, many of them having their own language, culture and belief system. Similarly, Europe has 87 distinct ethnic groups, including 54 ethnic minorities. This reality makes EU a multi-ethnic society like India, though the original idea of nation state often results in calls for independence by some ethnic minorities within the EU.
A pluralistic multi-religious society
India has been a cradle of profound spiritual traditions as four religions, namely Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, originated from the country. In addition there are several belief systems of indigenous peoples, like the Sarna religion, which is not officially recognized by the State but classified as part of Hinduism. In addition, Zoroastrianism and the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam came to be practiced in India as early as the first century itself.
While India has lived with a multiplicity of religions for centuries, Europe is deeply rooted to its Christian traditions. With Vatican City in Rome being the heart of Catholicism and several other Christian denominations, including Protestants and Orthodox Churches, having their headquarters in Europe, the Christian influence pervades all aspects of life in Europe. However, the influx of migrants practicing other faiths have increased making Europe face the reality of a multi-religious society with the presence of the adherents of Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism in the Christian milieu. The Indian experience of a pluralistic multi-religious society can be an inspiration to the changing religious demography in Europe.
EU has become an anti-thesis of the notion of nation state as it develops into a political union that embraces diversity the Indian way.
Denzil Fernandes SJ
Indian Social Institute, New Delhi