The European Union (EU) is celebrating that it is 60 years of age. Let me first congratulate EU on its birthday; it has done a lot of good, mainly for itself, and some for the rest of the world. It has done quite a bit of the opposite, too. People who are for, or against, the ‘rich man’s club’ admit that EU is celebrating its birthday with some ailments, which may be natural at 60, and we may ask what kind of life it will have after 60. The average life expectancy for citizens of European countries is over 80 years, even longer. Will the EU as an organisation and each and all of the member states live well into their 80s and beyond? What kind of youthful injections and change are needed in the economic, social, political and other fields? How good, or bad, is the EU for the rest of world, including Asia and Pakistan – noting too that it follows the recent European colonial empires?

The EU began its journey in 1951, when six countries founded the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Atomic Energy Community. But it was in 1957 that the Rome Treaties were signed by Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). The organisation was named the European Economic Community (EEC) and the customs union was formed.

In 1973, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark joined the organisation (Denmark also included Greenland, which pulled out in 1985 due to the necessity of special fisheries rights; and the Faroe Islands are also exempt from EU regulations). Norway, my home country, had negotiated for membership, but in a referendum in 1972, it decided against membership, and that decision was again upheld in another referendum in 1994. Yet, de facto, Norway is today as close as one can get to enjoying full EU membership. Luckily enough, Norway is not near being part of the monetary union of the Euro Zone, which 19 EU countries have joined. Many consider that it was premature to establish the Euro Zone since it does not have common financial and budgetary policies. Today, EU has 28 members, with a large expansion eastward in the recent 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the countries in the east were eager to join to get away from the ‘Russian Bear’. Some would consider that expansion went overly fast, considering that the ‘rich man’s club’ now also includes countries with diverse and quite poor economic strength.

The EU has moved from being an economic and customs union, also with free movement of people, to becoming a politically motivated ‘project’. That is especially evident with regards to its expansion eastward. It was always part of the organisation’s ideals and raison d’être that it should be an organisation that would prevent wars and conflicts in Europe. It must be understood that the organisation began soon after the end of the terrible World War II. In 2012, EU received the Nobel Peace Prize. Some would say that was wrong while others would say that the EU has indeed contributed significantly to maintaining peace in Europe, a continent which has never been as peaceful as it has been after WWII. At the bottom of the EU treaties is a vision of EU being an organisation paving the way for a ‘United States of Europe.’ The EU member states today have a total population of over 500 million.

It is difficult to discuss EU’s existence without also mentioning the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO, with 28 members in Europe and North America, notably USA and Canada, and a number of other partners. NATO has 70 percent of the world’s military budget, and it was created as a defence organisation soon after WWII in the spirit of ‘war never again’. Most NATO members are also EU members, but some EU members are outside the military alliance. USA contributes the highest proportion of the alliance’s budget. Currently, the secretary general is Jens Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian Prime Minister.

It is important to realise that the defence and other military aspects of NATO and EU, and further foreign policies of EU, are controversial. Some would find it worrying that such large organisations are, in the longer run, not only going to be there for defending peace and development of its members, but that they may also develop aggressive tentacles and focus on centralisation of power. We have already seen that in NATO’s policies which, inter alia, have stretched its direct engagement all the way to Afghanistan and Libya. Although there are important peace organisations in Europe, the disarmament and peace movements are generally struggling at a time of rearmament in Europe, and the EU and its members play a rather hawkish role.

Refugee and migration issues are connected to peace issues, and the EU still has much work to do in this key field, both at home and in its international policies and actions. It is a shortcoming of the EU – and United Nations – that these fixable issues have not been fixed – and that there are no long-term visions at home and internationally, not in the Middle-East, Africa and elsewhere. Can we expect EU to have a real foreign policy, or should we rather rely on its leading members, with inputs from smaller countries?

The EU as a ‘rich man’s club’ has yet to sort out its policies in many fields; that also concerns how it treats the poorer member countries. I believe that the austerity measures towards countries like Ireland and Greece were wrong, and one can question EU’s vision regarding solidarity and inclusion; it shouldn’t just advocate money-making and profit. The EU as a union of the ‘old world countries’ ought to be the lead organisation for positive values for democracy, inclusion and human rights. After all, Europe still considers itself the defender of high moral and ethical standards. I believe that if EU cannot show their leadership in Europe and the world, it will be one of the last nails in its coffin. I find it puzzling that the EU has not yet been able to develop more cohesive policies regarding globalisation, and its effects on the small, poor and vulnerable people and countries.

The fact that the United Kingdom is actually pulling out of EU, as per its referendum and letter signed by Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday, shows that the foundations of the organisation are not necessarily built in stone.

Again, congratulations on the European Union’s birthday. It is a good day for many, but not for all. Besides, we do not know how Europe would have been without EU. Maybe we would have had smaller (and better) unions of countries, such as the five Nordic countries and the Baltic States together? EU may have become oversized, with numerous bureaucrats and politicians, whom nobody knows and who may not find their way into the core of problems and issues, and indeed not their ways out of them.

But for us in Pakistan, EU is probably mainly good. For those of us who still believe in development aid, not only trade, we should be glad that the development aid of the EU is annually about 350 million Euro (about half a billion USD), tying Pakistan and Europe closer together, and assisting Pakistan in key fields, such as education, rural development, human rights, including women’s rights, elections and democracy, and water and sanitation. EU is thus the largest donor to Pakistan – and key trade partner.