|Thursday, 17 June 2004|
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The news that Singapore's Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong will be visiting Sri Lanka at the end of this month on an invitation extended to him by President Kumaratunga, is likely to be received warmly by the Lankan public.
It will be both a happy and memorable occasion on account of the positive vibes Singapore is continuing to generate the world over.
Sri Lanka is not alone in admiring Singapore. For many a developing country, Singapore is the economic success story par excellence. Singapore's steady ascendence over the decades to the pinnacle of socio-economic achievement has made her the role model for a considerable number of countries continuing to wallow in the quagmire of underdevelopment.
In fact many a high profile Lankan politician has time and again contrasted the history of our underdevelopment with the gradual rise to socio-economic and political fame of Singapore, which at one time was even below Sri Lanka in the league of developing countries.
In the fifties, for instance, from the point of view of socio-economic and Quality of Life indices, we were way ahead of Singapore, which was considered a sad pocket of backwardness in South East Asia.
Today, however, the tables are turned and Singapore has become Sri Lanka's envy. It is our hope that the government-to-government interaction between Singapore and Sri Lanka would help us to get our act together and forge ahead on the road to prosperity.
It was, of course, Singapore's former Premier Lee Kuan Yew who piloted that mercurial city state of South East Asia to the dazzling realms of socio-economic and political success. Pragmatism and economic dynamism were his watchwords.
Not for him were the worn out shibboleths of governance which never proved their validity. In fact Lee has gone on record as saying that it was continuous work stoppages at the Colombo harbour of the Fifties - which he regarded as one of the finest natural harbours of the world - which drove Singapore along the road to success.
How? Simply by Singapore making judicious use of the trading and entrepot opportunities that Lanka was missing by its work stoppages.
Besides, Lee has successfully inculcated in the people of Singapore the need to be industrious and dynamic. Very early in Singapore's development, her people were taught the truth of the saying that there is no such thing as a "free meal". Every meal needs to be earned and such a mindset sets the stage for self-sufficiency.
Besides, Singapore has advanced considerably on the road to political stability. In Singapore - which is multi-ethnic - no ethnic group feels left out or alienated. Be they Malay, Chinese or Tamil, every citizen feels a sense of identity with the Singaporean state.
Thus, Singapore has been shaped into a home for all its communities. In this respect too Singapore is exemplary.
Europe at a crossroads
Europe, or at least the 25 countries that form the European Union, is now facing one of the biggest post-war challenges: Drafting a European Constitution that will be broadly acceptable to all member countries and their increasingly Euro-sceptic populations.
The last time European Union leaders tried to agree a Constitution for the expanding bloc, the talks collapsed in spectacular fashion.
This time, they are keen to ensure a different result. The EU's Irish Presidency is trying to steer the Constitutional drive back on track by seeking a consensus on this most divisive of planned reforms.
With this aim in mind, EU leaders are meeting today and tomorrow to work out a deal on formulating the European Constitution. They are aware that a second failure would be a huge setback for the EU.
Their enthusiasm for a workable Constitution should be considered in the context of defeats for incumbent parties in European Parliament elections last weekend. The results reflected the voters' perception that the bloc must get its act together fast in reforming its institutions to get closer to the people.
There are improved prospects for a broader consensus on a Constitution - some major proposals, such as an elected president to replace the six month rotating presidency and a new "foreign minister" seem to have the necessary backing. But several issues are yet to be resolved.
Among them are voting rights for EU decision-making, the size of the commission and the distribution of seats in the European Parliament. A debate is also raging over a request by seven countries that the Constitution's preamble should carry an explicit reference to Europe's Christian heritage.
Even if an agreement is reached this week, there will be a long pause. EU governments must take the text back to their Parliaments for approval and in several countries, agreement by popular vote will also be necessary. All this will take months, if not years.
Herein lies the danger - the refusal of just one country to adopt the Constitution would throw the EU into utter disarray. Ratification in all 25 nations is hardly certain, if the recent polls results can be considered as a yardstick.
But a Constitution will impart a sense of direction and purpose to this bloc of nations. Other EU hopefuls as well as the rest of the world will be watching these developments with interest.
Produced by Lake House