«Letter to Hong Kong» the Chief Executive

August 26 , 2006

Pragmatic Politics

Fellow citizens,

     The summer holidays are almost over. But before they draw to a close, many people will have taken an overseas trip. As society has become more affluent, Hong Kong people have looked beyond the short-haul routes in Southeast Asia to the latest "hot" destinations in Europe for their summer break.

     It is now much more convenient to travel around Europe. HKSAR passports holders have visa-free access to the European Union (EU), so they are free to travel from one EU country to another with no visa worries. And they don't even need to worry about different currencies any more - the euro is now the standard currency in most European countries. But, if you have ever travelled around Europe, have you ever paused to think how this group of different countries managed to become a single union, with a single currency? After all, Europe was the major battlefield for two world wars. Its countries were imbued with rivalry and nationalism. And it still remains a grouping of countries with diverse cultures and traditions.

     Uniting Europe had been the dream of many heroes, leaders and aggressors over the centuries. Napoleon tried to do this with firearms and brute force, but failed.

     As we approached the 21st century, the vision of a united Europe was realised, not by military might, but by a determined Frenchman named Jean Monnet. Though far less known than Napoleon and former French President Charles de Gaulle, Monnet is hailed as the Father of the European Union, and the first honorary citizen in Europe.

     French political culture has been characterised by heroism, fervent nationalism and idealism. But, history has proved that attempts at unity solely through these means would only end in catastrophe.

     Reflecting on the two world wars fought in Europe, Monnet reckoned that the friction between Germany and France was about the fight for coal and steel resources. In the 1950s, he championed the idea of forming the European Coal and Steel Community, which laid the foundation for the European Community. He resolved differences with a most pragmatic approach, starting with the European Coal and Steel Community. He then extended co-operation to other areas and other European countries, forming the Atomic Energy Community and then the Economic Community. Gradually, the mechanisms were built to unite Europe under a single banner. Over a 50-year period, Europeans abandoned nationalism and heroics and adopted rationalism and pragmatism as the means to realise their vision of a united Europe.

     Whenever differences arise among EU member states, say, if there are divided views on adopting the euro, or rejecting the European Constitution in national referenda, it has always been possible for all members to sit down and adjust the pace before setting out to stride forward again. This is a victory for pragmatism.

     Pragmatic politics may not appeal to the general public because it entails a long process of resolving issues in a gradual manner. It does not invoke the emotion-provoking slogans that come with an idealistic approach. Of course, politicians should have their own vision. But passion aside, they must also possess the tenacity and commitment to pursue their goals.

     Monnet's pragmatic approach may serve as a lesson on the way in which we deal with constitutional reform in Hong Kong. I believe that we can realise our vision only by assuming a pragmatic, down-to-earth attitude to resolve difficult issues, and to adjust our pace from time to time. This is what commitment is all about.

     I am fully aware that I will never be a hero of any kind, and that I may look very awkward chanting slogans. After such a long career in the civil service I have learnt, however, that the ability to resolve issues, administrative skills, tenacity and, above all, commitment are essential elements of pragmatic politics.

     Pragmatism is a defining characteristic of Hong Kong people. Working industriously together, we have forged an economic miracle. And that is why I am confident that all political differences can be resolved as long as we maintain a pragmatic approach.


  Donald TSANG Yam-kuen  
Donald TSANG Yam-kuen,
Chief Executive