How should European States work with each other? The question is complicated, the diverging opinions as many as grains of sand on a beach. It is obvious that a continent as diverse as Europe will need to make itself work for all its regions, with one helping the other. The answer, surprisingly, may lie in the far away region of the Andes. The Andes are a harsh, highly stratified environment. Lots of microclimates flourish in each part of the mountainside, each with its unique resources. For centuries the inhabitants have cooperated in a system of reciprocity, to ensure their prosperity.

The environment of the Andean region is known for its juxtaposition. The Andes divide the region into coastal and tropical zones, the elevation stopping any sea winds. The altiplano (highland mountain plains) in between receives a sort of a middle side in which some humidity is maintained. This can explain the juxtapositions of dry and wet in the different sides of the Andes. The vertical archipelago, which is created by the summits and mountain lakes such as Titicaca, create a great variation of vegetational zones, all of which can help different flora and fauna. This is why there are various microclimates in the region.

There is also the issue of co-operation. This is where the biggest lessons lie. Specialisation (as well as technical knowledge) is important in societies in that it allows for more diversification of the subsistence patterns of the community. The specialisation of various regions (either in agriculture or metallurgy) inevitably led to relationships of need and mutual reciprocity that were resolved in various ways.

The modern Andes

One need only look at communities in modern-day Andes. Despite centuries of Spanish influences, we see villages where reciprocity is a catalyst in exchange of goods. Throughout the regions of modern day Bolivia and Peru, small villages use kinship ties to exchange much needed goods. We see that the various communities have to work together in order to ensure that they have all that they need, because no climate zone fits all crops. This is seen in other cases in the past. On the one hand, we have the decentralised Nazca polity, which flourished in Southern Peru at around 100 BC- 800 AD. It seems to have been connected through via a ritual centre.

The centre does not seem to have been strong administratively, with the regions looking like they are stronger. There seems to be a sort of heterarchical system of reciprocity. On the other hand, we have the elaborate and intense administration of the Inca empire. Both of these divergent paths seem to stem from a need to balance divergent interests. They show both how the environment shaped the various parts of the Andes socioeconomically, as well as how humans dealt with these challenges differently in these two cases. This system of reciprocity is called ayllu, and it has helped the highly differentiated socio-economic zones of the Andes work in unison to achieve their ends.

How does this apply to Europe

One can turn to Europe and think ‘That’s what we need.’ When we have a North-South divide, where Dutch ministers of finance accuse Southern European member states of wasting their money on drinking and women, there is no chance that progress will be made in this mutually beneficial relationship. What is needed is an ayllu mentality. The different economies of Europe have different things they are good at; finance, tourist locations, industrial products. The current system, which allows Greece’s economy to weaken, while the German economy gains surpluses, is not functional. The reason is ethnocentrism; I will think only as Greek, but never see the German point of view. This mentality would make anyone who operates in an ayllu roll their eyes.

The European Union will need to reform itself, or it will keep facing these issues. Further integration is absolutely necessary in this situation. Andean civilisations such as the Tiwanaku achieved this, and prospered. They forged a common identity via common cultural traits and building a similar cosmology. But it is not enough. The Tiwanaku tried to ensure that all provinces of their polity was both connected and constantly complenenting each other. Europeans need to invest in other member states like they invest in their partners; Tenderly and with a long-term plan. Countries which have not been hit as hard by the recession will need to invest in their less fortunate neighbours.

Specialisation is the answer

How is this unique niche setting different to the European Union? Not much, to be honest. Cyprus has an environment and an economy more suited to tourism and services than the more industrial economy of Poland. The Netherlands and its’ shipping are far different from Germany’s automobiles. The European Union’s member states are no different from the microclimates of the Andes; highly specialised, and unique regions. Just like the United States once had a Steel Belt and now has a Silicon Valley in different regions, so too can Europe utilise the different economies of its member states to have a truly diversified economy in our post-industrial age. Each country in the Union, as well as the countries that are negotiating to join or are in association with the European Union, has its own unique economy, which can complete the others in a strong economic package.

This is the situation Europe has found itself in. The strange co-operative case of the ayllu and its complementarity can be immensely useful in helping Europeans solve the conundrum they have found themselves in. Perhaps a more integrated, more co-operative Europe can be stronger and more stable. For that, we may have to thank the industrious Andeans.

Crédit photo: Markos Loizou

Christos Nicolaou is a Master’s student in Archaeology at University College London, having previously done a Bachelor’s Degree in Archaeology at the University of Cambridge. His main interests in Europe stem from his desire for progressive policies and the re-imagining of the European project to one of internationalism and social inclusion. He is mainly interested in ecology, culture and human rights issues such as migration.

Besides writing articles, Christos is active in decolonising the curriculum and trying to be a professional archaeologist. He is a huge fan of debating, rock music, and can play the drums. You are most likely to find him at a bookshop, a comic/game shop, or any other nerdy place.

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