E Pluribus Confusio

E Pluribus Confusio

Mini Teaser: The European Union is unable to achieve a true federal union, yet neither is it likely to fall apart. That leaves its internal incoherence as a long-term problem for the United States.


President Bush's recent journeys to Europe were bitter-sweet
reminders, if any were needed, of the continued centrality of
transatlantic relations for U.S. interests. Even as the new
administration grapples with the shift of world economic and
political weight to Asia and turns its attention to issues such as
trade in the Americas or the problems of Africa, cooperation with
Europe remains the cornerstone of U.S. international engagement.
Nowhere is the United States enmeshed in a thicker web of
institutional and cultural ties than it is in continental Europe and
the British isles. Whether one speaks of economic stakes, scientific
and technological cooperation, or the bonds of common history and
philosophies of government, it is clear that nothing can diminish
Atlantic relations to a second order concern. In a practical vein,
too, it is difficult to see how the United States can accomplish any
of its international goals--even in Asia--in the absence of
cooperative relations with Europe.

At the same time, however, reactions to Bush by European leaders, the
press and the general public confirm the degree to which Europe,
freed of its Cold War dependence on Washington, feels that it can and
must assert itself in relations with the United States.
"Superpower"--a term rarely used in this context even two years
ago--has become commonplace in discussions of the European Union's
economic and political (if not military) ambitions vis-a-vis
Washington. While political leaders on both sides of the Atlantic
affirm the continued importance of NATO, the Europeans clearly attach
greater long-term significance to the EU, and they suspect Washington
of trying to use the alliance and its enlargement to bolster American
influence on the continent and undercut the relative importance of
the Union.

A central challenge for the United States in coming years will be to
preserve the existing network of transatlantic economic, political,
security and institutional ties even as it adjusts to an enlarged and
more assertive EU. Among other tasks, this will require managing a
complex U.S.-EU economic relationship in which the sheer weight of
cooperative links across the Atlantic intersects with differing
visions of capitalism and approaches to globalization.

Less well recognized, it will also require U.S. policymakers to deal
with the often jarring contrast between the EU's assertive external
posture and its persistent internal divisions. Such divisions are
apparent in the intensifying debate among European politicians about
the "finality" of the integration process, in the Irish electorate's
rejection of the Treaty of Nice, and indeed in the violent anti-EU
demonstrations that increasingly mar the very summits at which
European leaders seek to affirm the continent's unity and resolve
toward the rest of the world. Indeed, it is not too much to say that
the future of U.S.-EU relations depends more on the vicissitudes of
Europe's internal dilemmas than on anything else.

Europe's Internal Dilemmas

In the fifty years since Jean Monnet began the process leading to
today's EU, Europe generally has avoided divisive debate over the
finality of the integration project. The operating principle has been
to sidestep discussion of ultimate goals and to place trust in
process--in building "an ever closer union among the peoples of
Europe." For the most part, however, European leaders shared certain
key assumptions. Although the 1957 Treaty of Rome specified that all
European countries were eligible for membership, the division of
Europe set geographic limits to expansion. The same division meant
that NATO would remain the pre-eminent security organization in
Western Europe. There was also general agreement about the path that
Europe would take toward union. Although Monnet overestimated the
readiness of national governments to cede powers to Brussels, there
was broad support for his "Community method" in which powers would be
transferred gradually to Brussels. With the passing of the Gaullist
challenge under Mitterrand, only the recalcitrant British and the obstinate
Danes seemed to oppose as a matter of principle the creation
of a federal Europe.

Today, all of these assumptions are invalid. Geographic limits to
expansion have all but disappeared. Thirteen countries are formal
candidates for membership, a number that is certain to grow if
Croatia, Serbia and other Balkan states complete their transitions to
democracy. Other countries that have been mentioned as potential
candidates include Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Russia, Georgia,
Azerbaijan, and even Israel.

Second, the role of NATO has been transformed. While Europeans
continue to emphasize NATO's enduring role in collective defense, the
Cold War context that made NATO a vital part of European integration
is gone. The alliance can be expanded and modernized as it has been
in recent years, but it never again can be the institutional
embodiment of a benign American presence watching over the building
of a civilian Europe.

Finally, there is no longer basic agreement about the road to "closer
union." For the last fifteen years, Europe has been engaged in an
almost constant process of institutional debate and reform--one that
is set to continue as the member states ratify the Treaty of Nice (a
process complicated by the vote in Ireland) and prepare for an
intergovernmental conference in 2004 that is supposed to establish a
delineation of Union, national and regional powers. Federalists such
as Commission President Romano Prodi continue to call for
strengthening the EU's central institutions and eliminating the
national veto. But the member states, not least France, have largely
rejected this approach. They are looking to arrangements that deliver
the benefits of integration, including greater global influence,
while preserving the nation-state and its autonomy.

The reassertion of member-state autonomy in an enlarging Union is
likely to mean the persistence of two deep-seated structural factors
that characterize the present EU: an extremely uneven political and
legal order that complicates decision-making; and a systemic weakness
in turning agreed Union decisions into concrete policies that are
effective in the member-states.

The distinguishing feature of integration as envisioned by Monnet was
simplicity. The hallmark of today's EU is complexity. Different
decision-making processes are used for trade, monetary affairs,
defense, immigration and other policy areas. Differentiation among
member states, initially introduced to circumvent British
obstructionism, has become a permanent feature of the constitutional
order. Twelve member states have adopted the euro, three have not.
Twelve EU countries participate in the Schengen immigration
arrangements (along with two non-members), three EU members do not.
Eleven EU countries are members of NATO, four are not. Constant
tinkering with the EU institutional order, such as occurred with the
Maastricht, Amsterdam, and Nice treaties, has expanded the scope of
EU policy responsibilities without resolving such fundamental
questions as the sources of EU law or nature of the relationship
between the Union and the citizen.

Moreover, even in those policy areas in which the EU is able to take
clear-cut decisions, it has had increasing difficulty in ensuring
that those decisions are implemented, consistently and evenly, with
respect to the citizens (consumers, businessmen, taxpayers) that
European integration purports to serve. EU legislation generally is
passed in the form of directives addressed to the member states,
which then are required to transpose these directives into national
law. If a member fails to transpose a directive, does so improperly,
or neglects to enforce EU-mandated national law, the Commission is
supposed to begin an enforcement process that can culminate in a case
being brought to the Court of Justice and the imposition of fines. In
many cases this multi-stage process does not work, as can be seen in
reports about lags in the completion of the single market, illegal
state aid to industry, and continued segmentation of national
markets. The Commission lacks the resources to monitor enforcement of
EU law and is in any case often intimidated from doing so by powerful
member-state interests.

In some cases, difficulties with implementing EU law arise because
member states lack the administrative capacity and bureaucratic
traditions needed to enforce the thousands of pages of regulations in
the Union's acquis communautaire. (Indeed, traditionally Euroskeptic
countries such as Britain and Denmark resist expanding EU involvement
in new policy areas not only out of abstract concern for national
sovereignty, but also because they know that EU regulations are
enforced unevenly across the Union and fear that regulations may in
practice apply more stringently to their own firms than to those of
competitors.) In other cases, implementation problems are the result
of outright defiance of EU authority by national governments and
parliaments, usually in deference to domestic political pressures.
This has been the case, for example, with nationally-legislated bans
on genetically-modified organisms that fragment the EU's single
market and with national attempts to block takeovers of domestic
firms by investors from other EU countries.

The EU's problems both with decision-making and implementation are
almost certain to get worse with enlargement. The Treaty of Nice sets
out new procedures for taking decisions in a Union of 27 or more
member states, but there is little reason for confidence that these
complex reforms will succeed. With regard to implementation, new
member states will be granted long transition periods that will
exacerbate the complexity of the legal order. They will have weak
administrative mechanisms, while the sheer size of the enlargement
will strain already inadequate Commission resources dedicated to

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