The Federalists Go to Brussels

The Federalists Go to Brussels

Mini Teaser: The European Union’s potential for superpower status has been greatly exaggerated. Brussels has neither the stomach for the job, nor the united purpose to undertake it.

by Author(s): Christopher Patten


THROUGHOUT THE recent Bush presidency, Europeans wrung their hands, criticized his administration's unilateralism (a little modified in his second term) and told the world how much they would do if only there was a multilateralist in the White House. Oh, for the chance to be America's international chum.

So now we have in the White House the president of Europe's dreams; the president we all yearned to vote for; a president who is awesomely talented and expresses with intelligent eloquence the sentiments about the world that Europeans had come to think were our own monopoly. Visiting Europe, the president is mobbed not only by the public but by their elected leaders, whose bedraggled or dour images could do with being touched by a little of his capacious quantity of tinsel.

But foreign policy is about more than photo opportunities. Obama should of course be the agent of change in the U.S.-EU relationship. That is at least how Europeans talked about him. Yet, as his administration deals with some of the predicaments of intelligent global engagement, what response can President Obama expect from his European admirers?


EXPECTATIONS, OF course, must be grounded in the history and realities of the recent European experience-what Europe is and what it is not; what Europe has achieved and what it has not. The Continent has been shaped by the institutions and alliances established after the Second World War.

Postwar planning began in the State Department even while American, British and Russian forces were still fighting in Asia and Europe. American officials were prescient enough to recognize even then that their own country would be required to do the heavy lifting in peacetime. But they also assumed that they would need assistance, and that once they had helped Western Europe off its knees, they could expect its countries to share the burden of defending and advancing the cause of pluralist democracy and open markets.

The political and economic integration that led from the Coal and Steel Community to the European Union provided that infrastructure for the rebuilding and reshaping of the Continent. And in a sense, the EU was the price that its member states willingly paid for the security guarantees given by the United States through NATO. France and Germany were lashed together at the heart of the enterprise. Young Americans would not be sacrificed again on the battlefields that had resulted from the extremes of European nationalism.

The European Union is still, in a way, a work in progress, adjusting and adapting to a world where it makes sense for medium-size countries to pool some of their sovereignty in order to transform it. Together, these countries are more capable of dealing with common problems than they would be on their own-a point lost on many in Britain who still dream of a global role that was illusory even when Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden thought that Britain could remain a great power after its heroic wartime exertions.

The EU, though, is not a superstate in the making, despite some vainglorious posturings to that effect. America's Founding Fathers, representing subnational entities, came together to create a nation, the abstract concept of which had already existed for some time. In Europe, by contrast, proud, independent nation-states joined forces to decide what they could do together. The legitimacy of their actions rests not with a pan-European citizenry, but with the citizens of each individual member state. So their recent effort to codify and clarify their institutional arrangements through the Lisbon Treaty began by listing the heads of state of each country.

Let us not forget that individual countries have retained power over tax policy, labor markets, social security, health care, education, and foreign and security policy. There is no European army, no European pension, no European school syllabus. Suggestions that individual states are about to lose their independence and be ruled from Brussels are what the great sixteenth-century English lawyer and victim of conscience Sir-and Saint-Thomas More called "terrors for children." The few countries whose elites still favor the federalists' dream tend to be those whose own unity is in dispute or where national political authority lacks credibility.


WHAT EUROPE has agreed to do in common is nevertheless extraordinary. It has created the largest single market in the world governed by overriding laws with binding dispute settlement, guaranteeing freedom of movement of goods, food, money and people. Almost half those who participate in this market share a currency. The EU fiercely applies rules for open and fair competition across most of the board, though not, alas, to energy or armament manufacture. It has a single trade policy, albeit one that is mandated by the member states. It operates too a common environmental policy.

With an economy larger than that of the United States by about a third, and with greater investments in America today than America makes in Europe, the EU is a big and significant global economic partner for its brethren across the pond. For years, the transatlantic marketplace has been a motor for the world economy. Moreover, in poor countries, Europe is the biggest donor of official development assistance. Not a bad record. George C. Marshall would be proud of what he helped to achieve!

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