To Be or Not To Be: A United States of Europe?Recently the French electorate, followed almost immediately by the Dutch, declined to ratify a constitution for the Brussels-based supranational European Union, an initiative that was supported in both instances by those nations’ elected political leadership. The two negative plebiscites would seem to spell the end of that ambitious initiative for the indefinite future, maybe for another generation, given that a negative decision by a single nation suffices to sink the proposal, at least for the time being. Nine European states out of the twenty-five total EU members have thus far approved, at the cabinet level, the proposed political system. Britain is due for a referendum on the question in 2006, with the prospects for a favorable vote there not promising.
If eventually, contrary to these developments pointing in the opposite direction, the new European Union constitution were to be adopted, such action would go far toward transforming an economic/political bloc into an even more integrated political system. The area involved has some 450 million people and boasts an aggregate economy larger than that of the United States. A new politically unified, economically integrated body would be something of a United States of Europe writ larger than the American model.
Although the political leadership of both France, including prominently President Chirac, and the Netherlands support a European constitution, real political and economic problems associated with such a change can be identified: The constitution presents more a catchall of policies than a coherent statement of national purpose; the French and other Western Europeans have worries about the further effect of the 2004 admission into the EU of ten lower-income Eastern European countries; the French in particular worry about the resultant adverse impact on the nation’s living standards; Europeans in general have concerns about the pending admission to the EU of Islamic Turkey; and not surprisingly, feelings of nationalism and national identity by no means have died out within Europe.
The United States happily does not appear to this observer to have a vital stake in the developing question about whether or not Europe coalesces as a large, multi-lingual super state. This might have been a vital policy question during the Cold War, but these days America and the West encounter immediate international dangers of an entirely different order. No longer are we faced with the necessity of mobilizing Europe against massed Soviet tanks on the plains of Europe and of counterbalancing Moscow’s possession of nuclear weapons. Rather, international terrorism now is the most immediate danger, one that, while deadly, is of a different order, a threat requiring far different defensive measures than those of the Cold War.
European-American collaboration remains today of consequence, but the political structure of Europe has less import in the current struggle than was the case half a century ago. At that time the formation of NATO had a decidedly positive effect on the West, one that was complicated by France’s withdrawal from the military aspects of the alliance, first in naval terms in 1962 and completely four years later. In those circumstances, De Gaulle’s wish to build up an independent nuclear strike force compromised the defensive coherence of the North Atlantic nations.
It is unlikely that French and Dutch voters’ refusal to ratify a European constitution will have any negative impact on defenses against terrorism. Cooperation in the struggle is necessary, but closer European political union is not a prerequisite.
That’s something of a relief –- one thing less that Washington has to worry about, unlike the threats of decades ago to NATO cohesion. A White House spokesman, while lauding a strong, united Europe, has confined his comment in the wake of the setback to European political union to a remark that the constitution in question is a matter for Europeans to decide.
And so it is.