- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2003


With all the reports of anti-Americanism in Europe, it may surprise people here to be told that the United States of America is the envy of European politicians. Looked at from Washington, the European Union is not often considered a major factor in U.S.-European relations, and most Americans have a vague notion at best of what the EU actually is. Some European politicians even want a United States of Europe. Where these political ambitions will lead is still uncertain, although they are not in and of themselves likely to solve the economic problems besetting the European economies. On a global scale, they may lead to greater confrontation with the United States, depending on who calls the shots and sets the political agenda in Europe.

The European Union, which started out in the 1950s as a largely economic grouping of six continental European countries (the European Common Market), has today evolved into a semistate-like organization that is expanding to include 25 members, including countries in Eastern and Central Europe. The EU already has a GDP the size of that of the United States and a population that exceeds it.

The EU already has a set of treaties that cover everything from trade to social policy, and even supposedly common foreign and security policy. It has a common currency for 12 European countries (the euro), and the EU now wants a constitution of its own, just like the Americans, to give it a “legal personality” and the other aspects of statehood. In a little over a month, the European Constitutional Convention will present the results of its yearlong work to a conference of the governments of the EU. If adopted, it will be submitted for ratification in each country.

It is difficult, however, to see how this project can work. A single market is one thing. Giving up national political sovereignty is quite another. In almost every case, even in France, European politicians have been far ahead of their electorates.

European constitutional negotiations have sometimes been compared to Philadelphia 1787 in that compromises have to be reached to balance the interests of smaller and bigger states. That comparison is true, but only up to a point. The entrenched political and national cultures of the old nation states of Europe are much harder to weld into a whole than the 13 former British colonies of the New World. And the bigger countries, primarily Germany and France, are deeply reluctant to accept equal representation from smaller neighbors.

What is more, the survival of the U.S. Constitution was precarious enough in itself. As John Adams observed, “The legislators of antiquity … legislated for single cities, but who can legislate for 20 or 30 states, each of which is greater than Greece or Rome at those times.” Before long, there were numerous threats of secession from the Union, including from the states of New England, before the issue burst into full flame with the American Civil War. All of this is frequently overlooked by those who argue if the Americans can do it, so can the Europeans.

The French quickly grasped the lead in the Constitutional Convention, arranging for former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing to act as its head. Unfortunately, Mr. d’Estaing is no Jefferson or Madison. Representatives of other countries at the convention have complained that he has a way of arriving with a set of finished proposals, sidelining other participants and preempting objections. And after a while, smaller and medium-sized countries started coordinating their efforts to be heard. Specifically, they did not want the trimmings of empire to get out of hand. As a Finnish representative has quipped, “we do not want to import the American presidency, the standing committee of the Soviet politburo and the Chinese People’s Congress.” This referred to the proposal for an elected European president and a standing convention to deal with constitutional issues.

Finally, it is doubtful that the new European constitution will fix what most ails the continent — economic stagnation, rigid labor markets and declining birthrates. The introduction of the euro has not produced economic growth. The German economy, the euro zone’s largest, contracted by 0.2 percent in the first quarter of this year, dragging other economies with it toward recession.

The prestigious French Institute of Internal Relations, in a new report titled “World Trade in the 21st Century,” predicts that “The enlargement of the European Union will not be sufficient to guarantee parity with the United States,” and that the EU’s share of world economic output will shrink from 22 percent today to 12 percent in 50 years.

This is not what you hear in Brussels, of course. But surrounded by the architectural glories of old Europe, it is hard not to get the impression that the busy framers of the European Constitution are whistling past the graveyard, as splendid as it is.

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