The United States of Europe

Brussels Travel Blog

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I just read "The United States of Europe" by former Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt. He makes a very thoughtful case about which areas the EU should form a united political body and override national bodies (finance, research, justice, foreign affairs and military affairs) and which areas the EU should completely remove itself from (eg cultural areas, education, health, etc). I find it a very convincing case, as he uses a rational basis for division - areas which require unified action need to be controlled by a unitary body, rather than negotiating every piece past the Czech President, likewise areas in which there is no advantage for unified action should not be controlled by a centralised body, letting the French name their cheeses whatever they like. I'm not entirely convinced that a European army is necessary or desirable, although it would make sense for internal EU countries (why does Switzerland have 224 tanks, and why does Luxembourg even maintain its 900 person army?) to support the protection of the border countries. If the rationale is the reduce the size of the military via efficient combination, that would be something I support. The rest of the argument seems sensible in both policy and PR - once it is made clear what areas the EU is boss and what areas the national government is boss it will be easier for the public to credit the EU with its enormous successes and also hold it accountable for its failures.

The one part of the thesis that I think is just down-right wrong is the basic premise, that "Europe is in a crisis". How so? Europe contains the richest countries in the world, the countries with the highest living standards in the world and the countries with the longest life-expectancy in the world. Europe has been at peace for longer than ever before in its history, and for the first time ever peace is the expected continuing condition. It is simply unthinkable for France to invade Germany or for Spain to enter civil war. Europeans have more freedom than ever before in history, travel networks and common currency make it a breeze to zip across old borders, the right to live and work across the EU gives every citizen continent-wide potential. The Human Rights Court and various EU treaties protect the rights of citizens even against their own government. Europe is working better than ever. Economic growth in Europe may be slower, but so is population growth, so the rich countries are keeping their good lifestyles intact and the poor countries have been catching up in leaps and bounds. With the global downturn over the last year we've also seen the advantage of the European economic model - the contraction was shorter and shallower than in the US, and the smaller number of additional unemployed were secured by the welfare net. I can understand Verhofstadt expressing frustration at the slow pace of change in Europe, with European maximal potential still in the distance, but Europe is not in a crisis.
Adrian_Liston says:
I still think "crisis" is a huge exageration. Turnout at the EU election was low - but higher than the normal turnout in US non-presidential elections. Trust in EU institutions is low - but again far higher than the trust Americans have in Congress. The EU appears deadlocked on major issues, but I'd argue that this is more procedural deadlock which is slowly being unravelled, rather than the ideological deadlock of the US Senate. Democratic deficit - yes, but less than the US Senate and it will improve further with Lisbon. You could even argue that the EU is more functional than the Belgian government ;)
Posted on: Oct 21, 2009
lamadude says:
I think when he says "Europe" is in a crisis, he's not referring to the continet but means the EU as an institution. (something people often simply and incorrectly call "Europe") The EU definitely IS in a crisis as has been shown by the very low turnout at EU parliament elections, low popularity of the EU in general, and problems democratic deficit of the union.

By publishing this book he destroyed any personal chance of becoming the next president of the Commission. (the Brits will never vote for someone who wrote a book with that title) and he knew it, it is nice that he stands up for what he believes in anyway.
Posted on: Oct 21, 2009
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