US President Abraham Lincoln famously said, “you can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time”.
I wonder. Writing this I am sitting in the cavernous Edwardian railroadness of Washington’s Union Station. This is what an ancient Greek railway station would have looked like had the Athenians got around to turning ideas into practice. At least it is what a nineteenth century American architect thought an ancient Greek station would amount to. There is a reason for all this lofty grandeur. Union Station is but a stone’s throw from the Capitol, which is probably appropriate as it is built on the site of a notoriously rowdy Irish slum.
This station sat at the very heart of the Union, part of a railway system critical to ensuring the cohesion of an America that spent much of the nineteenth century colonizing ‘itself’. One of the striking aspects of my latest visit to Washington is how many senior Americans, particularly think-tankers, think a ‘United States of Europe’ a good thing.
Many Americans (not all) have a disarming tendency to super-impose their own self-image onto others. This tendency is nowhere more apparent than views about Europe. The somewhat bizarre award to the EU of the Nobel Prize for Peace (given the many people risking their lives for peace) has heightened a sense in some American minds that the end of the European nation-state is nigh and some latter day Rome might emerge. There is even some of the growing intolerance one finds in the Euro-Aristocracy of those resisting the ‘irresistible’ for fear of the loss of ancient liberties and because some of us are quite fond of our old countries. Some even imply xenophobia, much the same way that this terminally politically-correct country infers that anyone concerned about hyper-immigration must by definition be racist. Above all it shows a dangerously simplistic misunderstanding of Europe.
My own objections to a ‘super-Europe’ reflect the unease of many Europeans already alienated from politics that there is simply no way to make what Messrs Van Rompuy, Barroso, Draghi et al want at all democratic, whatever their manipulations to the contrary to gain more power. The European nation-state is not the equivalent of an American state and never will be. Indeed, four of the world’s top ten economies and two of its leading military powers are EU member-states. There is no common language, no common legal tradition and none of the shared political philosophy essential to the Founding Fathers. As such there will be no Declaration of Rights and thus very few real checks and balances to restrain an over-mighty bureaucracy made powerful by a crisis much of its own crafting beyond a distant fig-leaf European Parliament that represents only itself.
My own country, Britain, is often painted here as a recalcitrant outlier full of political Neanderthals who have spent too long on an island, rather than a great country with a long and proud libertarian tradition from which America inherited its concept of political liberty and for whom many of its citizens have died over the past decade or so.
What is particularly worrying is how some of the think-tankers seem seduced by powerful EU interests into accepting the intolerant orthodoxy of European integration that views all dissenters as dangerous heretics. The strange (and oft hypocritical) thing is that these people imply the end of European state sovereignty, something they themselves could never imagine being imposed on Americans.
Where I agree with the Euro-Federalists is that the next ten years will be the crunch for ‘The Project,’ as the European Commission calls it, to build a ‘united’ Europe on their terms. By 2020 the Europe we know could be sliding fast down the trash chute of history to be replaced by ‘Brussels DC.’ The critical moves towards banking, fiscal, and political union currently on the table if followed through logically would indeed shift the balance of power decisively against the member-state (and with it democracy) such that it would become a mere rump.
The EU works best as a form of intense inter-state co-operation in which national parliaments close to the people provide legitimacy and Brussels is there simply to aggregate effectiveness by helping to promote cohesion in those areas of trade, the free movement of goods and people and on some aspects of foreign and security policy where strategic unity of effort and purpose is essential. It is not a sovereign state.
Americans must at least understand one thing: a US of E would be nothing like the good ole US of A. Certainly, no latter day Rome would emerge; more likely would be a very large Greece.
Julian Lindley-French is Eisenhower Professor of Defence Strategy at the Netherlands Defence Academy, Fellow of Respublica in London, Associate Fellow of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Studies and a member of the Strategic Advisory Group of the Atlantic Council. He is also a member of the Academic Advisory Board of the NATO Defence College in Rome. This essay first appeared on his personal blog, Lindley-French’s Blog Blast.