Europe and America: parallel lives, centuries apart: Why is Europe uniting?

By Adrian Taylor

The European Union is increasingly mentioned in informed media as playing a role in global politics and business. Most often it associated with trade policy disputes and anti-trust actions, but recently attention is also turning to its foreign policy role. Over a series of articles, the author, an English expert on EU affairs living in the US, seeks to outline how the development of the EU parallels the historical development of the USA, and thereby to enlighten the often confusing debates on what the EU is and does.

Just a trade bloc?

To read some accounts of the EU’s action, one could believe the EU was largely a commercial bloc. In reality, the EU resembles much more closely the United States itself, rather than some super form of NAFTA. Indeed, the EU states have been driven by many of the motives which forged the USA.

High minded ideals

American unity was born of an armed rebellion and proclaimed the importance of liberty. European unity was also the result of a blood letting, with two World Wars in the space of thirty years, and its ideal was to avoid any repetition of this massacre. Hence even if the European project first took an economic form, the project of the founding fathers was always political, from the start they were:

“Determined to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe” [1]

Security first

“Among the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention, that of providing for their safety seems to be the first. (…) At present I mean only to consider it as it respects security for the preservation of peace and tranquillity, as well against dangers from foreign arms and influence, as from dangers of the like kind arising from domestic causes.” [2]

For the nascent US republic, the threats were visible, in the shape of the British from abroad, and the likes of Shea’s rebellion menace of anarchy from within. No surprise that Europe’s founding fathers in the 1950s were moved by similar realpolitik motives. The inauguration of a European Coal and Steel Community in July 1952 was partly driven by the need to arm against the Soviet Union and the simultaneous desire to control the process at the European level, lest any state (not just Germany – there were strong communist parties in France and Italy) slide into totalitarian clutches.

Commerce is crucial

“The importance of the Union in a commercial light is one of those points about which there is least room to entertain a difference of opinion (…). This applies as well to our intercourse with foreign countries as with each other.” [3]

Mr. Hamilton could not have expressed post-War European sentiment better. As the sense of threat diminished, business became a driving force instead. Union meant force, and hence a Common Commercial Policy was one of the first European policies to be established, complete with a single negotiator on behalf of all the Member States. This mirrored internal developments in inter-state trade with the application of a European equivalent to the US “commerce clause”. The aim was not protectionism, but the result was a voice in world trade that could stand up to the USA like no other power in the globe.

Economic muscle too

At some point in the late 19th Century, the USA overtook the UK as the leading industrial producer on the planet. That moment symbolised the gradual transatlantic shift in power which led to the American century.

Over time, the EU has grown in size, moving from six founding states to fifteen [4]. It has also developed a real economic unity. It is a combination of the arrival of the single market in the EU and the enlargement of the EU to three extra countries in 1995, which now means that the EU, ties with the US for the role of largest single market on the planet.

The EU, a future US?

Is the US therefore facing a new rival in the shape of Europe?

If it is, then the rivalry is friendly and also not of the traditional sort. For most Europeans remain do not wish to build a new nation state. As French President Jacques Chirac put it “we do not want a United States of Europe, but a United Europe of States.” Increasingly the EU is a network, which aims to limit the downsides of globalisation, whilst maximizing the advantages. Such a configuration – flexible but closely bound – is not going to become a superpower. It will, however, lead by example, showing how the integration of states helps to meet the challenges of globalisation. Thereby lies the real challenge to the USA.

[1] Preamble, Treaty of Rome founding the European Economic Community, entered into force 1 January 1958.
[2] John Jay, 3 November 1787, “The Federalist Papers” No 3
[3] Alexander Hamilton, 24 November 1787, “The Federalist Papers” No 11
[4] The fifteen are: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom.

Adrian Taylor is a Research Associate of the EU Center, University System of Georgia, and holds an honorary Professor’s position at the Sam Nunn School of International Relations, Georgia Tech, Atlanta, USA. He is currently working for Think Tools A.G. a software firm in Zurich, Switzerland. He can be contacted at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union.

More information

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