Voices of Doom Ignore True Strength of European Union

Article excerpt

Byline: Leif Hoffmann

Once again headlines abound predicting, if not the outright demise of the European Union, at least the end of the European integration project as we know it (Register-Guard, Nov. 21). According to The Economist, Europe is staring into the abyss due to its sovereign debt crisis. The break-up of the EU might be only a matter of time.

Indeed, the litany of Europe's demise is common in editorial and scholarly writings. Twenty years ago, international relations scholars predicted that the collapse of the Soviet Union and the unification of Germany would ring the death knell of European integration. Instead, the opposite happened with a further deepening and widening of the European Union.

Despite that, the perception remains is that the EU is simply an experimental polity, a "pseudo state". However, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of the EU's death tend to be greatly exaggerated.

Consequently, whatever the intermediate crisis, the ultimate fault of Europe's troubles regularly is perceived to rest in the fragmented nature of Europe. In this view, Europe is riddled with a wide variety of national identities leading to restrictions to trade and the near impossibility to come up with federal-level solutions.

On the other hand, America not only was born as a commercial republic, but thanks to a single national identity also has fewer obstacles to overcome for similar crises. As Charles Murray wrote a while back in The Washington Times, "Thank God America isn't like Europe".

But a better understanding of Europe frequently is tainted by a relatively idyllic understanding of American national identity and market unity. The reality is that Europe is less fragmented and the United States is less unified than the facile analysis would lead us to expect.

In my own research, I have found that in regard to the market rules for services, public procurement and the regulated goods markets, the EU has a freer and more united market than the United States.

Consider the case of hairdressers or other regulated professions in the services sector. In the EU, service providers today can cross borders from the Netherlands to Germany without any major obstacles to give a haircut on any given day.

The United States, however, is so fragmented that a barber hoping to practice in all the states would need not only to acquire licenses from all 50 jurisdictions, but also to take additional classes and pass additional exams and criminal background checks before being allowed to cut somebody's hair for one single day - even if licensed and working in a home state for more than 30 years.

The regulatory agencies in fact see residents from other states not as Americans, but, as the president of National Association of Barber Boards of America pointed out to me, as foreigners similar to practitioner from India or China. …