Academic journal article International Social Science Review

E Pluribus Europa? Assessing the Viability of the European Union by Analogy with the Early American Republic

Academic journal article International Social Science Review

E Pluribus Europa? Assessing the Viability of the European Union by Analogy with the Early American Republic

Article excerpt

Introduction: The Neglected Study of EU Viablility

The sui generis interpretation dominant in mainstream European Union (EU) studies is often accompanied by a blithe assumption that the EU has the political wherewithal and willpower to keep overcoming its almost endemic constitutional status. Hailed as unique among international treaty organizations, it has even been described by one commentator as the embodiment of a "new European Dream" that "dares to suggest a new history, with an attention to quality of life, sustainability, and peace and harmony." (1) If deficiencies or deficits are identified in this polity, then it often assumed that there is an institutional solution: increasing the power of the European Parliament, establishing an EU senate to represent member state governments in a second parliamentary chamber, or, perhaps, having a directly elected president of the European Commission (an EU executive). (2) What is not problematized is, first, how the EU's political system has resolved previous crises and, second, what this suggests about its potential for greater centralization. Simply put, how and why is the EU viable as a form of political organization?

There is at least one very good reason why the viability of the EU should be questioned. Federalism, of which the EU is a "species" as political scientist David McKay puts it, is hot considered a "notably successful governmental form." (3) In the specific case of the EU, tensions exist between and within the member states over a multitude of European issues and policy debates: voting rights of member states, how much each member should contribute to the budget, the reliance on NATO and problems of alignment with U.S. foreign policy, and the question of Turkish accession. Lurching from one crisis to the next is a specialty of European integration. Indeed, viability is a particularly vexing question precisely because of the uncertainty over the constitutive features of this new political entity, characterized as it is by endless disputes concerning its powers, membership, legitimacy, and ability to represent citizens democratically.

This nexus of unsolved issues represents a contest over the rules of the game of European politics. This quandary of agreeing to the "rules of the game" is the problem par excellence of attempts at creating a federal-like union of states--such as the EU and the early American Republic--which start out as political projects with an uncertain end, beset by the problem of multiple identifies and interest cleavages. The claims made in this study regarding the conditions for a viable EU do not relate to what it means for the EU to be effective as a policymaker or for it to acquire the trappings of a sovereign state. Rather, viability refers to the ability either to sustain a dynamic equilibrium, which manages but does not transcend the existing contest over the rules of the game, or else it entails voluntary centralization, whereby disagreement over the rules of the game recedes as member states acquiesce to pool more powers of decision and execution at the center. Both scenarios are examples of viability for democratic unions of states because they solve the twofold dilemma of trying to avoid coercive centralization and disintegration.

To overcome the neglect in EU studies of addressing the viability problem, an indirect analogical comparison, which equates how the rules of the game were contested and managed in the antebellum American Republic and the EU, is offered here to provide insights into the viability of both systems. (4) This analysis reveals that the EU has managed the ongoing dispute over the rules of the game of European politics by preserving a dynamic equilibrium: fundamental questions about powers and policy choices have been left unresolved. Conversely, the early American Republic witnessed a process of voluntary centralization in political life that took agenda-setting and veto power away from the individual states. …

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