The European Community: An American Perspective

By Markovich, Stephen | Contemporary Review, November 1993 | Go to article overview

The European Community: An American Perspective


Markovich, Stephen, Contemporary Review


For the past several weeks I have been in Europe doing some work on German politics and unification. Over the course of my stay I have felt a creeping negativism regarding the status and the future of the European Community, a negativism that stems primarily from the gloomy reporting on the EC rather than from my own views of the association. Of course, not all of the media reporting is gloomy. Occasionally sunny sides are presented but these tend to be exceptions in a sea of negativism. More often than not, when I scan a newspaper article or watch a television newscast dealing with the EC, there is a pessimistic tone in the story. Moreover, the pessimistic tone seems to permeate all levels; whether the story covers a major issue such as Maastricht or a minor clause in a trade agreement, it is there. Over time the incremental effect of these pessimistic stories leaves the impression that the Community is in dire straights and that its very existence is at stake.

Now some of this pessimism is understandable. Not all is rosy with the EC. Individually and collectively member countries are suffering through economic sluggishness, if not economic recession; national tempers are fraying over currency devaluations and exchange mechanisms; the Community's competitive abilities in international markets are being questioned; and arguments over the future structure of the EC are reflecting disagreement and divisiveness. Covering any of these difficulties will admittedly result in a story that is negative in tone, and progressive stories over weeks and months will ultimately create a tide of scepticism over the viability of the Community itself. To avoid being caught up in this tide, one has to step back and review the positives that underlie the European idea, and these positives are substantial.

Consider, for example, the strong support for the Community that persists through the syndrome of difficulties. Despite the economic problems, the respective domestic concerns, and the close votes on Maastricht, member governments and their populations remain in favour of the European idea; governments are arguing over the type of Community and not over its continued existence; and popular majorities support the Community even though they question some of its specifics. A corollary to the internal support for the EC is the external attraction. European outsiders want to become insiders; they very much want to become members. For present members, it is a question of fending off applications until they decide whom to admit and how fast to grow.

The very size and wealth of the Community are also obvious ~pluses'. Along with the United States and Japan the European Community is one of the three economic giants in the world, and it has the potential to become the richest and most influential. Presently the EC has a total population that is nearly one thousand million more than America's and a gross domestic product that is one thousand million dollars greater; compared with Japan, its population is about three times as large and its GDP nearly twice as big. With expansion sure to come the Community's size and wealth will continue to increase and concomitantly so will its economic influence. Of course, what America and Japan have and the Community lacks are the established unity of single states and the institutionalised power of national governments. But these are characteristics that the Community is developing or, more accurately, striving to develop in some form or other. Fundamentally these are the underlying points of Maastricht, are they not?

The unity and power of the EC, expressly the degree of unity and power, are critical points in the Community's continuing debate over structure and control. Because of the disagreements among member states over these points - varying from those who want the Community to remain a loose confederation of states to those who want it to meld into a supranational federal government - media reports convey a negative tone due to the substantive differences being reported. …

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