Europe in the Balance

By Casey, Lee A.; Rivkin Jr., David B. | Policy Review, June 2001 | Go to article overview

Europe in the Balance

Casey, Lee A., Rivkin Jr., David B., Policy Review

The Alarmingly Undemocratic Drift Of the European Union

EVER SINCE THE COLD WAR ended 10 years ago, the nations of Western and Central Europe have rapidly moved to transform the European Economic Community, the "Common Market," into a genuine political union. One after the other, major areas of policymaking responsibility, including important aspects of economic, monetary, social, and legal policies, have been transferred from the nation-states of Europe to the institutions of the European Union (EU). The goal and purpose of this new Europe's leaders are no secret. In a November 2000 speech in Germany, Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, the EU'S principal executive and legislative body, stated that the objective of this "European Project" is not just to create "a superstate but a superpower" -- a superpower that will work to spread its values and concepts of governance on the international level.

During this critical period, the United States has continued to endorse European integration, as it has done for the past 50 years. The political traditions of the EU-member states, which include principles of popular sovereignty, the fact that European integration has been accomplished through peaceful means, and decades worth of Cold War era support by Washington for a stronger, more unified, Europe better able to stand up to Moscow, have led American policymakers to continue viewing the European Project as democratic and, by and large, beneficial. This is true even of those U.S. officials and commentators who are otherwise uncomfortable with the prospect of an emerging European power capable of challenging U.S. "leadership" in global affairs, and who oppose many of the EU's policy positions.

However, the assumption that the new Europe, or at least the new Europe planned by the EU's current leadership, will continue to share the democratic values of the United States is badly in need of reexamination. Although only time will reveal the truth, there are a number of very troubling indicators suggesting that Europe is not moving towards a unified, democratic state on the American model, a "United States of Europe," but rather retreating to a model of governance characteristic of the Continent before the period of Reformation, Enlightenment, and Revolution that spawned the United States. In this regard, at the heart of the European Project lies the notion of a supernational or "universal" authority, spread across the whole of Europe, very similar to the universalist ideas of the Middle Ages. Moreover, this goal has manifested itself in institutions and assumptions about the role of the citizenry in government that are more characteristic of the Age of Absolutism than of American-style republicanism.

If, in the long run, the political ideas of the Reformation and Enlightenment prove to be exceptions to a more permanent and ancient European rule, departures rather than transformations, this will create unique and serious problems for the United States. The American republic has no place, intellectually or politically, in the pre-Enlightenment European world, and while Francis Fukuyama's "end of history" thesis is partially correct -- communism, at least outside of the halls of academe, does not offer a viable ideological threat to democracy -- what model of nontotalitarian governance will ultimately triumph globally is still very much in doubt. Few Americans would disagree with the proposition that popular legitimacy, accountability, limited government, and the existence of a large sphere of private activities free from government involvement are essential attributes of democracy, necessary for both domestic tranquility and international stability. It appears that few of the EU's leaders would agree, judg ing by its institutions and their goals. At the same time, Europe has rarely been content, for long, to manage its own affairs without seeking to export its vision of the proper order of things. …

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