Now you’re grown up, make friends with America

The EU at 50 should look to a far wider single market

Rosemary Righter

German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants each of the EU 27 member states to bring two cakes unique to their country to the event to mark the EU's 50th birthday. Meanwhile, in Britain most people either don't know or don't care that it's the EU's 50th birthday. Celebrations and fireworks here will be virtually non-existant.

The European Union, which turns 50 this Sunday, is America’s pampered godchild. You won’t find people saying that at the birthday fling that Angela Merkel is throwing in Berlin.

Praise will instead be lavished on the two European luminaries, Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet, whose vision of reconciliation through pooled endeavours created the European Steel and Coal Community and led, in 1957, to the Treaty of Rome. The European Economic Community was unquestionably “made in Europe”. But it would have been a sickly infant had it not been for America’s unflinching strategic and financial support for European recovery, and for the idea of European unity.

The extraordinary Marshall Plan, whose 60th anniversary this year is likely to get somewhat less attention than the EU’s half-centenary, rained American taxpayer’s money on the stricken continent — always with the proviso that the Europeans must themselves first agree where the funds were to be allocated.

Coupled with America’s “open door” to trade, Marshall aid speeded up postwar recovery, laid the foundations for decades of bounding growth in Germany, France and even Italy, and helped to give the EEC the early aura of success that made admission to the club a prize to be fought for. The EU’s chroniclers, historians and hagiographers alike, claim that its greatest achievement is to have made war between France and Germany impossible, and by extension, war in Europe. Yet it was Nato, another instance of American statesmanship, that guarded the gates of Europe’s zone of peace against the Soviet threat. If the European Venus had not had Mars at her side in those years of now mostly forgotten danger, Europeans would be nothing like as rich today; nor would they, perhaps, be so smugly self-righteous about their streak of pacifism.

“Forgiveness to the injured does belong,” wrote Dryden, “but they ne’er pardon, who have done the wrong.” The child was no sooner on its feet than it started to resent its godparent’s attentions, its teenage years were studded with rebellion and by the time it came of age as the European Union, it was itching to tell the US where to get off. It was with the words “L’heure de l’Europe a sonné” that Jacques Poos, then the Foreign Minister of Luxembourg, informed Washington on behalf of the EU that Europe could handle the flaring wars in the Balkans alone.

Disaster ensued. Thousands were butchered before the muscle of Nato and US diplomacy was brought to bear. But politically, the die was cast. The EU is committed to a common defence policy, has got itself a military planning staff and is ready for anything — except the spending required to make a stand-alone capability militarily credible.

More than that, it is now dogma that, with a population of nearly 500 million, the enlarged EU is more than a match for America. The flavour of this week’s birthday celebrations, to judge by some of the supercilious rubbish already written, is to dwell on the EU’s superiority as a social, even moral, model for the world, compared with the raw brashness of American power. To a great extent, the EU defines itself by what it is not: it is not America.

It is hard to say how well the EU “model” sells abroad, though it shows no sign of being copied. But it is embarrassingly clear that the EU is not selling well at home. Europeans take peace for granted (not that most people really look on Brussels as their staff and shield) and, after a decade of high joblessness and low growth, Spain and the Irish Republic are the only “old” EU members who now associate the EU with prosperity. The switch to the euro sent prices rocketing from Palermo to Paris and Potsdam; the single currency for many means lower living standards. Business has embraced the single market but many voters see it as a threat, not an opportunity because whenever politicians cut subsidies or break up national monopolies, they load the blame on Brussels.

Europe’s eastward enlargement in 2004 was a political triumph that is also being crowned by economic success; it has spurred growth in both the old and new EU members. But even here, the “Polish plumber” backlash has sent politicians running for cover: “Europe whole and free” has fallen out of political fashion.

The sad truth is that the punters will barely notice this EU birthday, or care if they do. The EU brings to mind two things: politicians arguing over such impenetrable legal texts as the late unlamented EU constitution; and endless, irksome EU regulations governing slaughterhouse, shop, even the fabric that covers your sofa. They are not wrong about the red tape; if the Commission met its pledge to cut company regulation by 25 per cent by 2012, that would add 1.5 per cent to the EU’s growth potential.

Excessive regulation also means that people associate the EU with less, not more, democracy. Their votes have no impact on the EU; most laws come from Brussels, not the governments they elect. And this had bred a general disaffection with politics. No wonder then that politicians are desperate to get voters to love the EU, or at least to dislike it a bit less. But they do not know how to change the conversation. Thus, Mrs Merkel harps on about resurrecting the EU constitution, while, lamenting its rejection, its author Valéry Giscard d’Estaing moans in a recent Newsweek interview that “when the state isn’t visionary, the people have no vision”. If you said something like that in the States, your career would be toast.

Ask not what the people can do for the EU: ask what the EU can do for the people. Helping Europe to compete in a global economy tops the list. That will mean joining forces with America. Now could hardly be a worse time to venture such thoughts. It is open season on the US, even in Britain. The merest nod to America’s innovative, flexible economy, let alone its strong sense of national identity, can be bad for your political health. Yet the best thing the EU could do for European prosperity would be to work with the US on creating a single market spanning the Atlantic. Mrs Merkel is keen. She should forget about the constitution and concentrate on this alone.

At the age of 50, the EU should at last be able to shed its childishly defensive attitude to the US. So, even, should France. For only by pooling the skills and talents of Europe and America, will the European Union achieve its true international potential.


As a Brit I'd far rather join in union with the USA than be in a union with the rest of Europe. I don't know anyone who wants to stay in the EU with the current status quo, EFTA maybe.

We have far more in common with the Anglosphere who don't seem to be quite the defeatist, welfare junkies of Europe. Plus they're not dying nations (demographically speaking with regard to the indiginous populations) unlike much of mainland Europe.

Julian, Wincombe,

Europe has done b****r all for us in the UK except tie us with needless regulation. Bill from Bristol you are wrong, EU is not to be proud of. The US was definately needed to protect us from the Soviet bloc. I think 80% of educated people in Europe would prefer to live freely than under the Russian thumb.

Those in the US please stop refering to Britons and Britain as Europeans and Europe. We are British and Europe starts on the other side of the English Channel, and they can keep it.

Tom, London, UK

Perhaps Europe would be better off if the EU based its policies on those of Adam Smith rather than Karl Marx. You've hit the nail on the head with "Excessive regulation also means that people associate the EU with less, not more, democracy." A democracy is based on a free electorate, not a regulated one.

Don't get me wrong - I like Europe, but I'm hard-pressed to find the significant cultural contributions that Europe has made to the world in the last 50 years that so characterized the hundreds before. Spreading democracy and human rights? Eh...hardly. There are European forces helping American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for that we are deeply thankful, but even those missions seem to be loathed at home and the troops sent mostly reluctantly.

My advice to Britain - smart move staying out of the Euro; take the same stance on political integration and you'll do well.

Cameron Galbraith, Irvine, California, USA
the sooner this EU abortion of a fake phony dictatorial, neo-Nazi rule making state is destroyed the better

WW2 was fought to depose Hitler and fascism ,..and now its replaced by neo-Nazi style governments who trample over people rights and spy and phone-tap them.
The dIsgusting manner in which e.g. Muslims, Morrocans, Asians & Turks are treated in Germany, Holland and elsewhere is little different than the days of enforced wearing of Yellow Stars of David on ones clothes.
Visa for this, ausweiss for that, vergunning for this, permit for that,.....
The EU is a Nazi Gauleiter, and Gauleiter Jobsworth paradise.
It is an afront to democracy,..when people vote against it the fascist resurect the Treaties once more to force on you its will.

AB, london,

Last edited by Blackleaf; Mar 21st, 2007 at 02:41 PM..