For many of us who live outside the immediate confines of Europe, it may startle us to learn that the European Union may be recorded as an incredibly courageous and important step in world history. Ancient foes and wildly different cultures have banded together for the common good, putting aside some of their national independence in order to gain a form of interdependence that will, arguably, benefit all the nations involved - politically, economically and socially.
Nevertheless, many doomsayers have recently engaged in a form of Euro-bashing Schadenfreude over the issue of the EU constitution. Many point to US history as a template or guide for others to follow, and argue that since certain conditions have not been met in the EU, then it is bound to collapse in abject failure.
That is until you examine the situation further, and realise that supporters of the European Union have always been willing to suffer defeat after defeat, and then return to the negotiating table for more endless talk. The process is slow but inexorable. Fifty years ago the idea of a united Europe using a single currency was a pipedream - but today it is a hard reality. Those EU negotiators who promote their view of the union are some of the most conciliatory in the world. They, along with many who oil the internal workings of the EU in Brussels, work hard at the fine details and listen intently to all different sides and strive to promote harmony. They are probably the nicest and most boring political negotiators in the world. Yet they have been incredibly effective. The rejection of the current constitutional draft may have caused consternation amongst these people, but they do not appear to have given up at all. They will return to the problem and, as time goes by, come up with another solution. They are patient and commited to growing the EU in whatever format is decided upon. And so the EU will continue to expand and develop.
It is therefore important for the world to realise the role of a future EU in promoting peace, prosperity and freedom throughout the world. While the US sees itself as an independent example for others to follow, the EU, at its very core, can be directly involved in changing a nation's political and economic structure. Entry into the EU is a lengthy process, but offers many economic and political incentives for the entrant, especially those nations which are quite poor. But in order to qualify for entry, the nation must first reform its politics and economy to ensure that they are in line with the rest of the union.
Examples of this process are not hard to find. Many Central European nations such as Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have met the guidelines and are now part of the EU. These nations, among many others from the former Iron Curtain, will switch over to the single currency over the next 5 years. America may have won the Cold War, but it now appears that the EU is winning the peace.
Much of the popular criticism of EU economics is directed at the overly cautious European Central Bank, an over-generous welfare system, and high rates of unemployment, especially in France, Germany and Italy - three of the Eurozone's largest economies. These criticisms are not without foundation, as economic growth in the EU has been quite stagnant for years.
However, these criticisms often fail to account for current and future growth in the poorer sections of the EU. Growth may be slow now, but there is no doubt that the structural economic improvements put in place by the poorer ex-communist EU members will impact overall GDP figures as the years progress. Moreover, some of these poorer nations have put into place tax and labour-market conditions that will benefit them so much that the richer, more established, EU members will be forced to reform themselves more radically. Proof for this assertion can be seen in nations like Spain, who have progressed very quickly since the days of Franco, as well as smaller and richer nations like Austria or The Netherlands, who have unemployment rates comparable to the US.
American reaction to the EU has generally fallen into two categories - ridicule or fear. It is hard for Americans to understand the cultural background of the EU's formation, so steeped are they in their own cultural and political traditions. Therefore, any news report or event that highlights a failure of the EU results in, at best, a condescending critique or, at worst, outright "Euro-bashing". Whenever the EU's successes are mentioned, however, the tone becomes one of fear. According to these critics, such successes threaten America's freedoms and way of life by promoting an alternative form of government that calls itself democratic, but is actually a covert form of oppression. Those who adhere to a small government philosophy would be the loudest in this group of critics. The EU is also feared by those who believe in conspiracy theories or apocalyptic millennialism, with the growth of the EU resulting from shadowy forces of evil who are beginning to take over the world. An example of this is EU Secretary-General, Javier Solana, who is increasingly seen as a potential Antichrist to more radical evangelical Christians.
To be sure, if the EU is to live up to its universal values and to be more effective in promoting world peace, they will need to intervene more directly in regional conflicts and trouble spots - especially those near their own borders. This requires increased military expenditure by EU members. It was shameful that Europe was unable to provide the military forces necessary to intervene and bring peace in the Balkans during the 1990s. America did Europe a great favour by agreeing to provide the troops and firepower needed to bring peace. But this was a European problem that required a European intervention - America should never have been involved.
It will be years - decades maybe - before a multinational EU military can be formed. If this idea scares some Americans, it needs to be pointed out that it scares Europeans more. Retaining a national army under the control of a sovereign state will be something that many EU members are unlikely to give up, although it is likely that a nation's military may be compelled into action because of the various treaties that bind the EU together.
But it will be quite a while before the EU's influence in the world will be felt. To the East of the EU lies Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine - former parts of the Soviet Union and still developing as nations. All three are potential candidates for EU inclusion in the long term - especially Ukraine in light of recent events. Proponents of the EU also dream of Russia being included one day - but that goal is too radical and too distant for mainstream Europeans to currently accept. The EU is also in close proximity to North Africa and the Middle East - with Turkey being seriously considered as a candidate.
It is, however, not the potential for candidacy that may affect these nations, but their close proximity to a large, integrated and influential economy that is linked to generally secular politics. While we may fear the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism, we must remember that much of the root causes of this phenomenon - poverty and lack of education - can be greatly reduced the more they trade with and negotiate with the EU. Moreover, the EU has an advantage in the Middle East by simply not being America, and offering a different cultural narrative that is not as feared nor hated as much.
Much of the potential of the EU, however, lies with the thoughts and feelings of its current members. Expanding the Union further is unlikely in the current climate. Turkey, which deserves membership and could greatly enhance the Union's influence, has too many Muslims for Europe's liking. Obviously, many can imagine hordes of Islamic radicals pouring into Europe from Turkey through the open borders that are part of EU membership. Of course it won't happen, but we all know that impressions are more effective than facts.
It is therefore in the interests of America, and the entire world, to ensure that the European Union grow and develop. Its economy has the potential to produce millions of jobs and lower poverty both inside and outside its borders. Its potential military force can help intervene in trouble spots around the world, especially those close by, with the added benefit of preventing the need for direct American involvement (with all its associated problems). Its adherence to the rule of law will influence many nations who struggle in this area - especially those who are unlikely to view America as an example to follow.
Europe - it should not be feared nor ridiculed by America. Instead it needs to be encouraged, respected as an equal, and maybe even firmly rebuked when needed. Its future affects us all, and its prosperity and influence will only help us, not hurt us.
From the One Salient Overlord Department
© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
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