European Unification and U.S.-European Relations
AEI Newsletter

On May 1, the first eleven members were officially admitted to the European Monetary Union (EMU), and next January 1 its currency, the Euro, is scheduled to debut. All of the leading economic powers of Europe have agreed to participate, with the single exception of the United Kingdom. As European union--monetary and otherwise--advances, how will it affect relations between Europe and the United States? Will those relations flourish, in part because of the convenience and simplicity of greater cohesion in Europe, or will they suffer from new strains and rivalry?

To address those questions and others concerning the nature and consequences of European unification, AEI’s New Atlantic Initiative invited Michael Portillo, a former British cabinet member, to speak about the drive toward a European state and its consequences for transatlantic relations.

Mr. Portillo stressed that whatever economic difficulties EMU faces, there is “iron political will” in the governments of the eleven participating countries to make it succeed. Furthermore, he cited statements by Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany and other leading proponents of EMU that evince a clear intention for monetary and economic union to lead to political union.

On a practical level, Mr. Portillo views Europe as attempting to create in a short span of time a level of unity that required more than a century to develop in the United States. The great diversity of cultures and traditions within Europe makes the task especially daunting.

But more troubling, in his opinion, are, first, the lack of clarity and debate about the division of responsibilities between the European federal government and the national governments, and second, the weakening of democratic accountability, as power is shifted from national governments, where representative democracy is the norm, to the federal government, which is largely appointed. “The people of Scotland have demonstrated recently that they think London is too distant as a center of their democracy. It is impossible for me to imagine that, without a century or two of further evolution, the European Parliament could be the forum in which the people of Europe felt that all their interests were adequately represented.”

While recognizing that one of the motives behind European unification is the desire for peace and that nationalism is widely thought to have been a primary cause of modern European wars, Mr. Portillo disagreed with the premise that the eclipse of the nation-state will represent progress: “I have not given up on the nation-state, because I think the nation-state is, even today, the appropriate unit in which representative democracy can be effectively practiced. I don’t think the European Union has sorted out how representative democracy is going to be practiced across the continent.”

European unification has worrisome consequences for U.S.-European relations in both foreign policy and economics, Mr. Portillo argued. Since European governments have not been able to reach a consensus on any recent major foreign policy issue, the short-term effect of a joint European foreign policy “would be to institutionalize inactivity and feebleness.” The longer-term prospect, in his view, is a foreign policy that is not pro-American and is perhaps even anti-American, as the European Union will likely try to distinguish itself from the United States.

On the economic front, Mr. Portillo acknowledged that “from America, it is tempting to see the creation of a European political and monetary union as a symbol of growing globalization.” He raised another possibility, however: “It is equally plausible to interpret the construction of the EU as a fortress intended to resist globalization.”

AEI’s Richard Perle gave a brief response to the speech, in which he noted that “while for many years Americans assumed that a unified Europe would be in the interests of the United States, that has now become a debatable proposition.”

John Richardson, a minister of the European Commission and deputy head of its delegation to the United States, disagreed with Mr. Portillo’s general characterization of European federal institutions. “I recognized many facts Mr. Portillo mentioned in his speech,” Mr. Richardson said, “but not the picture he put together from them.” In Mr. Richardson’s estimation, the European Union is legitimately democratic. All important decisions, he pointed out, are made by its Council of Ministers and its parliament, both of whose memberships are elected. He argued, moreover, that because the EU incorporates separation of powers and federalism in its structure, it more closely resembles American constitutional democracy than does Great Britain.

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