With its expansion to 25 member states, the European Union is poised to become a vast federal superstate. As it seeks to be a “counterweight” to U.S. Global interests, will Europe replace America as the world’s leading superpower?
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It has more people (454.7 million) than the United States—a larger consumer market—more troops (collectively, almost two million armed forces personnel)—and, with more votes on the United Nations Security Council and every other international body, stronger political muscle.
It has a president, a legislative body, a flag, a national anthem, a motto (“Unity in Diversity”), open borders between member states, a constitution (yet to be ratified), a Bill of Rights, and a court system that can overrule the highest of any member court.
It also has an emerging common culture that speaks a common language: English.
The decades-old European dream of becoming a kind of “United States of Europe” is becoming a reality. Speaking at the Carnegie Council’s “Books for Breakfast” program, T.R. Reid, bureau chief for The Washington Post and author of the book The United States of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy, observed, “I think it’s fair to say that Europe is more united today than at any time since the Roman Empire.”
But what does this mean for America’s future?
Within a 75-year span, the European continent was ravaged by three brutal war campaigns: the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), World War I (1914-18) and World War II (1939-45). Together, an estimated 60 to 70 million Europeans were killed.
In the aftermath of WWII, the United States became a world-leading superpower, countered by the Soviet Union. As the Iron Curtain came down on Europe, dividing East from West, war-torn nations on both sides raced to rebuild their armed forces. Another continental war seemed to loom on the horizon. And so leaders, thinkers, idealists and religionists set out to fulfill a vision: a reorganized Europe free from nationalist strife, military competition and arms races.
On September 19, 1946, in Zurich, Switzerland, Winston Churchill gave a speech that addressed the state of Europe and its future. “If Europe were once united in the sharing of its common inheritance,” he said, “there would be no limit to the happiness, to the prosperity and the glory which its three or four hundred million people would enjoy.”
“…all the while there is a remedy which, if it were generally and spontaneously adopted by the great majority of people in many lands, would as if by a miracle transform the whole scene, and would in a few years make all Europe, or the greater part of it, as free and as happy as Switzerland is today. What is this sovereign remedy? It is to re-create the European Family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe.”
Churchill proposed that this unified European state be spearheaded by a partnership between France and Germany.
Continuing, he said, “The structure of the United States of Europe, if well and truly built, will be such as to make the material strength of a single state less important. Small nations will count as much as large ones and gain their honor by their contribution to the common cause.”
“…we must re-create the European Family in a regional structure called, it may be, the United States of Europe. And the first practical step would be to form a Council of Europe. If at first all the States of Europe are not willing or able to join the Union, we must nevertheless proceed to assemble and combine those who will and those who can. The salvation of the common people of every race and of every land from war or servitude must be established on solid foundations and must be guarded by the readiness of all men and women to die rather than submit to tyranny. In all this urgent work, France and Germany must take the lead together. Great Britain, the British Commonwealth of Nations, mighty America and I trust Soviet Russia—for then indeed all would be well—must be the friends and sponsors of the new Europe and must champion its right to live and shine.
“Therefore I say to you: let Europe arise!”
Churchill’s speech laid the groundwork for today’s European Union—and marked the prophetic path it will take.
For centuries, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Britain and other Western European countries ran global empires that steered or influenced the course of world events. These nations operated from a position of strength: They possessed the military might to force their will upon weaker countries—and were not afraid to use it.
But by 1945, this had changed; the age of European empires came to an end.
The conclusion of WWII ushered in the Cold War, which left Europe caught between the competing interests and politics of America and the USSR. With their economies and infrastructures in shambles—and no longer possessing the military means to impose their national will—European leaders were relegated to being minor players on the world stage. Under the far-reaching shadows of U.S. leadership and the looming threat of Soviet aggression, Europe operated from a position of weakness, and had to master the art of subtle diplomacy, using charm, stealth, guile, compromise and appeasement to secure their political interests.
Alone, no European nation had the resources to challenge the political, financial and military muscle of the two superpowers—yet Britain, Italy, Germany, France and others realized that together they could hold their own. This became a key motivator for the Europeans to unify. From the 1950s onward, the nations learned to pool their resources together, entering into treaties and setting up commissions that ultimately led to the formation of the European Union.
With the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the subsequent collapse of the USSR, America was left as the lone superpower. Despite all that the United States had done to rebuild, fortify and protect Western Europe, European leaders dreaded the prospect of the U.S. pursuing its global interests unchallenged. This fear motivated the EU’s transformation into a political and economic counterweight to American power.
Today, the EU has the economic clout necessary to make many of the rules that shape and govern world commerce.
In a July 2001 decision, the European Commission voted unanimously—without even a debate—to veto a proposed merger between American aircraft giants General Electric and Honeywell. This $45 billion deal—which had been approved by the U.S. Justice Department—would have been the biggest industrial merger in history.
Four years later, the European Court of First Instance acknowledged that “the Commission’s reasoning was marred by legal errors,” and that “in the words of the court, the decision was ‘vitiated [invalidated] by illegalities.’” However, the court upheld the 2001 decision.
Honeywell and GE did not merge.
Why? Because if the merger had taken place, the new aircraft giant would have been shut out of the largest market in the world—the 25 member nations of the European Union.
Even software titan Microsoft has had to bow to Europe’s demands. For years, U.S. authorities have tried to restrain Microsoft Corporation’s domination of the computer industry, but with little success. In a March 2004 antitrust ruling, the European Commission ordered the company to pay 497 million euros ($613 million), share its software code with competitors, and offer an unbundled version of the Windows operating system.
The Seattle, Washington-based company complied—but apparently not to the EU’s satisfaction. In December 2005, taking further legal steps to ensure better compliance to the previous ruling, the commission threatened fines of up to $2.37 million per day if Microsoft did not provide its rivals with better documentation on its software programs.
If American corporations want access to the EU market, then they must be prepared to follow Europe’s rules. And this is why, as T.R. Reid explains in his book The United States of Europe, American whiskey (for example) is sold in bottles that use the metric system, which is used universally in Europe.
In March 2005, the European Commission announced it would impose a 15% increase in duty on U.S. imports of paper, agricultural, textile and machinery products. This was in retaliation for Washington failing to comply with the World Trade Organization ruling that America’s anti-dumping law (the Byrd Amendment) was illegal. The amendment was killed in the U.S. Senate nine months later.
These are just a handful of examples of the EU imposing its economic will upon American companies and blocking U.S. global interests.
One must ask: Will Europe some day summon the political will to do so by force?
Political commentator Robert Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, observed this about Europe’s current position in exercising its political will: “In an anarchic world, small powers always fear they will be victims. Great powers, on the other hand, often fear rules that may constrain them more than they fear the anarchy in which their power brings security and prosperity.…[Europe’s] tactics, like their goal, are the tactics of the weak. They hope to constrain American power without wielding power themselves. In what may be the ultimate feat of subtlety and indirection, they want to control the behemoth [the U.S.] by appealing to its conscience” (Policy Review, No. 113, “Power and Weakness”).
But what if the EU began to view America as unreasonable—without a “conscience”? How would it react? Would Europe, perhaps feeling justified, again embrace its former, centuries-old tactics of machtpolitik (“power politics”) and flex its military muscle?
Most Europeans resent the current White House administration. Nonetheless, they do largely favor the American people. They may see them as brash and unsophisticated, but Europeans also recognize that their American cousins are resourceful and kind-hearted, quick to help countries and peoples in dire straits, especially in the wake of sudden disasters. Europeans do not see Americans as malevolent people bent on world domination.
Nevertheless, America’s reputed “cowboy mentality,” an approach that addresses international problems with political bluntness and force, clashes with the European preference to employ diplomatic finesse and subtlety in place of military solutions. This is among the many issues and differences that are driving a wedge—a growing transatlantic rift—between Europe and America.
Other points of contention are…
• Diplomacy and bureaucracy: Americans are known for their resourcefulness and “can-do” spirit; when unanticipated problems arise, they have a reputation for solving them with unconventional thinking. This reinforces the perception of an American cowboy mentality, in which U.S. statesmen are considered impatient and seek fast results from complex international situations.
In contrast, Europe is mired in bureaucracy; out-of-the-ordinary requests usually involve a great deal of bureaucratic red tape and form-filling. This is a product of the European mindset of patient diplomacy—the opposite of U.S. methods.
There is another related issue: While most U.S. citizens tend to want government involved in its affairs as little as possible, Europeans embrace government regulation. EU citizens gladly live under a “womb to tomb” welfare state that pays for virtually everything—health care, child care, education, etc.
But with such a far-reaching system comes bureaucracy, high taxes and heavy-handed regulation. Most Americans believe that these disadvantages far outweigh the benefits.
• Capital Punishment: Perhaps due to the continent’s centuries-long history of barbarism, capital punishment is both illegal and unpopular across Europe. From the average citizen, to government officials, to the pope, Europeans are vehemently against the death penalty—even for the most brutal of criminals. Any nation that desires to join the ever-expanding EU must abolish capital punishment from its land.
Whenever executions take place in the U.S. (which occur less often than Europeans might think), America is seen as barbaric.
A case-in-point: When convicted murderer Stanley “Tookie” Williams was executed, the European nations were outraged, especially Austria. Its native son, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, refused to block the execution. To show their indignation, local activists of Graz, Austria, Mr. Schwarzenegger’s hometown, threatened to remove the governor’s name from a 15,300-seat sports stadium. (Turning the tables on his critics, Mr. Schwarzenegger demanded that his name be removed, and returned a ring of honor that Graz officials had given him six years earlier.)
• Controlling the Internet: From emails to web pages, Internet-based communications are enabling even the smallest of businesses to participate in the global market.
The Internet is a U.S. invention, and the vast majority of websites are still American-created and operated. Additionally, 62% of Americans have Internet access, while only 14% of the rest of the world possess this capability.
ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), a private, nonprofit U.S.-based organization, is responsible for assigning domain names and internet suffixes, such as “.com” and “.org.” The EU, along with China, Brazil and other critics, fear that ICANN (which has close ties to the U.S. Department of Commerce) wields far too much control over the World Wide Web.
“Though ICANN is a private organization with international board members, the Commerce Department can still veto what goes on government-approved lists of the 260 or so internet suffixes, like ‘.com.’ Theoretically, the US could simply disconnect the domains of countries, like Iran or North Korea, with which they are feuding” (“EU and US at Loggerheads Over Internet Control,” Deutsche Welle).
Also, of the 13 root servers that direct traffic and serve as the Internet’s master directories, only one is located outside the United States (in Tokyo, Japan).
Citing growing security threats, increased usage of Internet-based global communications and commerce, and its historic role in developing and expanding the World Wide Web, the U.S. says it has the right to retain control.
Europe has proposed replacing American government oversight with a technical intergovernmental body: “The 25 EU countries are unanimously demanding a new cooperation model for the Internet, where all interested countries sit at one table to discuss the core questions of the network together,” the EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media told Der Spiegel magazine.
“Such a body stokes fears of the kind of stifling bureaucracy the United States regularly criticizes the EU of” (ibid.).
To offer an alternative—a counterweight—to U.S. Internet dominance, the EU is launching its own domain-name extension: “.eu”.
Yet, perhaps the deepest issue separating Europe from America is religion.
A common European culture is emerging among the generation ranging from ages 15 to 40. Known as “Generation E” (or “the Nineties Generation”), it consists of college-educated young professionals who grew up in one part of Europe—Edinburgh, Madrid or Florence, for example—studied at universities in other parts of the continent—such as Oxford, Paris or Frankfurt—and are pursuing professional careers in still another section of Europe, as in Rome, Brussels or Dublin (called “the Silicon Valley of Europe”).
Increasingly, those in Generation E view themselves as Europeans first—secondarily Scots, Spaniards, Germans, Italians or otherwise. In their eyes, Europe is more than just a continent—it’s their national homeland. And English is emerging as the common language.
A prevalent bond among these and other Europeans is their belief that religion in the public forum is archaic—and at best, explosive. Their common history, which is filled with mass brutality and bloodshed, has taught them that religion in the public sphere, mixed with fervent nationalism and national self-interests, inevitably leads to war.
According to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 59% of Americans called their faith “very important.” But only 21% of Europeans said that religion is “very important” to them; only 11% of the French, 21% of Germans and 33% of Britons feel this way (European Values Study, which tracks attitudes in 32 European countries).
The history of Europe has seen war, torture and death—all in the name of religion. Little wonder Europeans are now deeply skeptical of patriotism mixed with religious sentiment.
This is most true of Germany. Karsten Voigt, German Foreign Ministry’s coordinator on German-U.S. cooperation, explained, “The mixture of patriotism and religion is anathema and heresy in German religious life because it was misused and went too far in the past. Remember, German soldiers in World War I wore belt buckles reading ‘Gott Mitt Uns’ [God With Us]” (Christian Science Monitor).
This firm mistrust is heightened when the American president invokes religious rhetoric into his speeches, such as his 2005 inaugural address, in which he said, “America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth” (emphasis ours).
Mr. Bush’s convictions clash with the European belief that human rights arise from the secular humanist idea that man is the ultimate norm by which values are to be determined. It is a form of naturalistic religion that places man—his human reasoning, feelings, scientific inquiry, ethical conduct—above God.
Dominique Moisi, one of France’s most respected political analysts, said that “the combination of religion and nationalism in America is frightening. We feel betrayed by God and by nationalism, which is why we are building the European Union as a barrier to religious warfare” (ibid.).
Many call this Europe-wide aggressive attitude toward religion, particularly traditional Christianity, “secular fundamentalism”—a mindset that views religion as “lifeless.” Europe’s current climate of “Christianophobia” explains why churches that once held hundreds of attendees at a time are rapidly losing adherents.
Rocco Buttiglione, whom the European Parliament blocked from becoming the European commissioner for justice because he had described homosexuality as a sin, observed the following: “The new soft totalitarianism that is advancing on the left wants to have a state religion,” adding, “It is an atheist, nihilistic religion—but it is a religion that is obligatory for all” (ibid.).
A 2004 Gallup poll revealed that 44% of Americans said they attended a place of worship once a week. In contrast, only 15% of Europeans claimed this about their religion (on average; this number varied widely among the member states).
A California man’s attempt to remove the phrase “One Nation, Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance brought cries of foul; a poll revealed that 90% of Americans wanted to keep the phrase. Meanwhile, in Brussels, the EU capital, officials have agreed on the final text of the EU’s new Constitution, which makes no direct mention of God, despite calls from the Vatican and other voices to recognize Europe’s “Christian roots.”
Religious convictions and practices among Europeans are fading from people’s lives, only to be replaced with increasing materialism and permissiveness. Mainstream churches—especially the Catholic Church—continue to suffer dwindling membership, church attendance and influence.
Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, fought a hard, but unsuccessful, battle for Christianity to be mentioned in the EU Constitution. Still troubled by Mr. Buttiglione’s treatment, and by the Spanish parliament’s moves toward legalizing homosexual marriage, he asked, “Those Roman emperors who wanted to get rid of us, where are they today? And Napoleon, he didn’t like us either. And where is Napoleon today?” (“European, Not Christian,” U.S. News & World Report).
Many recognize that there is a spiritual void—a gnawing hunger—that secularism cannot satisfy. Some are looking past today’s secular landscape and are envisioning a future when a new spiritual reawakening will arise. But how will this come to pass?
Before the EU’s expansion to 25 members, the commander of NATO called Europe a “military pygmy.” Since then, the EU’s combined military manpower has grown to almost two million armed forces personnel—more than the United States.
Yet the same commander upgraded Europe to being only a “flabby giant,” because its troops are not united into a large, single military force. There still remains a technological gap between European forces and the U.S. military, especially in transportation, intelligence and modern weapons technology.
But the EU would rather spend funds on its burgeoning welfare programs and let the U.S. protect it from external threats. Indeed, one of the key reasons for forming the EU was to find an alternative to war. Today, European politicians and academics tend to view the use of military force as a relic held over from the era of colonialism and world-spanning empires. In their secular thinking, war is judged as a waste of time and money, and is immoral.
Yet this thinking is bound to change as the European Union grows into an economic, political and, potentially, military juggernaut. It already possesses virtually every component necessary to be a counterweight to American supremacy. Could men, when given access to such power, deny human nature and pass up the opportunity to become the global leader in all arenas?
With 25 democratic nations each having a say in EU affairs, the government is too large and unwieldy to govern efficiently and effectively. Only when the member states concentrate on countering U.S. interests are they unified and unanimous.
Just as a corporation, school system or church cannot be successfully governed by committee, neither can a government. Someone must be in charge—someone must take responsibility for when things go wrong—someone must captain the ship.
To become a federal superstate with supranational governance, capable of executing decisions with speed and precision, Europe must have a strong leader guiding the way.
Plans are already in the works.