EU: Made in America
FROM LE From the Big Mac to the nuclear bomb, the list of 20th century American achievements is long. In a period of remarkable invention, America granted humanity human flight, superglue, rock and roll, the Saturn V rocket, Pop Tarts, and the Internet. An American innovation of this time receives much less attention: the European Union.
the EU is an American creation as much as a European one. In the middle of the 20th century, there were more European federalists in Washington than in Brussels. Senators castigated resolutions declaring, “Congress supports the creation of the United States of Europe. The Marshall Plan, a torrent of post-war funding for the crippled continent, came on condition that European countries merge. George Kennan, an American diplomat, summed up American policy: “We hoped to force Europeans to think like Europeans, and not like nationalists. Forget Jean Monnet. When it comes to naming the founding fathers of the EU, the list should start with President Harry Truman.
When Joe Biden passed through Brussels on June 15, he reiterated a long-standing American goal. In a festival of slaps on the back, the president complimented the EU and stressed that an integrated club is in everyone’s interest. Donald Trump did his best to bury the thing, attacking it at every opportunity and loudly supporting Brexit. With the departure of Mr. Trump, America returned to its normal role of trying to get Europeans to get along.
America has always been the secret ingredient in European integration. In the aftermath of World War II, the unification of Europe made sense to America. A divided continent could hardly resist Soviet domination. Nor would he be able to solve the “German problem” which had led to two wars in three decades. Instead, in a new experiment led by a victorious power, America chose to try to unite a traumatized continent, even though it could be a potential rival.
Come on 70 years and America is now a more subtle force for European unity. State-building can be a complicated affair, but American history provides one of the few guides to creating a continent-sized democracy. When discussing whether to issue collective debt, European politicians turn to Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers. When asked who has the final say in law, scholars look to the same debates that unfolded in 19th-century America. the EU is a unique beast, but American history still provides the best instruction manual for how to handle it.
Sometimes European integration is a by-product of American politics. Stubbornly national elements of policy making, such as corporate tax, are slowly being transformed into EU account thanks to the American action. A recent push by the United States to establish a global minimum tax rate for large corporations has done more to deflect the EU towards a common fiscal policy only years of nagging and legal tricks from Brussels. Within the EU, low-tax countries like Ireland and Hungary exercise veto rights over its tax affairs. Diplomatic force majeure by America overcame this.
If American governments have been a driving force for integration, then American companies have greased the wheels. The rise of Netflix and other streaming services means that Europeans increasingly watch the same programs, breaking national silos. Facebook and Twitter allow for a noisy public sphere, where everyone can share their thoughts on Emmanuel Macron. Google Translate makes users feel like they’ve strangely woken up with the ability to read 24 languages, allowing Italians to flip through newspapers in Swedish and Bulgarian if they feel like it.
Sometimes America has brought Europe closer together by mistake. When the US government tried to tear the club apart under Mr. Trump, it ended up accidentally fortifying it. Mr. Trump taught EU leaders that America would not always be a useful ally and that the bloc should defend itself. French diplomats were stunned, blowing the dust off old political ideas to strengthen European might. In a post-Trump era, their fellow officials really listened.
the EU is still far from the federal mini-me imagined by Marshall, Kennan and Truman. During the eurozone crisis, US officials were left puzzled that Greece, an economy just over half the size of New Jersey, could blow up the project. Seen from 4,000 miles away, the vicious disagreements in European politics that stood in the way of further integration seemed rather weak. In that sense, Jeremy Shapiro told the European Council on Foreign Relations, America’s view of European integration resembles Gandhi’s view of Western civilization: that would be a good idea.
Nowhere to run has nowhere to go
From an American point of view, a stronger EU is the one who can be left alone. Europe was the front line of the Cold War, but it is the periphery of America’s struggle against China. Europeans may not appreciate the isolation. Under the umbrella of American defense, tough decisions could be avoided. It doesn’t matter if, say, Poland or France have different security concerns, as long as America is happy to sit behind each one. Exit America and these debates become embarrassing.
On paper America wants a more country EU. In practice, he can find such a destabilizing development. At the turn of the century, the euro was presented as a rival to the dollar. The virtual collapse of the euro a decade later put an end to this idea. A stable euro zone with the ability to issue collective debt at will would be a much stronger potential challenger for dollar supremacy. Where the EU has power, for example over competition policy or privacy rules, he took pleasure in hitting American companies. These areas are rare but are less and less so. A more unified EU is more powerful and, almost inherently, more independent. America can, over time, come to regret what it has done. ■
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline “The EU: Made in America”