EU's growth triggers identity crisis

Posted in Europe | 05-Apr-05 | Author: William Pfaff| Source: International Herald Tribune

PARIS The European Union's expansion to 25 nations, with real or potential candidates that conceivably could extend "Europe" to 35 members - not all of them European by any measure - was bound to produce a crisis. The crisis has arrived.

It is better that the crisis has come at the start of the constitutional ratification process, rather than later. It involves the political and organizational complexities of a measured yielding of sovereignties, but its roots are in the cultural and even moral identity and allegiance of millions of individuals.

It is dangerous and unreasonable to treat this as anything less. The Daily Telegraph (London) recently wrote that if European constitutional ratification fails, the Europeans can at last get down to accommodating Europe "to the complexities of the globalization of the market economy." This is political illiteracy. Market economics is mere mechanism, a supposedly value-free technique for ascertaining the needs and indicating the productive priorities of an economic system. Europe is more than that - or it is nothing.

Last month in France, the latest in a recent series of negative poll results was published, worse than its predecessors. It shows 54 percent of the respondents intending to vote No in the constitutional referendum, set for May 29. And the Morgan Stanley bank recently published a study, based on more positive poll figures across Europe than prevail today, that estimated that the European constitution has only one chance in three of being adopted.

There is a sense in which these results have little to do with the constitution, which few have read. By now approval of the constitution has been turned into a referendum on issues that have little or nothing to do with the constitution, such as Turkish membership of the EU, the Stability Pact, the Bolkestein directive on liberalizing rules for the service industry, and local partisan rows.

In all of the countries planning referendums, rather than ratification by Parliament, all sorts of anxieties about Europe, as well as about domestic matters, have been loaded onto the vote.

Does the constitution further "Americanize" Europe? Does it subordinate Europe's security to NATO? Is European Union just an extension of the American alliance, as U.S. officials and many American academics and policy experts would like it to become? Some in Eastern Europe think EU membership is a defense against a possible Russian threat. Some in Western Europe think of it as defense against an eventual American threat.

Another currently influential idea about the EU is that Europe's international mission is to quell disorder and impose democracy through example, and by offering countries the possibility of EU membership if they accept European political standards. This somewhat smug view says that the United States invades countries and says: "Be democrats or we'll kill you," while the EU peacefully converts others to democracy.

Europeans are deeply divided on whether their union should practice American free-market economics or defend their established social market systems. Do they want a "technical" Europe (as Britain would prefer) or an integrated one? They are divided on further expansion. They are anxious about immigration.

These divisions, including the ancient one between American/Thatcherite economic "liberalism" and the European social market model, all have their origins in history. The old EU expanded to 25 because it believed itself obliged to admit the former Communist states, whatever the consequences. It has been unwilling to admit that expansion has made it impossible to forge a highly integrated Europe with ambitious common foreign and security policies.

A single market, single currency and free passage of individuals and goods, have all worked for limited parts of the EU. But they were largely uncontroversial and of obvious mutual benefit. Further integration is not.

It is obvious that the alternative to an integrated Europe is several "Europes" with different degrees of integration and differing relationships with the outside world. If the constitution is turned down, sending the Europeans back to their unsatisfactory Nice Treaty, this is the solution the Europeans will have to develop.

The notion that the alternative to a constitutionally integrated Europe is no Europe is absurd, and by now, impossible.

But the European project must be rethought. Expansion and the controversy over the constitution now are demonstrating that necessity. A half century of European unification has accomplished what in 1948 would have been thought a miracle. The Europe of 2055 will be as different from Europe today as today is from 1948. It's a new challenge, but an inspiring one.