The United States of Europe?

February 14, 1997|By Ben Wattenberg

PARIS -- In the latter part of the 18th century, Americans stitched together 13 colonies as a common market with a common currency, and formed a country. It was not an easy deal. Many historians think that a majority of colonists would have preferred to remain loyal to the English crown.

When the Constitution was written, a huge argument erupted between the small states and the large states: Was it fair that tiny Delaware and huge Pennsylvania would each have two senators? The issue of slavery was unresolvable. It took quite a while until it was said that the United States IS rather than the United States ARE. In the latter part of the 20th century, the Europeans are trying to establish their own version of a more perfect union. Once again, it is no easy deal.

If one had to put a single word to Western Europe, which is where the principal quest for European union is going on, it would be "glum."

At the top of the Gloom Gauge is high unemployment. Germany, allegedly the stabilizing rudder for a united Europe, has a 12.2 percent jobless rate. It is noted that the rate is "the highest since Hitler," which reminds you of more than you want to remember about Europe.

Italy and France also have about 12 percent unemployment, and Spain is over 20 percent. Only England, at 7 percent, is headed in the right direction, although voter surveys show that Prime Minister John Major is about to be canned.

Europeans conflicted

The unemployment situation leaves many Euros conflicted. They know they are so wise, civilized and humanitarian. They care and bleed for the common people. Their welfare states ooze empathy. They believe that America's market-oriented system represents Darwinian jungle law. England's Thatcherite tendency is hardly better. Zut alors, so much pain!

The Euro-pols also know (in theory) that a vast net of worker benefits and high unemployment benefits creates high unemployment. (Why hire new workers at those costs? Why work when unemployment benefits almost match wages?)

They know (in theory) that copious welfare state regulation reduces competitiveness and drives jobs overseas. They know (beyond theory) that if they cut welfare-state goodies, they will antagonize voters.

So they mostly tinker with small changes, which satisfy no one, and have not accomplished much -- yet. That done, or not done, Euro-intellectuals bleat that there is no "leadership" to confront the special interests. It is generally recognized that Germany's Helmut Kohl is no George Washington. Alexander Hamilton has yet to make an appearance.

One way young adults respond is by not having babies. Western European fertility has fallen to 1.4 children per woman, about a third less than the rate necessary just to keep a population stable over time. At that rate, there may not be many Europeans to unite.

It is hard to foster a vigorous supranational sentiment in such sour surroundings. Which barricades are to be stormed? What's the grand cause? The forthcoming creation of a common currency -- the "Euro" -- is an eye-glazer, not a pulse-pounder.

Dominique Moisi, of the Paris-based think tank Institut Francais des Relations Internationales, says that the grand cause should be "enlargement," that is, the extension of the prospective European Union to the recently liberated states of Eastern Europe.

That is indeed a big cause: to solidify democracy in the continent where democracy failed and caused global tragedy.

It builds upon what has been achieved. For all their statism, the Europeans have wrought a miracle to be proud of. When World War II ended 50 years ago, Europe was the global cockpit of despair and barbarism. They built pretty cathedrals and slaughtered each other.

That's over. There is a common market, open borders and European license plates on the cars. Young Germans visit France sans invasion. With all its current economic problems Western Europe is, next to America, the most prosperous place in the world.

Will there be a "United States of Europe?" After all, how much do the Swedes and the Greeks have in common besides soccer, American movies and North African immigrants? Will Luxembourg have the same voting power as Germany?

Still, Euros, cheer up! The preamble to the American Constitution wisely talks only prospectively about creating "a more perfect union." Our founders understood, as wise Europeans do, that building a continental nation is a process, not an event. In Europe, that process proceeds.

Ben Wattenberg is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Pub Date: 2/14/97

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