The Magazine

Against United Europe

From the September 22, 2003 issue: A new superstate probably isn't in Europeans' interest. It certainly isn't in America's.

Sep 22, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 02 • By GERARD BAKER
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AMERICA WASN'T THE ONLY COUNTRY attempting a bit of nation-building this turbulent summer. While U.S. troops and U.N. diplomats battled insurgents in the streets and deserts of Iraq, European politicians and bureaucrats, in the less demanding surroundings of Brussels bistros and Provençal villas, were putting the finishing touches on a project that might prove every bit as consequential as the liberation of Baghdad.

Next month the Europeans will attempt to mop up the last remnants of opposition to a proposed new constitution for the European Union, the first ever codification of a supreme legal authority for the current 15 and soon-to-be 25 members. For two years, in a conscious effort to emulate the work of America's Founding Fathers, committed Europeans, under the leadership of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the former French president, have been at work in a constitutional convention to draw up a document that would establish a new relationship between their nations. In June these soi-disant successors to James Madison and Alexander Hamilton produced a draft constitution that seeks to construct in effect the basic institutions of a single European superstate. In October, member governments will begin a lengthy conference before deciding whether to approve the document.

Of course, to skeptical electorates in the member countries, the federalists strenuously deny that they are building a European über-nation. It is merely a tidying-up exercise, they say; European law already supersedes the laws of individual European nations in a number of fields. The new constitution simply recognizes this in one document.

This is pure casuistry. The draft E.U. constitution--1,000 pages long (imagine that debate in Philadelphia)--enshrines in law a single flag, anthem, motto, and currency for the union. Less symbolically but more significantly, it also creates a single president to replace the current arrangement whereby the presidency rotates through the member states every six months, as well as a single foreign minister to run a single foreign policy. It establishes vast areas of European law where nation-states cede ultimate legal sovereignty to E.U. courts. And it creates a "charter of fundamental rights," which includes a long list of such basic human freedoms as the right to be represented on workers' councils--think Bill of Rights in socialist garb. Indeed the true intent of these founding fathers was revealed by their original proposal right at the outset of their proposed constitution--to rename the E.U. the United States of Europe (USE).

Not all governments are happy with these ideas--the USE moniker did not survive, and the drafters will probably be forced to drop some of their more ambitious proposals. But these will be mere tactical retreats. This week, even Tony Blair's British government made clear it would accept the basic principles. The constitution is expected to be approved at a summit in Rome in December and then ratified by the member states. By the end of 2005, the E.U. constitution will join the euro--Europe's single currency, launched four years ago--as a central pillar of an emerging European state.

Americans can be forgiven for yawning at these developments on the old continent. The internal deliberations of Brussels committees can send the most engaged Europeans to sleep, let alone Americans. But even those Americans who are paid to keep track of what Europe is up to--at the State Department, in Washington's think tanks, and in the White House--do not seem unduly animated. The new European Union that is being born is nothing for the United States to get agitated about, they say. Indeed, from President Bush on down, U.S. officials repeat the old line that European integration will bring untold benefits to the United States. Future Henry Kissingers will never again have to complain about whom to call when they want to talk to Europe.

If this complacency becomes official U.S. policy, it will be folly of the highest order. The events of the last year should have demonstrated the risks for the United States inherent in a united Europe.

The new Europe in the making is not the New Europe Donald Rumsfeld hailed in the run-up to the Iraq war--an alliance of Atlanticist nations like Britain, Spain, and the ex-Communist states of Eastern Europe. It is likely to bear a much closer resemblance to the Old Europe of Gaullist stripe, defining itself as a self-appointed counterweight to U.S. power; Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder are likely to be the main drivers of its political direction.