The United States of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy
At the dawn of the twenty-first century, a geopolitical revolution of historic dimensions is under way across the Atlantic: the unification of Europe. Twenty-five nations have joined together-with another dozen or so on the waiting list-to build a common economy, government, and culture. Europe is a more integrated place today than at any time since the Roman Empire. Americans have largely ignored this European revolution. Like one of those heavy, powerful SUVs that Detroit turns out, the United States has been cruising along at a comfortable speed, completely unaware of the well-engineered European sedan coming up fast in the passing lane. It’s time to take a look over our shoulder. The new United States of Europe-to use Winston Churchill’s phrase-has more people, more wealth, and more trade than the United States of America. The New Europe cannot match American military strength (and doesn’t want to, for that matter). But it has more votes in every international organization than the United States, and it gives away far more money in development aid. The result is global economic and political clout that makes the European Union exactly what its leaders want it to be: a second superpower that can stand on equal footing with the United States.
Since it was born, in the rubble of World War II, the vision of a united Europe has grown dramatically from a coal-and-steel trading arrangement to a “common market” to a “community” to today’s European Union, a new kind of state in which the member nations have handed over much of their sovereignty to a transcontinental government in a community that is becoming legally, commercially, and culturally borderless. The EU, with a population of nearly half a billion people stretching from Ireland to Estonia, has a president, a parliament, a cabinet, a central bank, a bill of rights, a unified patent office, and a court system with the power to overrule the highest courts of every member nation. It has a 60,000 member army (or “European Rapid Reaction Force,” to be precise) that is independent of NATO or any other outside control. It has its own space agency with 200 satellites in orbit and a project under way to send a European to Mars before Americans get there. It has a 22,000-person bureaucracy and an 80,000-page legal code governing everything from criminal trials and corporate taxation to peanut butter labels and lawn mower safety.
In pursuit of economic union, Europeans have thrown their marks, francs, lira, escudos, drachma, and so on into history’s trash can and replaced them all with the new common currency, the euro, a form of money that has more daily users than the US. dollar. At the end of the twentieth century, the strong US. dollar reigned supreme. Five years into the new century, the young upstart, the euro, ranks as the world’s strongest currency. In the first three years after it hit the streets of Europe, the common currency rose more than 50 percent in value against a struggling dollar. Europeans want to see the euro replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency-a development that would cost the United States a pretty penny ... But Europe’s new money is more than money. It is also a political statement-a daily message in every pocket that cooperation has replaced conflict across the continent.
To forge a physical linkage that enhances their political and economic union, Europeans have invested hundreds of billions of those euros in an ambitious network of bridges, tunnels, ports, and rail lines. Most of the continent has done away with customs and immigrations controls. When I drove recently from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean, I passed through eight countries, never saw a border guard, and never had to bother with foreign exchange. The New Europe has all the symbolic apparatus of a unified political entity. The citizens of the EU use a standard license plate, birth certificate, and passport (although each country still gets to pick its preferred passport color: a red cover for Britain, dark blue for Poland, and of course green for Ireland). The whole continent plays a common lottery. Europeans tune in by the tens of millions each May to watch the Eurovision song contest, the pancontinental TV extravaganza ... The EU has its own flag, its own anthem, and its own national day ... Europe’s new constitution even establishes an official EU motto: “Unity in diversity,” or “Unite dans la diversité,” or “In varietate concordia,” and so on in three dozen languages.
At first glance, the disagreements in 2003 surrounding the Iraq war seemed to expose more diversité than unite in Europe. In fact, the dispute over Iraq turned out to be another powerful unifying force for Europeans, particularly for the largely borderless young people known as Generation E-people who consider themselves not Spaniards or Czechs but rather Europeans who happen to be living in Toledo or Prague. No matter what their prime ministers said about the war, large majorities of the population in every European state opposed the American-led effort. The war enhanced the growing feeling across the continent ... that Europe and America are fundamentally different places-and that Europeans need to stick together to confront the behemoth across the Atlantic. Among diplomats and scholars who study the transatlantic relationship, the concept of a united Europe standing as a superpower to match the United States is taken so seriously that the idea has a name of its own: the “counterweight thesis,” or the “countervailing power thesis.” Naturally, this theory is more popular in Europe than in the United States. And it is not just Europe’s professional America-bashers-a fairly large category on the continent these days-who see the EU as a counterweight to US. dominance. At one of the union’s endless summit meetings-the one where the Finnish and Italian prime ministers argued bitterly for two days whether the European Food Agency should be headquartered in Helsinki or in Parma-I went up to Britain’s prime minister, Tony Blair, the closest US ally in Europe. I asked him whether these long, wordy sessions around the conference table were worthwhile.
“They do go on a bit,” Blair said. He sounded bored and weary. But then, as he got talking about the prospects for the EU’s future, he came to life. “You know, these summits makes sense if you try to have a sense of history. I mean, when the thing is getting tiresome, you have to remember what we are doing here. We are building a new world superpower. The European Union is about the projection of collective power, wealth, and influence. That collective strength makes individual nations more powerful-and it will make the EU as a whole a global power.
“Look-the United States is plainly the superpower of the world today,” Blair continued, now rising to his rhetorical finish. “But the argument is that a single-power world is inherently unstable. I mean, that’s the rationale for Europe to unite. When we work together, the European Union can stand on par as a superpower and a partner with the U.S. The world needs that right now.”