Friday, February 17, 2017

Holding Back the E.U.: What Is It?

In addressing the E.U. Parliament in February, 2017, Canada’s prime minister, Justin Tradeau, claimed that the E.U. “is a truly remarkable achievement and an unprecedented model for peaceful cooperation.”[1] The only problem with the compliment is that it is not true. The U.S. is the precedent, as it was formed as an alliance in part to stave off war between its member states.
On both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, the American alliance was viewed as international in nature until its Articles of Confederation were superseded in 1789 by the creation of a federal government.[2] Put another way, the member states held all governmental sovereignty (and the Continental Congress had none of its own) until the Constitution of 1787 came into effect. When Tradeau addressed the Parliament, which is akin to the U.S. House of Representatives, the E.U. federal level had achieved appreciable sovereignty and along with it more in the way of a federal government than a European Continental Congress would instantiate. The European Court of Justice was by then well established as the E.U.’s federal Supreme Court, the European Commission was a federal executive branch with a role in law-making, and the Parliament itself was a legislative body representing E.U. citizens rather than states (the European Council, like the U.S. Senate, represented states). In short, the E.U. fits the model of the U.S. after the Articles of Confederation, when sovereignty was split between the member states and the Union. Even so, The New York Times refers to the E.U. strangely as “an alliance,” as if the E.U. with all its federal governmental institutions and sovereignty were like the U.S. when it was a mere alliance with delegates of the sovereign countries meeting in a Continental Congress.[3]
Clarification on what the E.U. can itself have a strengthening effect on the Union—especially as concerns its federal level. For example, the E.U. misunderstood as an international alliance would not get much confidence in its ability to forestall war from breaking out between the states. Yet recognition that the E.U. and U.S. (post Articles) are of the same genre, or model, can instill greater confidence—and the E.U. needed that in the wake of the British vote to secede from the Union.
A principal benefit of both the E.U. and U.S. is the use of the federal level to prevent war from breaking out between the states. The U.S. was successful in this regard until 1861; Tradeau’s optimism in 2017 could be extended to the hope that the E.U. would enjoy a longer stretch of internal peace. Whereas some people pointed to the secession of Britain as a baleful indication that the peaceful potential of the E.U. would be reduced, I submit that the E.U.’s flexibility on the matter of secession—certainly a contrast to the rigidity in the U.S.’s stricture of “perpetual Union” being interpreted to mean no loss of even one member state!—renders the E.U. stronger rather than weaker, and thus better able to prevent war from within because the needs of different states can be accommodated rather than stifled.
Indeed, the E.U. stood to strengthen by the secession even just in losing the British denial that the E.U. was more than an alliance, or “network,” of states. It is curious that the secessionist camp in the UK nevertheless listed the sovereignty “in Brussels” as one reason in favor of secession. Although other “Euro-skeptic” states, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, remained, the center of ideological gravity could shift closer in line with the fact that the E.U. had federal government institutions, including a court, an executive branch, and two exclusively legislative bodies—the European Council and the European Parliament. Greater clarity and consistency on the whole regarding what the E.U. is could only strengthen the Union.

1. James Kanter, “Trudeau, Praising the E.U., Doesn’t Mention ‘Brexit’ or Trump,” The New York Times, February 16, 2017.
2. Skip Worden, British Colonies Forge an American Empire.
3. James Kanter,Trudeau, Praising the E.U., Doesn’t Mention ‘Brexit’ or Trump,” The New York Times, February 16, 2017.