June 23, 2005

June 23, 2005 | Commentary on Middle East

EU Defeat: The Utopian Dream Ends

Make no mistake: Europe's dream of uniting to form a superpower counterweight to the United States died with the "non" vote in France and the rejection, a few days later in the Netherlands, of the European Union constitution.

The Blair government in England has put off indefinitely a referendum there, and polls show it wouldn't win anyway. With three of the most prominent states in Europe against the constitution, backers have little chance of pushing it through.

This should bring relief on both sides of the Atlantic. The notion of "ever-closer union" among the countries of Europe, set forth in the 1957 Treaty of Rome, is a utopian idea whose time will never come.

Not with this constitution, at least. The clunky document includes 448 articles; the U.S. Constitution has seven. Its language is turgid and mind-numbingly detailed, yet clear as mud. Those who have been able to make heads or tails of the document have found plenty to dislike.

For instance, it commits EU members to framing a common defense policy without explaining how that policy would interact with NATO, the longstanding organization that many EU members see as the pre-eminent guarantor of European security. The constitution leaves this and many other loose ends to be worked out by the unelected European Court of Justice, which was to interpret the law with the goal of "ever-closer union" as its mandate.

Another serious drawback is its size. There's a reason it comprises 448 articles -- those who drafted it tried to please everyone. Yet, to take the two countries that just rejected the constitution, consider: The Dutch favor NATO and think the European Security and Defense Identity (ESDI) should complement it; the French see ESDI competing with NATO. The Dutch are pro-American; the French long to establish themselves as leaders of a countervailing pole to challenge American power. The Dutch have a relatively open, free-trading economy; the French favor high levels of government spending, socialism and protectionism.

Americans and Europeans should rejoice in these developments because they clear the way for trans-Atlantic relations to proceed in a more realistic manner. Americans and individual European countries now can start working to strengthen ties economically, politically and militarily. NATO can be restructured to make it more diffuse, flexible and reflective of what the alliance will need to defend itself going forward.

The defeat of the constitution affords some other opportunities as well. For instance, the United States should seize this moment to establish a Global Free Trade Alliance (GFTA). It should aggressively recruit free-trading European states tired of being held back by the economically sclerotic protectionist euro-core.

In France, where a fifth of workers aged 25 or younger are unemployed and government eats up 50 percent of total output, the rejection of the constitution was, in essence, a vote of no confidence in Jacques Chirac's government. In Germany, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said a few years ago that if unemployment reached 3.5 million, he should be voted from office. It's at 5 million, and Germans appear on the verge of taking him up on his offer. In Italy, the government's debt amounts to 106 percent of gross domestic product, and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government lost 12 of 14 provinces in the spring elections.

Are none of these statist regimes ready to consider free-market ideas as a way out of their long-term economic malaise? Will none consider the path that has led to prosperity in Ireland, Chile, Singapore, Hong Kong and elsewhere?

Also, the United States should make clear to every European nation that while -- unlike European elites -- it respects the right of the European people to decide the ultimate form of political association with various states, it stands ready to work with individual states on an issue-by-issue, case-by-case basis.

The death of the Euro-topian dream promises a more-realistic future in Europe. It's a future that preserves the freedom and sovereignty of individual states that stretches back to the Treaty of Westphalia, and it's one that gives countries the opportunity to escape the economic paralysis of their neighbors. The United States should move quickly to support those European nations that wish to retake control of their individual political, military and economic destiny.

John Hulsman is research fellow in European affairs at the Heritage Foundation.

Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire