In The United States of Europe , Reid argued that a new "Generation E" had emerged: transnationals who drink the same cocktails, shout for the same soccer teams, wear the same clothes, celebrate Europe Day on May 9, and cheer along to the Eurovision song contest. In opinion polls, however, voters today consistently identify much more with their nation-states than with Europe.
As Chris Patten, former European commissioner for external affairs, has said, "The nation is alive and well — more potent than ever in some respects. Europe has 16 more countries today than it had in , thanks to the shattering of artificial states — the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia. In Belgium, a country smaller than Maryland, there is such a vicious division between Flanders and Wallonia that until December there had been no government for well over days — a world record.
One can, of course, have multiple identities. Some Europeans are Catalan and Spanish, as well as European. Others are Muslim and French. But identities cannot be artificially created; they are forged early on and never go away. I have now lived longer in Brussels than in my native Wales.
Marmite , marmalade, cricket, warm beer, snooker, darts, embarrassed silences, sodden moors, slow trains, pasty faces — that is Britain. That I can relate to. That made me who I am. Maybe my 8-year-old daughter — who once declared she was "half-Belgian, half-French, and half-Welsh" — will be one of the first members of Generation E. If Europeans wear the same clothes, they are likely to be American clothes. Whatever common European culture exists is the preserve of a tiny band of well-educated and rootless cosmopolitans: junior EU officials, Eurostar frequent travelers, and foreign exchange students.
Most Europeans care more about the result of the Champions League European soccer final than the European Parliament elections. Thanks to no-frills budget airlines like Ryanair and easyJet, they can crisscross their continent for the price of a takeaway meal. Brits with no great fondness for the EU cheer on French, Spanish, and Portuguese soccer stars playing for their local clubs and then head to the pub to drink Belgian and German lagers.
The Irish employ Polish builders who hire Ukrainian workers to build their dream houses back home. Much of the credit for this is due to the EU, which has scrapped national airline monopolies, ended quotas on foreign soccer players, and granted Europeans the right to live, work, and stand for election in any member state. Europe will ultimately be built by Europeans, however, not by Brussels edicts.
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It is also undeniable that, compared with Americans, Asians, or Africans, Europeans do have certain things in common. As polling for the German Marshall Fund shows, they are wary of war, having lived in its shadow for centuries. They reluctantly accept high taxes as the price they must pay for cradle-to-grave welfare services. They enjoy their generous holidays and lengthy lunch breaks. They expect good public transportation and are concerned about the environment.
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Most have a shared heritage anchored in Greco-Roman thought and civilization, Christianity, and the Enlightenment values of tolerance and secularism — even if they are not aware of it. He replied there were no such people as Europeans but, after a short pause, added, "On the other hand … if you took me up blindfolded in a balloon and put me down in any European city, I would know it was Europe, and I would know how to find a bar, and the railway station, and a food shop.
This hardly suggests that Praguers, Basques, and Burgundians are about to shed their local, regional, or national affinities and usher in the age of Homo europeanus. There are still no truly European political parties, and pan-European newspapers and television stations still lead a marginal existence. And, above all: in Europe there is very little in the way of a shared historical experience. This gets to the heart of the matter. But Europe cannot do that. Unlike the United States, it still has no common story.
There may be huge differences among the 50 states of America, but at the end of the day Americans feel American and are proud of it. Their hearts beat faster when they sing the "Star-Spangled Banner" or watch their athletes win gold medals at the Olympics.
Many are willing to die for their country in far-off wars. Most know, or at least loudly invoke, their constitution and have at least a rough idea of how their political system works. They speak the same language and are obsessed with the same sports.
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The European Union has constructed common institutions, laws, and even a currency. What it lacks is a people who share a common culture, language, or narrative — or at the very least are able to identify with the political construct that has been created in their name. The European Union is different from the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, the Soviet Union, and the former Yugoslavia in that it was not imposed by force.
But there are some similarities: resentment toward political elites in the capital, bruised national identities, and the desire for self-determination in "the provinces. When the single currency was conceived in the early s, there was a naive belief that by having the same money the nations of the eurozone would somehow converge. In short, the euro would make the spendthrift Greeks more like the parsimonious Germans.
Instead, weaker economies simply piggybacked on the strength of the euro, borrowing staggering amounts of money at low interest rates to prop up unsustainable welfare systems and grotesquely inflated housing markets. Necessary reforms — like making it easier to hire and fire workers, restraining wages, and trimming a bloated public sector — were simply shelved. The European Union is a means of peacefully managing differences among countries so that fudged compromises in drab Brussels conference rooms replace skirmishes on battlefields.
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And it has done this rather well. But compromising on food-packaging legislation and laws on the curvature of cucumbers is not the same as compromising on border protection, defense policy, and taxation. Most of us are not even called upon to live for Europe. But when a state loses its right to veto laws it opposes and decisions are taken by a majority vote, it loses sovereign control over large swaths of public life. When countries join together to create a common currency with common rules, they have to be able to trust one another to stick to them.
Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century
And when countries hand over control of their external frontiers to others, as Europeans did in Schengen, they have to feel confident those other countries are up to the task. It matters to ordinary citizens, too. A poor Briton in a public-housing complex has every right to ask why he should be subsidizing rich French farmers through his taxes. And if a German worker retires five years later than a Greek, that German has every right to ask why she should be paying part of her hard-earned income to Greeks so they can work less.
Indeed, polls show that most Germans are fiercely opposed to bailing out Greece, a mood reflected in national newspapers. The problem is at least in part a crisis of trust.
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It is also a crisis of legitimacy. The EU has amassed extraordinary powers, but it has done so largely without consulting the people and without many of the basic safety valves we take for granted in a democracy. For example, nobody asked the German people whether they wanted to give up their beloved deutsche mark. The government simply made that decision for them, arguing that a single currency would be bound by strict rules — which were later torn up by Paris and Berlin — and that a currency union would not lead to a transfer of wealth from rich to poor states — which has proved to be false.
In the EU system this is impossible. Neither the European Commission nor its president — the nearest thing the EU has to an executive arm — is directly elected. The president of the European Council, currently Belgian politician Herman Van Rompuy, was not popularly elected to his post.
Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century?
The two legislative bodies of the EU, the European Parliament and Council of the European Union, are largely made up of elected officials, but few Europeans bother to vote for the former, and changing your own representation in the latter is unlikely to have much impact on the collective policy of 27 nation-states. Perhaps most critically, the EU has failed to convince voters it brings added value in a globalized world.
In recent opinion polls, less than half of respondents in the bloc said membership in the union was a good thing. Fifty-three percent of Europeans do not think their voice counts in the EU, according to a Eurobarometer opinion poll, while only 38 percent believe it does. There is some logic here. This meant that EU members agreed to common interest rates, inflation targets, and debt levels but were free to decide how much to tax their citizens, what welfare and pension payments to make, and what employment policies to pursue.
Now the EU faces a grim choice: adopt piecemeal measures to prevent the financial contagion from spreading, or create a kind of United States of Europe with common fiscal and economic policies and a de facto federal government in Brussels. Neither option is particularly attractive.
The latter might save the euro but will further alienate the EU from the people it is meant to represent. And, of course, the bailout will cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of euros. Supporters of the European Union have often compared the club to a shark: If it stops moving forward it will sink. For more than half a century, as the union has grown from six founding states to 27, its members have voluntarily handed more powers to Brussels, and the bloc has never stopped moving forward.
If this was true seven years ago it is even more so today, as technocrats replace elected politicians to lead crisis-wracked Greece and Italy and teams of EU and IMF officials descend on Athens and Rome, Madrid and Lisbon, to cajole politicians into making painful cuts.
In the past, EU leaders rarely had to worry about the tedious business of courting public opinion. Not anymore.