Has the European Union’s evolution as a federation reached its limits? Will nationalism increasingly limit power-sharing with Brussels? Can we assume on this side of the Atlantic that future political challenges will all be on the Pacific? Recent events suggest otherwise. Indeed, it looks like European federalism may be outsmarting us.
Canada was defeated for a temporary seat on the Security Council of the United Nations because individual members of the European Union decided it was in their interests to support one of their own, rather than a valued friend. The idea that Angela Merkel and Nicolas Zarkozy were out to teach Stephen Harper, an upstart Canadian conservative, a lesson in humility and political correctness is silly. Clearly, European leadership has decided that European political solidarity comes first. Protecting the Union—its common market and its common currency—trumps its individual external ambitions, including the credibility of the NATO alliance.
There are numerous other indications that the recession is not undoing existing arrangements, but rather leading to further cooperation in sensitive areas. Across Europe, social tensions are rising; the outsider, whether a Muslim or someone from somewhere else who is looking for a job, is feeling less welcome. However, the Schengen Agreement that now holds twenty-five countries—400 million Europeans—together in one borderless security zone is firmly intact. France and Britain are actively negotiating a defence agreement that could lead to pooling resources and cooperation on everything from procurement to sharing France’s nuclear-warhead-simulation-testing facilities. Last weekend, the European members of the G-20 were finally able to agree among themselves to reduce their over-representation on the board of the International Monetary Fund.
There is more muscle behind these concerted actions than bureaucratic inertia and a swelling feeling of being European. Germany and France and the other more affluent northern partners have an immense stake in maintaining the Euro currency and an open market of some 500 million people. When unity will be served, we shouldn’t be surprised if they undertake further restraints on their freedom to act as sovereign states. If we do nothing to alter the status quo on this continent, we’ll likely fall further behind as an integrated economic competitor.