Monday, May 9, 2011

Happy Europe Day!

This blog is written by an American for a primarily American audience, yet it is important for all American citizens to remain fully informed about social and political trends throughout the world. Not only is this necessary in order to simply be a well-informed and well-rounded person, but events in foreign nations obviously impact the United States both directly and indirectly in a multitude of ways. One of the most consequential social and political trends taking place overseas, which has gone almost unnoticed by the American media but which all Americans should follow with interest, has been the gradual economic and political unification of Europe in the form of the European Union.

Today is Europe Day. It marks the day in 1950 when French Foreign Minister Robert Schumann gave a momentous speech which he laid out a proposal for pooling the coal and iron industries of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy and West Germany into a single market. This idea, the brainchild of the remarkable civil servant Jean Monnet, led to the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, which served as the forerunner to all the pan-European institutions that culminated in the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 that created the European Union.

The process of European integration has been long and not entirely smooth. Yet it is a process that the United States of America should both follow with interest and support from a respectful distance. A stable world is obviously in America's fundamental interest, and a strong EU is a powerful force for global stability. The EU now forms what amounts to a single economic superpower, and thus provides both an immense market for American exports and an outstanding source of imports of goods and services of all kinds. American interests are not harmed in any way by the increasing unification of Europe, and Americans of all political stripes should be cheering the success of the European project.

The idea of a common European defense policy has proven to be one of the most controversial aspects of the European project. Americans should welcome the advent of a common European defense policy, up to and including the creation of a genuine European Army, as it would completely remove the already dubious rationale for maintaining a large American army on European soil. A strong and unified European defense policy would allow us to finally withdraw our troops from European soil, which is not only good in and of itself, but also necessary to meet the challenges created by the need to cut military expenditures.

At the same time, we should remember that the EU is a European affair and generally keep our noses out of their business. Efforts by past American presidential administrations to persuade the EU to admit Turkey as a member of the bloc have often angered the EU leadership. Who are we, they rightfully ask, to tell them who does and does not get to join the European club? The extent to which Europe becomes economically and politically unified is nobody's business but their own, and it is not the duty or the right of the United States to attempt to exert influence on such questions.

If for no other reason, Americans should wish the European project well because of the critical role the institution has played in keeping the peace in Europe. Indeed, whenever I think about the European Union, I think of this photograph:

This picture was taken in 1984. On the left is French President Francois Mitterand; on the right is West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. They went together to the city of Verdun, where in 1916 French and German soldiers had slaughtered one another in unimaginable numbers. They stood silently together before the Douaumont Ossuary, where the unidentified remains of more than 100,000 French and German soldiers are entombed. In my opinion, this picture symbolizes the true purpose of the European Union, and should be ranked with Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima and the Earthrise picture from Apollo 8 as one of the most moving photographs of the 20th Century.

That nations which, for long centuries, made war on each other and butchered each other in great numbers can come together to create a set of economic and political institutions which have helped secure peace and prosperity for the European people, and have essentially made the idea of a war between major European powers entirely unthinkable, should cause all human beings of goodwill to shout for joy. That is why, on this Europe Day, all Americans should extend best wishes to our cousins across the Atlantic Ocean and hope that the European Union becomes a force of ever-increasing importance in global affairs.

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