My friend and colleague Charlie Kupchan and I agree on much: Europe faces policy challenges, the EU’s constitution and concern with internal democracy don’t help, and a united Europe is performing well on Iran, Turkey and other issues.
But we disagree on how to read crisis-ridden rhetoric by Europeans — and I believe this issue tells us something important about the EU. Charlie says “Just about every European I talk to these days — including die-hard federalists who have been constructing Europe for decades — is deeply worried.”
Yes, Europeans talk this way, but I draw the opposite conclusion. Why? Because, as I argue in European Voice this week, a wide gulf separates rhetoric and reality. For 50 years, the idealistic talk surrounding the EU has stressed “ever closer union” and movement toward a “United States of Europe.” This is now clearly outdated, since Europe has reached a stable and very attractive “constitutional compromise“, with policies divided between Brussels and the member states in a way most Europeans like.
This places politicians in a difficult bind. They know the EU can only advance incrementally, and that the constitution is dead in its current (probably any) form. Yet the small and vocal minority that feels most strongly about the European issue, especially inside the ‘Brussels beltway’, considers this sort of pragmatic viewpoint to be heresy — a betrayal of the federalist dream. When Commission President José Manuel Barroso recently called for an “Elvis policy” — “less conversation and more action” — he was attacked viciously by European parliamentarians, who accused him of murdering the constitution.
National politicians, too savvy to get caught this way, spin rhetorical waffles about the constitution, while putting it on ice until at least 2009 and get on with implementing its content in other ways. This seems like smart policy to me, and I suspect Charlie agrees. Sure, in an ideal world, politicians might be more sincere about their pragmatism, or more creative in promoting rhetorical alternatives to 1950s-era Euro-idealism, but there is only so much one can expect of people in that line of work. Meanwhile, we agree, they are getting important things done.