While the United States has been trying to settle on a new president, the European Union (EU) has been trying to find a new structure. The new structure is necessary as the EU prepares to absorb the states of the eastern half of Europe, a historic undertaking that will eventually double the union’s size. But what kind of partner will the resulting EU-rope be for the United States? Will this be a United States of Europe? Will there be one phone number that the U.S. president can call?
The EU summit in Nice in early December indicated the likely answer. In five days of extraordinary horse trading between the leaders of the current 15 member states, ending with a round of exhausted applause at 4:25 in the morning, the EU took significant steps toward both greater integration and enlargement. It agreed on the terms for a European Rapid Reaction Force to intervene in future Kosovos, which will serve as a complement to NATO.
The EU also agreed to more use of so-called qualified majority voting on a range of issues internal to the union. The use of new voting weights was designed not just for existing members but for twelve countries, from Poland to Malta and Estonia to Romania, that are currently negotiating to join the union. This was the subject of the fiercest wrangling: Should Germany have more votes than France, or Spain than Poland? How should the balance be struck between the few large and the many small states in Europe? The bargaining, all conducted behind closed doors, reminded me of a modern Congress of Vienna.
A whole range of countries defended their national vetoes in particular fields: the French on cultural imports (against U.S. cultural hegemony), the Germans on asylum and immigration, the British, Swedes, Luxembourgeons on taxation, and so on.
All national governments in Europe fight fiercely for their national interests. Progress on the big, difficult issues is made by intergovernmental bargaining. European federalists, especially those in the European Parliament and the European Commission, have expressed disappointment at both the process and the result.
“And yet it moves,” as Galileo famously remarked. In time, we will see a larger EU. Its member states will do a large number of things together, through supranational institutions, especially in trade and the regulation of economic life. There will also be smaller groups of member states that go further, through intergovernmental cooperation in particular areas. These include such vital matters as the single currency and the abolition of border controls, as well as enhanced environmental protection and foreign policy actions in response to specific crises. In short, as the EU gets larger, the post-Nice EU will become more complex and polycentric, with intergovernmental cooperation remaining as important as supranational integration.
So, will there be one phone number for the new U.S. president to call? No. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Better to have a complex structure that works, and commands some minimum of consent from its peoples, than a simple one that doesn't.