The European Union is expanding again; to the east this time plus Malta and Cyprus; ten new countries in all. It was almost exactly ten years ago that the Treaty of the European Union, otherwise known as the Maastricht Treaty, came into force. It created what we know as the European Union, or the EU as it is commonly called. This new decision, when it is fully implemented by 2004, will bring the EU to a total of 25 countries with a combined population of around 400 million people: a population considerably larger than the United States.
This new version of Europe is very much a work in progress. Even now there is a gathering that might be called a Constitutional Convention. There is an on-going argument about what the New Europe should be called. The United States of Europe is a recurring possibility but does not at this point seem likely.
Fourteen of the fifteen countries of the European Union now have a common currency the Euro. That means no more francs, deutsche marks, or lira. The Union also means that any citizen of an EU country can work freely in any other EU country. This is without question a giant leap forward. There is less progress on the evolution of a common defense policy, but in truth the common defense policy is NATO, which of course includes the United States, Canada, and Turkey.
In many ways the largest question hanging over the EU is if and when it will or won’t include Turkey. I am among those who think that, so far at least, Turkey is Europe’s great lost opportunity. So far, the EU is made up of populations that are overwhelmingly Christian in background. Turkey does have a secular government, but it is a country of 70 million Muslims. Very few European leaders will even talk about that, but anyone who doesn’t think this is a part of the political equation is frankly na ve.
The short message is that Europe is expanding and changing, and there is more to come. The increasingly trendy view among foreign policy wonks is that, even as Europe expands in size and therefore grows dramatically in numbers of people, it is destined to become the next great rival of the United States. Now, this view very much flies in the face of the long held conventional wisdom, to the effect that the next great rival of the United States is China. That view, in a strange way, is almost comforting simply because it is a long way off.
If the new view of Europe as rival does gain currency, it poses issues that are closer at hand, challenges that are more near term than far away. The backdrop for this view of Europe as America’s major competitor is the increasingly unilateral tendencies of the United States, the U.S. saying in effect that we value European views only as long as they are in sync with ours.
There may be something good in all of this, but I for one am at a loss as to what that might be. So, if you are looking for another big issue to worry about, how about this one: Europe and the United States have worked closely and harmoniously for the last century, and it would be very good indeed if we can keep it that way.
This is Olin Robison.
Olin Robison is president of the Salzburg Seminar, located in Middlebury, Vermont and Salzburg, Austria.