Europe’s project rests on mediation not force


The future of European democracy is about mediation not majority rule; its regulation about shared values not imposed rules. Its draft constitution would be a better document if it recognised this.

In 1957 Elizabeth Eckford and eight other black American teenagers were turned away from the Central High School of Little Rock by the Arkansas National Guard in defiance of federal court orders. A few weeks later units of the US army escorted Eckford and her fellow pupils into the school.

Last week the European Court of Justice ruled that European finance ministers had acted illegally in failing to take enforcement action against France and Germany under the stability and growth pact. It is, however, unlikely this issue will be resolved in a similar way.

For constitutional theorists this contrast illustrates the difference between a federation and an association. When President Eisenhower sent troops to Little Rock he demonstrated that the US government had both the formal and the effective power to enforce its will in dissenting states. The test comes when an issue arises and it is possible neither to allow individual states freedom to determine their response nor to achieve consensus on what common policies should be. In the US, the treatment of black Americans has been such an issue. In Europe, the formation of fiscal policy within the eurozone has a similar, if less controversial, character.

It makes a difference that Eisenhower was commander-in-chief of the world’s most powerful military machine while Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, struggles to maintain authority among his colleagues. And fiscal prudence will never enjoy the same moral imperative as desegregation.

But the US is exceptional among federations. A future European army could not enforce common policies within Europe itself. There are national armies in Canada, Australia and Belgium, but it is almost inconceivable a dispute within these federal states would be resolved by sending troops to Quebec, Sydney or Antwerp. Even in the unitary states of Spain and the UK it is now hard to imagine the Spanish or British government would contemplate military action in Catalonia or Scotland without the agreement of their regional authorities. In all these instances the alternative to agreement is the break-up of the country.

Robert Kagan, the US commentator who claims Americans are from Mars and Europeans from Venus, is right to observe a growing difference in attitudes to the coercive power of the state. But the issue is not just, or mainly, one of foreign policy. You see the transatlantic difference in the numbers of people incarcerated, in attitudes to capital punishment and to gun control, and in the very concept of a war on drugs or terror. It is difficult to visualise the siege of Waco or the paranoid right-wing responses it engendered happening in Europe, where the notion of government as menacing to economic freedom or personal security seems far-fetched. Alan Greenspan’s remark that “the basis of regulation is armed force” has always seemed to me absurd. But as Kenneth Lay, the former chairman of Enron, is paraded in handcuffs, Mr Greenspan may be observing a genuine difference between a society in which economic regulation must rest on consent and one where everything not prohibited in explicit terms is believed permissible.

Nazi aggression and tyranny, the Spanish Civil War and the notion that Britain could rule Ireland are within living memory. The creation of modern Europe represents a conscious rejection of that history. The absence within the European Union of a central authority with coercive powers either at home or abroad is not a weakness but the very essence of an association whose overriding motivation is a determination never again to be engulfed in the wars of the 20th century.

The stability pact, with an empty threat of sanctions, was a mistake. The future of European democracy is about mediation not majority rule; its regulation about shared values not imposed rules. The co-ordination of fiscal policy requires common aspirations, not mathematical formulae lacking moral authority. The federal constitution of the US is a structure unique to time and place. The EU is a project no less ambitious than the United States of America but entirely different in origins, aspirations and nature. Its draft constitution would be a better document if it recognised this.

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