December 20, 2004,
In The United States of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy, T. R. Reid provides an overstated but inadvertently insightful treatment of the European challenge to American hegemony. On his intended thesis that “the planet has a second superpower now” Reid fails to convince. Nevertheless, his book offers a valuable portrait of a continental political class obsessed with “counterweighting” the United States of America. Indeed, the book prompts the question of whether the EU actually needs a degree of anti-Americanism to generate a shared identity for a fractious pastiche of nations tied together by nothing more than soccer and the technocratic tendrils of the Brussels bureaucracy.
Admitting Europe’s military impotence, Reid instead bases his argument on economics. He points to the “miraculous” euro, the global power of European regulators, and increasing European investment in the U.S.
So far, it is true, the euro has succeeded, but double-digit unemployment, a declining birthrate, soaring taxes, and a union-dominated welfare state suggest a grimmer economic future. A controversial blue-ribbon commission, chaired by former Dutch prime minister Wim Kok, reported in November that Europe, with a growth rate roughly half the world average, will fail to meet its goal of outperforming the U.S. economy by 2010. Instead, its economy appears even more booby-trapped than our own.
Reid assumes that if EU regulators are strong, the EU must be too. Devoting an entire chapter, “Welch’s Waterloo,” to the EU’s veto of the GE-Honeywell merger, he misses the larger point. Europe’s regulators legislate the length of leeks and the curves of cucumbers, mandate minimum tax rates, and prop up a pathetically inefficient agricultural sector. Rather than making a superpower, the EU’s ham-fisted regulators keep the world’s largest unified market from reaching its full potential.
Regulatory power goes hand in hand with Europe’s centralized, semi-planned economy. In a glowing account of the EU’s all-but-state-owned Airbus program, Reid notes how, “to keep its political support, Airbus has adroitly parceled out A380 fabrication work across the continent.” The wings are built in Wales, the fuselage in Toulouse, and the engines are attached in Germany, where the uncompleted plane is flown on a special transport. This is “adroit”?
Third, Reid argues that Europe derives much “soft power” from owning many familiar “American” product lines. Motown Records is now French, Amoco is British, and Vaseline is in the hands of the Dutch. Suggesting that European investment somehow undermines U.S. power belies the fact that Europe invests in the U.S. in part because America offers a far friendlier business climate than the chokingly regulated EU.
Yet, even though his superpower arguments flop, Reid makes one point well: EU officials are as obsessed with “counterweighting” the Americans as they are proud of their genuine economic achievements. He quotes EU Commission president Romano Prodi’s exultation that “the historical significance of the euro is to construct a bipolar economy in the world.” In other words, at the hour of Europe’s greatest success, its top official celebrated not only the new currency, but also a new way to stick it to the Americans. The euro, Reid argues, “is just one facet of the broader effort to create a “bipolar” world in every respect to see the European Union as a global superpower of American dimensions.”
The EU has not restricted itself to economic counterweighting. Led by France, the EU has blocked the U.S. purchase of German-made diesel submarines for Taiwan, is considering lifting a post-Tiananmen arms embargo on China, launched a joint project with the Chinese military to develop an alternative to the U.S.-run GPS system, and pursued a schizoid policy on terror by sending forces to Afghanistan and clamping down on its own restive Muslim population while bankrolling the Palestinian Authority and undermining American efforts in Iraq.
Like most Americans, Reid is dismayed that the EU’s response to America’s “consistent record of support can sometimes be as King Lear said of his ungrateful children ‘sharper than a serpent’s tooth.’” Anti-Americanism itself isn’t exactly news; the question now is why the Iraq war should have provoked so much fury in Europe. Robert Kagan’s maxim that “Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus,” attributes the divide to political culture, but Reid’s emphasis on “counterweighting” suggests another source: “The sheer pleasure that Europeans take in denigrating America has become another bond unifying the continent,” he writes. Might anti-Americanism be useful for European integration?
The EU remains far from united, and its institutions command little loyalty. EU diplomats were so divided over what images to print on the new euro banknotes that they ultimately settled on archetypal architectural designs. As the engraver tells Reid, “it was totally forbidden to use any people or any familiar buildings. We used doors and windows on one side of the note to show openness. The reverse side shows bridges, to show our connections.” The irony is telling.
At the same time, a deep gulf alienates ordinary Europeans from officials in Brussels. That EU governments organized a public-awareness campaign after having made the momentous decision to launch the euro nicely illustrates a phenomenon that commentators have come to call the “democratic deficit.”
Reid makes much of “Generation E” the GSM-phone-toting international youth as familiar with the nightclubs of Prague as the stadiums of Madrid who supposedly identify with “Europe” as a whole. Nevertheless, nationality and religion the truest sources of identity remain fractured or extinct in modern Europe. No one, Reid concedes, can imagine dying for Europe
Those trying to build a United States of Europe need a unifying principle to hold the enterprise together, especially as the EU moves from economic projects to even tougher political ones like a common foreign policy. Anti-Americanism is a natural choice; whether McDonald’s, the “barbaric” death penalty, or le cowboy Bush, America offers something for everyone to hate. Is it any wonder then that Europe’s elites have conjured up the hated hyperpower for the adolescent Union to define itself against?
Reid concludes by surveying the EU’s members. Alongside some basic facts, he assigns each a score from 1 to 100 on “Reid’s Anti-American Index,” and the “Europhile Index.” Higher numbers correspond to greater resentment of America or deeper support for European integration. In most cases, the numbers parallel each other. Spain scores 75 and 85, France 85 and 90, Italy 65 and 85. The U.S. still remains relatively popular further east, with Poland scoring 20 and 80.
Notwithstanding its exaggerated estimate of the EU’s power, Reid’s warning of the EU’s urge to “counterweight” the United States is an important one. Europe, as yet unable to play the world-leadership role it demands, seems to have set out to unify itself in opposition to the only country that can. There may be little America can do to improve trans-Atlantic relations, if, as it appears, Reid has described not so much a superpower, as an anti-power.
Carlos Ramos-Mrosovsky, a former NR intern, is a student at Harvard Law School and a graduate of Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.