“Ever-Closer” European Union No Longer in America’s Interest

European integration may no longer achieve the prosperous and stable continent the United States seek.

European Commission president, José Manuel Barroso, German chancellor Angela Merkel, American president Barack Obama and former Italian prime minister Mario Monti talk at Camp David, Maryland, May 19, 2012
European Commission president, José Manuel Barroso, German chancellor Angela Merkel, American president Barack Obama and former Italian prime minister Mario Monti talk at Camp David, Maryland, May 19, 2012 (White House/Pete Souza)

Europe may be a closer union than it was forty years ago but from the American perspective, not so much has changed since the 1970s when, as President Richard Nixon’s secretary of state, Henry Kissinger complained that he didn’t ever know whom to call when he needed to consult “Europe.” It seems his successors would sometimes still rather their allies form a United States of Europe already and get it over with.

Not only is this unlikely to happen in the short term; America’s continued insistence on it might actually harm its interests.

Jakub Grygiel argues at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, where he is a senior fellow, that America’s encouragement for European integration no longer matches its goal of keeping the continent secure and stable when the European Union threatens to divide nations more than it unites them.

By supporting EU’s drive to an “ever-closer union” at all costs, Washington mistakes the tactical process for the strategic objective. The goal is a balanced, stable and prosperous Europe; the means has been, in part, European integration. But it is becoming clear that the former is not being achieved by the latter.

Even if it did, the United States might not be better off dealing with one Europe. Whereas national leaders tend to recognize the economic and security benefits of a close alliance, especially parliamentarians in Brussels and Strasbourg are hardly ardent Atlanticists. They prefer to imagine a powerful and united Europe that can one day counterbalance the Unites States’ superpower.

Some Europeans are also more committed to the alliance than others. Britain, Denmark and the Netherlands have more consistently followed America’s foreign policy lead while Germany and Italy also favor further liberalizing transatlantic trade. Their sympathetic views could be overshadowed in a Europe that cares more about its own interests as a whole than the leverage of its individual member states. Were the continent truly united, the United States could no longer exploit differences between nations to advance their own goals.

A readjustment in policy is all the more prudent, Grygiel adds, given “that the reality on the ground seems to indicate that the Russians are seeping in, the Americans are pivoting out and the Germans are moving up” — contradicting NATO’s first secretary general’s famous assertion that the alliance was designed “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down.”

Deepening American relations with Germany, when most other European countries regard its rise warily, would be a “desperate move,” according to Grygiel, that is unlikely to pay off — even if such other states’ “worries about a German hegemony over the continent are quickly dismissed as ahistorical, overly alarmist and inappropriate.” More importantly, Germany is unwilling to lead.

The least the United States could do is seize their public support for the continued efforts to keep the European Union afloat — “efforts that are predicated on greater centralization of the powers in Brussels.”

The transatlantic relationship doesn’t hinge on deeper European integration. Indeed, seeking a greater relationship with the European Union as an institution could weaken the United States as the former “is a political entity that cannot protect its own citizens, is creating deep tensions among its states and is contributing to an upheaval of the continent’s equilibrium of power.”

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