Whereas two weeks ago, I would have placed the symbollic emphasis on the former, today I’d put it on the latter: Obama’s visit is a show of American solidarity with the idea of European solidarity. That suggests that Washington is taking seriously the heightened alarm over Eastern Europe’s economic viability and scenarios of the EU unraveling along East/West lines.
While on the subject, I’d like to walk back something I’d suggested in a couple previous posts (here and here), namely, that EU expansion was a crisis response to stabilizing post-Soviet Eastern Europe. The larger point — that expansion took place ten years too early compared to institutional integration — holds up. And I’d argue that the reintegration of Germany, which was something of a crisis management response, set the historic precedent.
But EU expansion wasn’t precipitous, either on its own or compared to, say, NATO expansion. And it wasn’t a policy driven by crisis, so much as the challenge that a two-speed continent posed to the EU. Unfortunately, as the current financial crisis illustrates, expansion doesn’t seem to have adequately addressed the problem. Depending on how bad the financial crisis gets, expansion might even wind of exacerbating it.