The EU’s Stubborn Identity

I’ve had a thought about last week’s EU appointments bouncing around in my head for the past few days, and finally have a moment to get it onto the blog. One of the more common refrains in criticism of the relative timidity of the appointments has been, “Ten years of haggling for this?”

What that overlooks, though, is that, although the Lisbon Treaty is indeed the result of 10 years of haggling over the next phase of European construction, it was already in itself a wildly disappointing outcome for federalist Europhiles dreaming of a United States of Europe. And as I mentioned last week, that’s because federalist Europhiles dreaming of a U.S.E. do not represent the dominant view of either the European population or European governments.

Both are constituents of the EU — with the latter also functioning as its collective executive — and both have very defensible reasons for jealously guarding their national sovereign rights. And the fact that the appointments represent continuity rather than a bold leap into federalism is not a betrayal of Lisbon, but the very essence of it. And as most observers recognize, Lisbon is as good as it’s going to get for further EU construction.

To put it another way, the U.S. essentially fought a short civil war, followed by a century-long reconstruction period, to cement the replacement of the Articles of Confederation with the federalist Constitution. By contrast, Europe essentially fought a century-long civil war followed by a decades-long reconstruction period to introduce the Articles of Confederation. (China has essentially not yet formally resolved its civil war.)

The appointments reflect the fact that the weight of executive power in the EU will remain with the member nations’ heads of state and ministers. That might change in the future. But for now, the EU remains, well, the EU.