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What Happened to the European Union?

The European Union defies historical analogy. It is not an empire, and Brussels is anything but an imperial capital. It commands no army, houses no single leader, projects no one culture outward from metropole to province. Still less is the EU a republic with an obvious bond of connection between state and citizen, though it is composed of many individual republics. Nor is the EU is a confederation, a Hanseatic or a Delian league redux. The EU is much more than a confederation of sovereign states. It is itself a state with a flag and a parliament and a currency. A state with a past, the EU has been decades in the making. But whatever the European Union may be in practice, it is a theoretical novelty. 

By 2003, when ten new countries began the process of joining the EU, it was a flourishing novelty. Its very existence symbolized the overcoming of centuries-long conflict between France and Germany. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it drew a range of post-Soviet countries into its orbit of law, cooperation and affluence. Such was the appeal of the EU in 2003 that the world around it seemed to be becoming “European” in hopes of membership or of partnership or at least of proximity. Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia became member states in 2004. Turkey, Georgia and Ukraine debated the possibility of joining the club in one way or another. Brussels welcomed and enjoyed the debate.         

In his new book, Fractured Continent: Europe’s Crises and the Fate of the West, the distinguished journalist William Drozdiak quotes from the EU’s first security strategy paper, which was released in 2003. “Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure nor so free,” the paper declared. “The violence of the first half of the twentieth century has given way to a period of peace and stability unprecedented in European history.” In the winter of 2018 these pronouncements read more like an epitaph for a bygone golden age. Fractured Continent traces the path from 2003 to 2017. How, Drozdiak asks, did we get from there to here?

The 1957 Treaty of Rome, signed by Belgium, France, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands and West Germany, created the EU’s predecessor, the European Economic Community. The European Parliament began holding meetings in 1958; the first direct elections were held in 1979. The impulse to European integration in these years was predominantly economic, and economic integration made Western Europe a synonym for wealth. Despite terrifying Cold War tensions, the division of Europe into East and West with American troops stationed across Western Europe settled the question of European security. The United States was not always beloved by Western Europeans, but it had an urgent strategic purpose within this bounded Europe. When Americans and Western Europeans disagreed about this purpose, the Soviet threat kept them in line.

With the end of the Cold War, the European Union took on a new purpose: instead of serving as a bulwark of Western liberalism, it became a means of expanding the boundaries of the West. The Maastricht treaty of 1992 combined security and economic integration, while the 1995 Schengen Agreement enabled free movement across the borders of many EU member states. The Euro was introduced in 1999. Countries sacrificed a degree of sovereignty for the sake of participating in the European project, the benefits of which seemed to be self-evident. Nationalist conflict was to be exchanged for European integration, parochialism for cosmopolitanism, circumscribed markets for open markets.    ...

Read entire article at New Republic