Don't trust the European Union: American Presidents, beware!

Author:Connolly, Bernard

A well-known writer, Thomas Friedman, has argued that the United States should support the European Union because "The European Union is the United States of Europe." Perhaps one should not be surprised at such failure of analysis and insight, and even of simple observation, in a New York Times writer. After all, people far more eminent have made such mistakes. U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant misread German unification under Bismarck as presaging an era of democracy in that country and congratulated Bismarck on establishing a constitution to be compared to America's. The doyen of American historians of modern Germany, Gordon Craig, wrote:

Grant congratulated the German government for having completed the long-desired unification of its territory and for its decision to embark on a new federal union like the United States itself a decision, the President indicated none too delicately, that showed a desire for speedy progress toward the blessings of democracy. This engaging exercise in self-satisfaction must have amused its recipient, Prince Bismarck, and he subsequently made a point of assuring American visitors gravely that he had been much influenced by the United States constitution when making his own plans for Germany. It is quite possible that he had gone so far as to read that document, but it would be difficult to demonstrate that he borrowed anything from it. The similarities that Grant found between the two constitutions were as superficial as his prophecy concerning Germany's future political course was erroneous. Far from pursuing the path of democracy within a federal union, imperial Germany was Prussian-dominated, personal, dynastic, authoritarian, and illiberal. And, forty-six years after Grant sent his message of congratulations to Berlin, one of his successors, Woodrow Wilson, declared war on Germany at almost exactly the time that the German Chancellor's secretary, Kurt Riezler, was noting in his diary:

The policy of the Chancellor [Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg]: to lead the German Reich, which cannot become a world power by the methods of the Prussian territorial state ... to an imperialism of European form, to organize the continent from the center outwards (Austria [which then included what were to become Czechoslovakia and Hungary and large parts of the Balkans], Poland, Belgium) around our undemonstrative leadership. Even though Friedman is in celebrated company, his misreading of the European Union is deeply worrying. Given the present state of American politics and society and the disgust so many Americans evidently feel for their political institutions, one might question whether it is wise to hold the United States up as a model for everyone else. No doubt some aspects of some national systems in Europe are an improvement on the American model. Nonetheless, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, the United States has the worst possible system of government--except for all the others. But the European Union strives to eliminate anything that expresses democracy in its subject states. Unhappily, too many American commentators and even some American political figures see the European Union as the model for the United States, not the other way around, and have already succeeded in moving...

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