Europe's Endangered Liberal Order

The flags of Berlin, Germany and the European Union blow in the wind near the conference center for the upcoming European Union summit of the European leaders in Berlin on March 23, 1999.  Courtesy Reuters


Like no other continent, Europe is obsessed with its own meaning and direction. Idealistic and teleological visions of Europe at once inform, legitimate, and are themselves informed and legitimated by the political development of something now called the European Union. The name "European Union" is itself a product of this approach, for a union is what the EU is meant to be, not what it is.

European history since 1945 is told as a story of unification: difficult, delayed, suffering reverses, but nonetheless progressing. This is the grand narrative taught to millions of European schoolchildren and accepted by central and east European politicians when they speak of rejoining "a uniting Europe." That narrative's next chapter is even now being written by a leading German historian, Dr. Helmut Kohl. Its millennial culmination is to be achieved on January 1, 1999, with a monetary union that will, it is argued, irreversibly bind together some of the leading states of Europe. This group of states should in turn become the "magnetic core" of a larger unification.

European unification is presented not just as a product of visionary leaders from Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman to Francois Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl but also as a necessary, even an inevitable response to the contemporary forces of globalization. Nation-states are no longer able to protect and realize their economic and political interests on their own. They are no match for transnational actors like global currency speculators, multinational companies, or international criminal gangs. Both power and identity, it is argued, are migrating upward and downward from the nation-state: upward to the supranational level, downward to the regional one. In a globalized world of large trading blocs, Europe will only be able to hold its own as a larger political-economic unit. Thus Manfred Rommel, the popular former mayor of Stuttgart, declares, "We live under the dictatorship of the global economy. There is no alternative to a united Europe."

It would be absurd to suggest that there is no

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