An American’s Guide to the European Union.

The EU: Not yet a state but more than a mere international organisation.
The EU: Not yet a state but more than a mere international organisation.

Many visitors to Ireland, particularly American ones, can not fathom one issue. How was it that a country like Ireland, that took such pride in achieving its freedom from the British Empire, could be so comfortable with ceding sovereignty to a European Court, Council of Ministers and Parliament on so many issues?

How can the Irish take a handful of Euro out of their pockets, and amidst the Irish harps, see German Eagles, Dutch queens and Spanish kings and feel perfectly comfortable and no less Irish than the day before?

Ireland has been a member of what is now the European Union since 1973, the year I was born. For my generation, European integration is a way of life. It’s perfectly normal for our ministers to sit down on a weekly basis with the other 26 member states and debate and pass laws governing Europe. It’s a run of the mill thing for Irish or French or German people to appeal the decisions of their national courts to the European Court of Justice.

One reason Americans have such difficulty understanding the EU is because they keep trying to compare it to something that already exists. It’s not the UN, because it has actual power in the lives of people. Yet it’s not the Soviet Union either (As the more psychotic and/or drunk eurosceptics allege) because power is held by democratically elected national leaders. Consider it, instead, this way: Supposing Canada, the US and Mexico were economically comparable, and had been to war with each other three times in seventy years, and US troops had goose stepped through Ottawa, or Mexican troops had occupied half of New York City. Then you might get it. France borders seven countries. Germany borders nine. And there are 500 million of us. Culturally, the US is like a load of Old Wild West homesteaders, all wanting to do their own under the sweat of their own brow. The EU, on the other hand, is like 27 people sharing a tightly packed apartment block: If we don’t cooperate on a daily basis, it would be hell, to the extent that if you attempt to burn down your disagreeable neighbour’s apartment, you may well burn down your own and everybody else’s in the process.

Now, it isn’t all happy-clappy: Europeans get irritated about the EU in the same way many Americans get irritated about the federal government, and we have a Brussels (the capital of the EU) mentality in the same way Americans complain about the Washington beltway bubble. But there’s nothing new or particularly European about bureaucracy. After all, I’ll bet that when the first caveman carefully caressed the first spark off a flint onto a nest of dry leaves, and gently blew that smoking fragment into a flame, you can be sure that just behind him, another caveman stepped forward, looked sternly at him, and asked: “Have you got a permit for that?”

4 thoughts on “An American’s Guide to the European Union.

  1. The commission is appointed by the president, who is nominated by parliament, and they are collectively accountable to parliament. More accountable by that measure than, for example, the US federal cabinet.

  2. The Supreme Court, while they certainly have been occasionally guilty of over-reach (Terminator Finlay’s bizarre reasoning in the X case) don’t have the sole power of initiation.

  3. Most power lies in the Commission which is not democratically elected but appointed, and having been appointed the members, at least in theory, sever their ties with their States, creating a separate power base that’s unelected and unaccountable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *