The United States of Europe: Inspiration from India?
If India could manage a union successfully, why couldn’t Europe?
There are powerful voices who suggest that the United States of Europe could have had no future. They say it is an overly ambitious design.
But what about India? This, after all, is indeed a country with a vibrant democracy, a rich and colorful cultural diversity, 29 states and seven union territories and over 40 official languages.
If India can manage such a Union successfully, why can’t the wealthy Europeans, with all their means, do so as well?
The answer to this provocative question is clear: First, the new India was not born in peace and consensus, but in bitter and violent strife. That strife resulted in the breakaway of a huge area of historic India into Pakistan (and what subsequently became Bangladesh).
Second, India’s development has certainly been slowed down by all this complexity. It features a famously argumentative democracy, a numbingly ponderous bureaucracy and a glacial judicial process.
These features have cost India what might be called a “democratic discount,” especially when compared to the economic performance of China. This difference has tangible results, as China is now a visibly much more affluent country than India.
Third, and most fundamentally, India did not start by having to create the union: It existed and had done so for many generations.
Holding together what is already an entity is challenge enough – as not only Indian, but also American history tells us.
Creating a new United States of Europe on the American or the Indian model out of a large number of separate European entities with their disparate languages and cultures, their record of conflict internally and externally, and with no history of political unity was never a realistic possibility, not even in the aftermath of catastrophe in the 1940s. And certainly not now.
Now, towards the path of integration?
What we have instead is a European Union that is on a unique journey. It has progressed from an economic starting point, from a coal and steel community through a common market and the European Economic Community to what is now the European Union, through a series of treaties, which have continually increased the degree of integration.
But now it is subject to the real risk of fragmentation for the first time in its relatively short history.
The eurozone has enormously complicated the European journey. Every crisis in the eurozone has seen the members, led increasingly openly by Germany (and largely in tandem with France), grope towards a new degree of integration.
The goal is to build the eurozone more and more into a stable economic whole, subject to coherent fiscal and financial policy.
Some have seen this as a drift rather than the pursuit of a clear strategy. To these doubters, integration, at each stage, looks cobbled together amateurishly, like the crew of a leaking ship doing repairs in rough seas.
Yet, this viewpoint is to misjudge what is afoot. Whether or not the Greeks are able to find a new modus vivendi in the eurozone, there is no turning back from this journey. From a technical point of view, the increasing integration of the eurozone is effectively a one-way street.
Too much at stake
Even more fundamentally, it would be existentially impossible — particularly for Germany — to withdraw from a project whose collapse would unravel the whole tissue of European integration that has been woven since 1949.
And what is true for Germany is true just as much at least for the founding members of the original European project – the signatories of the original Treaty of Rome. And none of the other members want to see it unravel either.
There is an inevitable price to pay for this: painful adjustments in weaker economies and financial support from the stronger ones – both of which are of course deeply unpopular.
But it is a price that will be paid. Equally inevitably, it poses a serious challenge for the British, many of whom have always been lukewarm about the European project and do not relish the “ever closer union,” which is envisaged in the foundational treaties of the EU.