A United States of Europe?, by Bruce Ackerman

Are we witnessing the birth of the United States of Europe?

There are uncanny similarities between the current round of wheeling and dealing and the founding of the United States of America. The Philadelphia Convention of 1787 represented America’s second try at continental union. In 1781, the 13 states had come together behind a treaty-constitution that broadly resembles present European arrangements.                       America’s first effort was the Articles of Confederation. Like the European Union treaties, it guaranteed each citizen’s right to move throughout the confederation and exercise all the economic privileges of home-staters. It also created a weak unicameral Congress and a judiciary for resolving inter-state disputes. But it did not grant the confederation independent powers of taxation, preventing it from guaranteeing the large war debts issued by each of the states. Because many states were in shaky financial condition, their bonds had dramatically depreciated in value, undermining the confidence of European investors in New World projects.

This was one of the problems motivating the movement “for a more perfect union.”

The Constitution of 1787 granted new powers to impose taxes and set up an analogue to the Bank of England. Once it came into effect, the federal government moved quickly to create a national bank and to pay the depreciated state debt. This ended the credit crisis and established the credibility of the infant republic in European financial markets.

But before all this could happen, the founders confronted a threshold problem: So long as they were living under the laws of the confederation, it would be impossible to get their new Constitution ratified. Like the current European Union treaties, the Articles of Confederation explicitly required unanimous consent to any revision of its terms, and it was perfectly obvious that no such consent would be forthcoming.

Rhode Island was the Britain of its time — this small trading state was unwilling to give up its sovereignty to the federal colossus. It refused to send delegates to the Philadelphia Convention, denouncing it as an illegal secessionist assembly, which is precisely what it turned out to be. After a summer of secret sessions, the Philadelphians went public with a document proclaiming that, despite the articles’ requirement of unanimous consent, the new Constitution would spring to life when only nine of the 13 states ratified.

Confronting this revolutionary change in the rules of the game, Rhode Island simply refused to play, as did North Carolina. When the first Congress met in 1789, there were 11 states in the union. The dissenting states caved under pressure — with Rhode Island entering in 1790 only when Congress began threatening to impose tariffs on its trade unless it abandoned the veto solemnly granted to it by the Articles of Confederation.

These embarrassing facts have long been forgotten, even by most serious students of the U.S. Constitution. But they put the current crisis in a new light.

The members of the new Eurozone treaty won’t bludgeon Britain into Rhode Island-style capitulation. But if British Prime Minister David Cameron stands firm, his veto will likely lead to the ultimate exclusion of his nation from the EU. The projected treaty will create a large bloc whose interests systematically diverge from other members, but which will depend on a steady flow of supportive decisions by EU institutions to maintain the Eurozone’s credibility.

Given these dynamics, Cameron is simply fooling himself if he really believes “that the EU institutions — the court, the commission — [would] work for all 27 nations” when this would compromise the euro bloc’s fundamental interests. When Britain tries to undermine ongoing support for the Eurozone, it will predictably provoke a constitutional crisis — in which the euro bloc will eject Britain to prevent its continuing acts of sabotage.

This is a time for some serious diplomacy from the Obama administration. The United States should help bridge the gap between the Continent and Britain’s divided coalition of conservatives and liberals, encouraging both sides to return to the bargaining table. If left unchecked, the current institutional dynamics will generate a United States of Continental Europe at an unacceptable price, gravely weakening the West for a very long time to come.

Bruce Ackerman is a professor of law and political science at Yale and the author of “We the People: Transformations.”

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5 Responses to A United States of Europe?, by Bruce Ackerman

  1. philip royle says:

    So what are you saying The Uk and it’s population must bow to the EU or face destruction by the EU? That’s fighting talk in any language and of course the true undemocratic and dictatorial face of the Federalists.
    Why do people compare the USA with Europe is a mystery to me.

  2. Silva says:

    Ok, so now EU member states should be forced to keep togheter in this imperialist project or else… mr.Obama will correct the ones that want to get out of the EU coffin.
    When a defenser of the UE federalism needs to call for the US to keep EU together, one doesnt really need to do much to evidence the EU failure.

  3. joyce says:

    Ya!The UK should agree to join the EU its about time we got another superpower.

  4. Ronald says:

    It should be most interesting to see if we are witnessing a United States of Europe. If we are, perhaps they can consider some new laws based on those of the United States of America, and maybe some new ones which have been proposed by a certain Yale professor.

    (1) Europeans should be taxed based on their world-wide income. Is it right that a “Commander of the French Order of Merit” not pay French taxes?

    (2) Banks everywhere in the world should be required to determine whether their customers are citizens or have some other connection to any one of the several dozen European countries. They should also look for European-sounding names, like “Ackerman.” A 30% withholding tax should be imposed on any payments to or from non-compliant banks.

    (3) Any European who leaves Europe should nonetheless be required to remain European. If he or she does not wish to remain European, then that person should be barred from ever setting foot in Europe ever again. People who leave Europe and the struggling 99.9% who think citizenship is a lifetime commitment, merely to seek economic opportunity elsewhere, should not be allowed to go back to Europe any time they like to brag about the billions they’re saving in taxes.

    (4) Descendants of Europeans who renounced their European citizenship should be given the opportunity to reinstate their European citizenship. Those who don’t wish to do so should be banned from ever visiting Europe again.

    (1) and (2) are based on actual US laws. (3) is inspired by a column by Prof. Bruce Ackerman of Yale University in an LA Times column. (4) is considerably more generous than current US policy, under which descendants of US renunciants are simply non-citizens of the US. This liberalisation will allow all those people of European origin in places like America to retain there European status, and not suffer because of a decision their ancestors made. Unless they don’t want to be European, in which case of course they should be banned.

    I hope Prof. Ackerman will support my proposals for the United States of Europe! I think they’re quite reasonable.

  5. celtthedog says:

    I find it hard to believe a Yale professor could be so historically illiterate. But here’s the difference between the 13 American states in 1787 and the present-day EU:

    The white population of the original 13 states were between 60-70% of English origin and between 70-80% British origin. They were also around 98% Protestant when Protestantism meant something. In other words, the Americans shared a common history, common language, common legal tradition and thus common politico-social culture. Indeed, the Americans even shared a common political and cultural identity before independence — that of being British subjects.

    Europe has none of the above. No common history, no common language, no common legal tradition and thus no common politico-social culture.

    I also find it strange that an American professor has never heard of the American Civil War — the bloodiest war the US ever fought. Why does he believe that he can have 1776-1788 without them being followed by 1861-1865.

    Finally, our good professor seems to have forgotten that there were another group of American colonists who rejected the constitution and indeed, the Declaration of Independence before that.

    I refer to the Canadians — English-speaking Canada was founded by anti-American Americans. Fancy that.

    Not only has Canada been as much of a liberal democracy as the US throughout its history, it’s still a nation free and independent of the USA.

    Britain resembles Canada a lot more than it does Rhode Island.

    Better luck next time, old chap.

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