How to Build a European Community

Amitai Etzioni
Amitai Etzioni Professor of International Affairs, George Washington University

July 1, 2005

If the EU is not to deteriorate into little more than a free trade zone, serious community building measures are essential. These measures would aim ultimately at transferring more of the kind of commitment, loyalty and sense of identity citizens now attach to their nation, to the European community. Until this is done, the current structure cannot carry the high loads of traffic it has been subjected to. To allow for consolidation, no new members should be admitted for a ten year period. In the meantime, the European Commission should minimize its “Europeanization” of all matters that can be left to the nations states. Next, the European Commission should work to reduce the “compliance lag” wherein many European Union directives are neither obeyed nor enforced. And, above all, a major policy issue or two, say dealing with immigration, should be chosen that will be settled on the community level, by a community-wide referendum, following public hearings and town hall meetings.

Standing between Two Steps

The EU is trying to integrate the economies (and regulatory regimes) of its member states, but allowing them to maintain their essential political independence. The EU is seeking to stand between two steps on the ladder of integration: above the level of limited integration of a few economic sectors and below the level of a full union that would include political institutions sufficient to create a United States of Europe. This sort of “halfway integration” is not sustainable, in large part because economic activity is and must be embedded in political arrangements that reflect people’s values and identities. Contrary to the libertarian view, society is not composed of individuals seeking to maximize their pleasure or profit, and society will not naturally gravitate to a system that, by rationalizing the allocation of economic resources and unifying regulations, will enhance those individuals’ income and wealth. Nor are markets self-regulating (guided by an invisible hand). People are not merely traders and consumers, but also citizens whose sense of self is involved in their nation. Hence, when economic integration that benefits their pocketbook threatens their national identity, people will balk.