The Trump administration doesn’t like the European Union. Its critics claim this is a major shift in U.S. policy. They’re right. But on substance, it’s the administration that’s got it right. The upcoming French elections show why.
The administration’s views on the EU haven’t come fully into focus. But the presumptive new U.S. ambassador to the EU, Ted Malloch, recently wrote that “the U.S. is no longer interested in the old forms of European integration.” So the trend of U.S. policy is clear.
As Malloch implies, the United States once was interested in promoting the EU. After 1945, we wanted Western Europe to drop its internal tariffs so it would be more prosperous, and nations to stop fighting each other so the continent could resist the Soviet Union. That made sense.
For years, the EU mostly stuck to that program. It always had a utopian political agenda, but it focused on lowering tariffs and subsidizing French farmers. It didn’t create European peace (that came from beating the Nazis) or prosperity (which flowered before the EU). But it helped.
The end of the Cold War, though, liberated the EU to start indulging its political fantasy of creating a federal Europe. But even though both the EU and the times had changed, the United States didn’t rethink its policy.
That was a mistake. The EU was based on the idea that the democratic nations of Europe couldn’t be trusted, so they needed to be controlled by a supranational elite.
For a while, that control didn’t amount to much. But the idea behind it is flatly undemocratic. If it were applied to us, we’d be part of a federal union with Mexico, Canada, and the entire Western Hemisphere. We wouldn’t want that for ourselves, and we shouldn’t support it for others.
Yet in Europe, the drive for federal union since 1989 has been relentless. It led the EU to create the euro, its (mostly) common currency. This was a political measure intended to bring a unified Europe into being. But since Europe really isn’t unified, the euro hasn’t worked. Instead, it has exaggerated the existing economic imbalances — prosperity in Germany, stasis in Italy, depression in Greece.
Time after time, European peoples tried to vote for change by rejecting the idea of “more Europe.” The EU lost referenda in France, the Netherlands, and twice in Ireland.
But each time, “more Europe” was crammed down the throats of the European public, because every major European political party supported the EU. The result was that errors like the euro went unchecked and referenda were ignored. This consensus was a disaster. It meant the only way to oppose the EU’s excesses was to vote against all mainstream parties. Many of them were replaced by parties of the far left or the far right — or, in Italy, a party of clowns.
In France, one of these parties, the Front Nationale (FN), is likely to make it through to the final round of the spring presidential elections. The FN combines left-wing economics with pro-Russian sympathies. An FN win would be a disaster.
But if a mainstream party wins, popular disenchantment with a system that allows no change will grow. Stubbornly sticking to the status quo will make the rebellion against it worse. That’s the approach that created today’s problems.
So what’s in the EU for the United States? We don’t like its attitude toward democracy. The euro is a bad idea gone worse. And the EU resents NATO as an American tool.
We can’t change the minds of the European elite. We shouldn’t tell Europeans whom to vote for. But we can stop helping to make the problem worse. We can focus on relations with Europe’s nation states. And that means ending America’s outdated infatuation with the European Union.
Ted R. Bromund is a senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Thatcher Center for Freedom.