Abominable Europe

by Henry on February 9, 2004

I didn’t blog much last week because Peter Katzenstein, a famous international relations scholar, was workshopping a book manuscript over three days at the University of Toronto; it was a fun and interesting discussion, but quite time consuming. One of Peter’s observations struck me as blogworthy – he was trying to get at the reasons why many US right wingers, and especially conservative legal scholars, have a visceral dislike for the European Union and all its doings.^1^ Part of the explanation is surely power politics, and the perception of the EU as a potential rival, but surely it goes beyond this. Much American debate gives the impression that the European Union is somehow worse for American interests and world peace than Russia or China. Peter’s take on it was that much of the animus derives from the hostility of the US right wing to internationalism in all its forms, and in particular to the idea that international law should take precedence over national law under certain circumstances. If, as Peter argues, the EU’s fundamental identity involves the primacy of public international law within the jurisdiction of its member states, then it’s easy to see why strict constructionists and others who believe in the primacy of the (US) constitution, would view the EU as abhorrent. On this account, the problem that the EU poses for the US right isn’t that it’s an incipient rival, or even a spoiler like France. It’s that if you take a certain stance on the relationship between international law and domestic sovereignty, the EU appears to be an abomination, something that shouldn’t exist. It’s not a state – nor is it likely to become one anytime soon. Nor is it a simple international organization. Instead, it’s something between the two – an unnatural hybrid of sorts, in which national policy makers increasingly become entangled in a supranational legal order. It’s enough to give Robert Bork hives.

^1^ For the record, Peter also had some hard words about anti-Americanism in Europe.

{ 31 comments }

1

Keith M Ellis 02.09.04 at 5:38 pm

I think he is absolutely correct. Sovereignity is a fetish for these people.

2

Matt 02.09.04 at 5:41 pm

Well, it’s not just American conservatives. Unless I’m missing the point in a big way, European conservatives don’t care much for the EU either, and for the same reasons. In fact, it’s sort of an interesting case– American conservatives acting in a ‘classically’ conservative fashion.

3

Omri 02.09.04 at 5:55 pm

There are other reasons, as well. The EU started
out as a narrowly defined bureaucracy established
to facilitate trade. Then it grew. And grew. And grew. Conservatives hate that.

4

Timothy Burke 02.09.04 at 5:56 pm

Sovereignity per se is just as much a fetish for some parts of the left–in fact, this is where right/left is not at all a useful categorization. There are parts of the American right which, as Peter observes, dislike the EU not in particular but as part of a general distaste for all kinds of internationalism–basically the Pat Buchanan uber-nationalist right. There are parts of the American right like the neoconservatives that dislike the EU merely or strictly at the moment because it presently tends to oppose the internationalist projects that the neocons are pursuing.

In between, I think there are some American conservatives who are more thoughtfully aware of some of the basic structural problems in the EU itself with governance and representation that legitimately call for some skepticism, particularly when the EU is used as a model or template for other regional associations or when it drives some kind of international policy or agreement.

There’s also a very complex, deeper history of statism in Western Europe that I’ve become aware of with regards to the history of consumerism and consumer -rights movements that might legitimately give American conservatives pause if they come from the more libertarian or 19th-Century liberal lineages of the American right.

The religious or cultural right in American dislikes not just the EU but Europe itself, largely because social and cultural policy in Western Europe tends to be so antagonistic to their sensibilities (as well as demonstrating that some of the predicted bad consequences of liberal cultural or social policies don’t come to pass when actually implemented).

5

Rich Puchalsky 02.09.04 at 5:58 pm

Why shouldn’t conservatives hate the EU? By taking the individual nations of Europe and in some sense combining them into an entity at least as large as the U.S., it gives the lie to every conservative economic and social policy nostrum. How are conservatives going to argue that you can’t have “socialized medicine” when a superpower as rich and as large as the U.S. is actually doing it? The EU is a greater threat to them than Russia or China, because Russia and China have already been ideologically defeated.

6

GMT 02.09.04 at 6:36 pm

Beyond the boogeyman factor’s appeal for the Trailer Park (pencil the UN into that column, too), I always figured that since policy isn’t a commodity in the EU, freely traded on the open market through a system of legal bribery the way it is here in the US, that we hated them for not playing ball (i.e., with the ball that we own and the referees on our payroll).
Or maybe it’s because dealing with Europeans requires learning another language, especially when dealing with Brits.

7

hi 02.09.04 at 6:37 pm

We always here how the EU was formed to be more powerful than America (or similiar statments from EU officials) why should Americans like the EU. What have they ever done to help us?

8

Conrad Barwa 02.09.04 at 6:47 pm

Personally, I always thought that much of the dislike of the EU is an extended form of the general dislike for ‘Old Europe’ as such. Combined with the form of statist corporatism that a large section of the Right dislikes, is the combination of the more traditional European political culture that is an anathema to some Americans. Targeted dislike of the EU, as opposed to Europe, would also factor in a distrust of extra-national expansion as a way of solving recurring state-based conflicts. If this solution is replicated elsewhere or proves to be ideologically attractive, it could have ramifications for any global hegemony based on the application of superior military force. We are, of course a long way off from this, but I assume such a subterranean fear lurks there somewhere.

9

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.09.04 at 7:13 pm

“Why shouldn’t conservatives hate the EU? By taking the individual nations of Europe and in some sense combining them into an entity at least as large as the U.S., it gives the lie to every conservative economic and social policy nostrum. How are conservatives going to argue that you can’t have “socialized medicine” when a superpower as rich and as large as the U.S. is actually doing it?”

Excuse me while I chortle about the ‘success’ of say Germany and France’s faltering state programs.

I don’t hate the EU, I just think most of things they do are dumb. There is a difference. :)

Just so you know, the US doesn’t think of the EU as much of a competitor. We see that France wants to set it up as a competitor, and we see no reason to help France do that. But rhetoric above that we see the EU as a threat “greater threat to them than Russia or China” is completely overblown.

Rhetoric that the EU is about internation law is pure self-deception. The long term French violation of economic ‘rules’ which it forced on other countries proves that for the large countries the EU is yet another tool for bullying the smaller ones while ignoring the ‘rules’ for themselves.

10

dave 02.09.04 at 7:39 pm

American conservatives for the most part are suspicious of any situation where bureaucratic rule-making is untempered by democracy.

As a non-democratic creation of democratic governments, the EU is worthy of suspicion.

Make it more democratic by (for example) granting the European parliament more power and much of the right’s animus against the EU would disappear.

Get those who vainly hope it will rival the US as a world power to shut up and the rest of the animus will vanish as well.

11

cure 02.09.04 at 7:48 pm

Strange. Is he suggesting that conservatives think additional layers of government and a decrease in what was essentially European federalism is a bad idea? Of course conservatives don’t like the EU. They see it as a group of bureaucratic elites wasting other people’s money and churning out rather absurd documents like the EU Constitution Draft. As already mentioned, they’re always wary of government institutions that are “figgering on biggering and biggering and biggering,” if I may quote a great American poet.

Mainly, though, conservatives dislike the EU for the same reason that many left wing Europeans dislike “19th century” conservatives in the USA: They disagree with its policies.

It doesn’t seem like a big mystery.

That said, it’d be a long road before you can find any US conservative claiming that the EU was more of a threat to liberty than a resurgently communist China or even a more powerful UN. I don’t think most American conservatives care one whit either way about the EU, aside from thinking Europeans have made a tragic mistake. As with many non-American affairs, we here stateside, especially the conservative among us, don’t really have strong feelings either way on the politics of other countries; the European obsession with US politics seems strange to Joe Everyday.

12

Anthony 02.09.04 at 7:56 pm

gmt says one of the funnier things I’ve read in a blog:

I always figured that since policy isn?t a commodity in the EU, freely traded on the open market through a system of legal bribery the way it is here in the US, that we hated them for not playing ball (i.e., with the ball that we own and the referees on our payroll).

Has (s)he never heard of Parmalat or TotalFinaElf or Airbus or Oil-For-Food, or any of the other scandals which have erupted in Europe lately?

Like Enron and WorldCom and PG&E, these things tend to happen in the more-heavily regulated sectors of the economy. As Europe’s economy is generally more heavily regulated than the US’s, one can expect more corruption in Europe than in the US.

People who value economic freedom (conservatives) will generally dislike the EU because the EU has hastened the loss of economic freedom in Europe. But that won’t lead to the level of “hate” that one sees in right blogs.

Some conservatives will more strongly dislike the EU because its recent actions make it clear that some of the intent of drawing the nations of the EU closer is to impose French and German foreign policy on the rest of Europe, and that French and (current) German foreign policy seems to be motivated solely by a reactionary anti-Americanism, while they continue to protest that they are our friends.

Russia and China have interests and ties, which quite frequently put them at odds with the US. France and Germany have reflexes, which kick at the US whenever they twitch. While Russia or China at some point might become very dangerous opponents, their position on the world stage is more honest and therefore more respectable than France of Germany.

13

Scott Martens 02.09.04 at 7:57 pm

I reviewed a book on A Fistful of Euros – The Tainted Source – that made its argument against the EU on precisely that basis: a quasi-mystical fetishisation of state sovereignty as an eternal property, existing in some Platonic realm of ideals.

I should note that the portion of the French and German state-sponsored economy that makes airplanes seems to be doing pretty well for itself, along with the state-sponsored cellphone makers. Although that may change – American aircraft manufacturers are far more heavily subsidised. People have been predicting that the European economy would collapse since the first post-war Labour government in Britain. It still hasn’t happened. A decade might be a coincidence, two a fluke, but fifty years? Hmm, perhaps income supports and socialised medicine don’t always bring about tyrrany or economc failure?

Also, I doubt quite strongly that a democratisation of the EU would do much to mollify Americans, as good an idea as it is anyway. French, German – heck, even Canadian democracy – has not done much to mollify American conservatives in the past. Damn furiners keep electing people who don’t act in America’s best interests. At least with Iraq the American looney right is being honest about their contempt for free elections.

14

BP 02.09.04 at 8:05 pm

“While Russia or China at some point *might* become very dangerous opponents”

Somebody needs history lessons.

It’s attitudes like this that allow China to shoot down one of our planes, dissect it, study the parts to their hearts’ satisfaction, and get Most Favored Nation status while people whine on about French perfidy. Some people are simply not living in this dimension.

15

BP 02.09.04 at 8:11 pm

“Just so you know, the US doesn’t think of the EU as much of a competitor. ”

That’s dumb. I think it makes a lot of sense for the US to view the EU as a potential economic and military competitor and hedge bets accordingly. It would be sheer idiocy to do otherwise. I never fail to wonder at people who on the one hand soil their underpants at the thought of feisty Islamists on Bactrian camels in the Afghan mountains, but on the other disdainfully discount the possible future dangers a continent with a long history of militarism, colonialism and bloodthirstiness might pose.

16

John Quiggin 02.09.04 at 8:14 pm

The structural argument is interesting, given that the most obvious parallel for the EU as it stands is that of the American states under the Articles of Confederation and that the hottest button in the federalism debate is the phrase “United States of Europe”.

I agree with those who’ve said the reaction is based on dislike of the domestic policies of the EU countries, and the correct perception that a more unified EU would represent a challenge to the US view of itself as the natural leader of the world.

While I don’t think it’s right to view the issues in traditional geopolitical terms, they still count for something and in these terms the EU is winning dramatically – it borders Russia today and will probably border Iraq in a few years time.

17

GMT 02.09.04 at 8:19 pm

anthony: yes, and those are illegal, which is why they are, as you say, scandals. Got it, now?

18

Alan 02.09.04 at 8:29 pm

I suggest that it is not just about geopolitical rivalry nor about fear of a different socio-economic model that has worked fairly well. Most social and political beliefs are visceral. The rational justification of the belief system trails along after opinions have already formed. Whence the visceral dislike of Europe? One element is an inferiority complex, bombastically over-compensated. Those oily garlic eaters speak three languages, make great cars and have style, goddamit.

19

Randy McDonald 02.09.04 at 9:02 pm

BP:

As opposed to the United States?

Quite frankly, given that it was founded on territory separated from its fairly benign colonizer by the prototypical elite-led war of revolutionary independence, absorbed more than half of its territory via conquests (of non-sovereign native groups and sovereign states like Mexico and Spain), and continued to harbour imperialist aspirations towards its neighbours long afterwards (witness the continued sentiment, expressed by many Americans, that Canadians really want to be Americans), it’s a miracle that it turned out as well as it did.

And that’s a Good Thing. I like Americans, and American culture, after all. I just think I, and my nation, have a right not to be assimilated into either category.

20

BP 02.09.04 at 9:15 pm

The irony is not entirely lost on me, Mr. McDonald, but I would like to point out that *our* bloodthirsty militarism is someone else’s problem.

21

zizka 02.09.04 at 10:36 pm

The antipathy to the EU comes from a lot of fairly rational sources — antipathy to bureaucracy and to the welfare state, the perception that the EU might be a threat to US domination, specific issues about the Iraq War.

A lot of the vehemence comes from the fact that not only American left-liberals and also American snobs tend to look to Europe. Not only do conservatives have to listen to praise of the Swedish welfare state, but also to people grumbling about American bread, American coffee, American movies, etc., and how only in Europe do people really know how to live.

American conservative populism is fake, but the germ of truth is that many American conservatives, however wealthy and powerful, are rather provincial in their tastes and experience. And many liberals are liberal arts types with a snobbish air.

So nationalistic defensiveness has a big part in this, reinforced by the hostility between two different American elites.

Years ago I wrote a squib I can’t find now about the importance of Belgian sovereignty. George Will was irate about the EU’s threat to sovereignty and I asked myself, “Why should he care?” Sovereignty by definition is particularistic, indexal, and competitive, and not universal. To be in favor of sovereignty as such is sort of like saying that everyone should be taller than everyone else, or to be offended on the behalf of someone who you think should be offended but isn’t.

My father was a conservative and I’ve known that Sweden was near bankruptcy and collapse ever since 1956. I’m not sure I live long enough to really see it though.

22

jdsm 02.09.04 at 11:01 pm

“Like Enron and WorldCom and PG&E, these things tend to happen in the more-heavily regulated sectors of the economy. As Europe’s economy is generally more heavily regulated than the US’s, one can expect more corruption in Europe than in the US.”

The more heavily regulated European countries always top the corruption indices (i.e. are least corrupt). This is just nonsense.

“My father was a conservative and I’ve known that Sweden was near bankruptcy and collapse ever since 1956. I’m not sure I live long enough to really see it though.”

This is comical rubbish. On what basis is Sweden “near bancruptcy”? Does it have a large national debt? No. Does it have a giant current account deficit? No. Does it have French levels of unemployment? No. In fact, is there any reason to think continuing with the same system will lead to problems in the future? No.

23

jdsm 02.09.04 at 11:12 pm

I think US conservatives see the EU as an itch. Economically and militarily it is dwarfed by the US, yet it’s just about big enough to require dealing with. Moreover, the EU fails to recognise on a cultural level that the US has anything to offer – which must be irritating. Truth be told Europeans do look down on the US and it wouldn’t matter how much money the US had or how much power, it would always be the same.

I used to play squash with a guy who was fat and slow and whose backhand was less than a tenth as elegant as mine – but he always got the ball back and used to beat me as often as I beat him. He was itchy too. I always thought “Why won’t you just die!”. I feel US conservatives have much the same attitude to the EU.

24

Kenny 02.09.04 at 11:44 pm

“I think US conservatives see the EU as an itch. Economically and militarily it is dwarfed by the US”

Militarily yes, but economically ?

Hmm, The OECD puts the 2003 GDP of the US at 10,857 billion and the EU’s at 10,396 Billion.
Not much of a gap there.

25

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.09.04 at 11:51 pm

What’s 461 Billion between friends. I mean other than the GDP of much of the rest of the world. ;)

26

Another Damned Medievalist 02.10.04 at 12:58 am

Sorry, but one of the real problems in this (USA) country is our inability to see comparisons of ourselves to any other country as unpatriotic. I’ve lived in many parts of the US and also in Europe. Things that just are true:

  • In general, western Europe has better, more efficient public transportation per capita than the US (although the UK tries to buck that trend)
  • unless you like bread with lots of air and sugar, European bread is better in terms of taste and consistency.
  • American coffee is as good as European coffees, and is more plentiful and cheaper
  • We do turn out a lot of crap films — but then, so do many European countries. We just don’t see them over here
  • People on the Continent do seem to care more, overall, about basic human rights and social responsibility, based on their attitudes towards crime, punishment, education and health care, and the willingness of the wealthier to pay more in taxes.
  • the sense of proportion that most (again continental) Europeans have about work, family, and free time seems to me to be much healthier than the 24/7 work hours that US companies expect.
  • Europe seems to care less about convenience and quantity in the marketplace, preferring instead a more civilized way of living, IMO

Oh — and Europe has real football.

On the other hand, to many US citizens, the social and economic controls and peer pressure that one often feels in Europe can be seen as oppressive and even invasive. I can’t say I ever felt that way, though.

27

robbo 02.10.04 at 1:30 am

I think the visceral, as opposed to intellectually thought-out, reason for Euro-hatred lies mostly in the fact that Europeans tend to treat their citizens as something more than cheap, expendable work-units. Conservatives LOVE cheap, expendable work-units, and they’ve gone head-over-heels for Southeast Asia. Above all, conservatives don’t want American workers looking across the Atlantic and saying, “Why can’t we have something more like that?”

28

zizka 02.10.04 at 1:45 am

JDSM — I was trying to be funny. Really.

A lot of the American stereotypes of Europe I mentioned go back to the 50’s or 60’s, when today’s big shots were in college. American coffee is now probably as good as European coffee, and maybe beer and wine too, but even in 1980 it wasn’t.

29

Randy McDonald 02.10.04 at 5:06 am

PB:

Given that Germany is considering dropping conscription and has already cut back its military to the bone, and that other European countries are even less militarized, I don’t think European traditions of militarism are active, never mind relevant.

30

x 02.10.04 at 9:03 am

Speaking as one who does not believe “that international law should take precedence over national law under certain circumstances”:

It is hard to overstate the amount of damage which the antics of the UN General Assembly (in particular) have caused to internationalism. They
have hugely discredited the institution and even the very concept.

31

lindenen 02.11.04 at 1:55 am

My opinion of the EU is that it is a tyranny. It looks like a nice Soviet Union, which is really just mutated monarchy. Unelected, unaccountable, kleptocratic bureaucrats effectively running several different countries. It will suck up more and more of the usual duties of elected leaders to the point that elected representatives are largely irrelevant to the governing of Europe. I find it scary. There are other things as well. The lack of free speech, etc that I dislike.

Indeed, the high degree of centralization, high regulation, statism, etc strike me as inimical to Europe’s interests. If Europe substantially cut taxes as well as regulations, its economy would kick the US’s ass. Europe can only carry its double digit unemployment rate for so long. How a country with such high unemployment still permits so much immigration is mind-boggling to me.

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