What Europe and the EU Mean to One American

**Before you read this post, please keep in mind that I am an American and that what I know of Europe is based on knowledge gained from: 1) teaching European history, 2) studying it for both of my degrees, as well as continuing education courses, and 3) reading the news, books, and other blogs about Europe and transatlantic issues.  Despite my attempts to learn what I can about the EU, however, I still don’t quite have a grasp on the the intricacies of its institutions and have many questions.  What that means is that I have an outsider’s view and don’t get a chance to experience the issues (political, economic, social, etc.) that Europeans face on a daily basis.  I can only write, therefore, from my perspective from here in America.

The idea for this post started when I read an editorial in the New York Times by Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Felix Marquardt titled “The Fix for Europe: People Power,” which in turn led me to learn of a movement in Europe called Europeans Now.  The premise of the piece by Cohn-Bendit and Marquardt was that if European integration was to continue and succeed, the solutions to Europe’s problems needed to be transnational.  The idea of the need for transnational solutions struck a particular chord with me, since I am a fervent supporter of the transatlantic relationship and hope that the US and Europe maintain their historic friendship, despite “pivots” from the US towards other areas.  I also believe that as our world continues the process of globalization, governments (and their citizens) need to move away from competition and towards cooperation.

Naturally, I was curious about Europeans Now and checked out their website.  The way they describe the movement is this: “a transnational, inter-generational, non-ideological and progressive European non-profit movement that aims to take European integration to the next level.”  Additionally, with the rise of the far right in recent years I was also impressed with their message of “putting the far right movements back in their box.”  Seeing an opportunity to start a transatlantic dialogue about transnational solutions (after all, the US and the EU share similar problems), I decided to email them asking that even though I was an American, was there anything that I could do to help and be involved.  In their response (which I was surprised to receive), they asked if I was interested in making a video of myself “explaining what Europe is for you, why you support the movement, etc.”  Not being the most photogenic person in the world, I decided to write a response instead.

Europe is part of who I am. 

I am a proud German-American.  When I was fifteen years old, I researched my family history and was able to trace relatives to 18th-century Prussia.  I took German classes through high school.  When I was stationed in South Korea, I requested to be stationed in Germany after my yearlong tour was done, even though it meant that I would be away from home for a total of three years (it actually turned out to be three-and-a-half years).  While I was there (Nov 1995 – May 1998), I was stationed in Wackernheim, close to Mainz.  I was able to see Gutenberg’s Bible, the Brandenburg Gate, beautiful churches and other buildings hundreds of years old, Roman ruins in Trier, eat Currywurst mit Pommes, and even travel to the Netherlands.

Fourteen years later (2012), I traveled to Niederbiel during a two-week school exchange.  This time was much different because I was educated and had taught European history for nine years.  I gained a much greater appreciation for the history and culture of both Germany and Europe.  So when I saw what used to be a checkpoint between the former BRD and DDR, not only did I think about how Germany had been reunited, but also how Europe had been somewhat reunited after the Eastern Enlargement.  At the Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland in Bonn, I saw relics of the Nazi period and the GDR, but I also saw a copy of the treaty establishing the European Economic Community.  All I could think of when I saw that was that despite their troubled past, Europeans (or perhaps more precisely their leaders?) thought about cooperating to prevent that from happening again.  They were willing to look beyond their differences and work to build a better Europe for future generations.

Europe is a success story.

Every once in a while, I read or hear something to the effect that Europe does not have a common history.  I am always surprised at this, since through my eyes, it does share a past.  A successful past, one to be envied by others.  Think about the ideas that came out of the Scientific Revolution or the Enlightenment.  What about the so-called “Long Nineteenth Century”?  The spread of “isms” like classical liberalism, romanticism, feminism, nationalism, and even conservatism.  Of course Europe also shared the experience of an era of world wars, but surely these are all European moments and do not belong to one country.

Whatever reasons one might want to give for the establishment of the ECSC (military, economic, etc.) the EU has thus far been a success.  It succeeded in preventing war and aided in the reconstruction of Europe in the years following 1945.  I think that the EU has definitely moved in the right direction, and I am reminded of José Manuel Barroso’s response during a press conference a few years back.  When asked what the European Union would be when the treaty had been concluded, Barroso responds that the EU has “free countries that are united, and that they have decided to work together with some degree of cooperation or even integration, that is what we are.”  He goes on to say that “we are adding value to what we do at the national level.  It’s of course obvious today that the national dimension is not enough.  It’s a question of common sense.  If you want to fight climate change, if you want to provide energy security, we cannot do it alone at the national level, we need more than that, we need a European dimension…the more globalization goes, and it’s quite obvious that it’s there to stay, we need that dimension more.”  In other words, the issues that countries face today transcend national boundaries (and even regional boundaries); therefore, it it is quite logical to pool resources (financial, scientific, intellectual, etc.) to solve these problems together.  Of course, Barroso goes on to call the EU a “non-imperial empire,” which may have ruffled a few feathers, but that’s for a different post.

Is the EU perfect?  No, it seems that there is still work to be done (i.e. the CFSP, the notion of the democratic deficit, etc.), but when one looks at where Europe was in 1945 and compare it to now, I see Europe and the EU as a success story.

Thanks for reading.

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