Europe in Perspective

Signing ceremony for the Treaty of Rome, 1957

Signing ceremony for the Treaty of Rome, 1957

Nicholas Kulish’s article on European unity under strain at time of economic crisis is interesting reading, but the headline “Goal of Unified Europe Falters Amid Downturn” seems overblown. Any time you read about the E.U. project running into trouble, it’s always worth asking “compared to what?” It’s not as if there are tons of examples of broad multi-national unions proceeding with smooth sailing, or even that many examples of enduring multi-lateral free trade zones.

Someone sitting around in the late 1940s speculating that Europe was just doomed to endless rounds of self-destructive warfare that would inexorably grind away at the greatest accumulation of wealth on the planet wouldn’t have been making a crazy conjecture. And as recently as the early 1990s, it was common to hear that European political institutions—which were a good deal looser then than they are today—were likely to unravel absent the background of the Cold War. Indeed, in 1990 John Mearsheimer’s “Back to the Future: Instability in Europe After the Cold War” argued that the future of the continent would “probably not be as violent as the first 45 years of this century, but would probably be substantially more prone to violence than the past 45 years.”

Obviously, things went better than that! And nowadays though it’s not clear that there’s any feasible way for European integration to proceed much further in the short-term, it’s very hard to imagine it substantially rolling backward either.