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Harper Timothy, International Herald Tribune - 8 dicembre 1994
History: the U.S. model.


by Timothy Harper

SUMMARY: Blood and money, both today and 200 years ago, account for much of the European Union's difficulty in achieving any sort of working American-style federalism.

(International Herald Tribune, "European Union", 8-12-1994)

A quick look at cultural and institutional history on opposite sides of the Atlantic helps explain why there is a United States of America today - and why the EU is encountering so many stumbling blocks to its stated goals of closer political and economic union.

Culturally, many of today's Europeans seem to fear that federalism means giving up their national traditions. They are not eager for the type of union that means their currencies no longer exist, or that their own nation's leaders do not have the final say in how and where their soldiers serve.

Radical patriotism

America's so-called founding fathers, on the other hand, had no such traditions to protect. Indeed, while national pride remains a stumbling -block to a united Europe, the concept of patriotism was a radical new notion in the American colonies.

While present-day Europeans bridle at the type of central control that allows Eurocrats to dictate how they run their banks or make their ice cream, the signers of the Declaration of Independence were used to a common English - system of law and justice that was administered pretty much the same in Massachusetts as in Virginia.

Rather than being taught, as Europeans are, about past wars and economic competition with their neighbors, Thomas Jefferson and other Revolutionary-era republicans were fed grammarschool diets of Roman and Greek classicism that glorified the ideal of an enlightened democracy. With so much land in the new country, these scholar-statesmen envisioned a nation of genteel farmers not unlike the model described by the Roman poet Virgil.

For a brief few years, under the Articles of Confederation, the United States did exist in a form closer to to-day's EU than today's United States of America. States governed themselves with little regard for the federation, even issuing their own money and laying tariffs on goods from other states. New York, for example, imposed taxes on vegetables from New Jersey and firewood from Connecticut.

Commercial imperatives It didn't work. Several states printed vast amounts of currency to help pay off both public and private debts. Between currency fluctuations and internal trade wars, merchants, creditors and traders complained that they could not do business. Congress tried to pass laws to regulate commerce, but without a strong executive or a federal judiciary, the states and individuals simply ignored the new regulations.

George Washington, who turned down a crown to find himself president of a nation in name only, warned of the need for a stronger central government despite widespread misgivings from the former colonies, which were suddenly enjoying their status as mini-republics. In the end, Federalists such as Alexander Hamilton managed to convene the 1787 gathering that met in Philadelphia to tinker with the Articles of Confederation, but ultimately threw them out to write what became the U.S. Constitution.

Central to that new, stronger American federalism, of course, was the tripartite form of government and the system of checks and balances on the executive, legislative and judicial branches. The European Union, in contrast, has beendominated in recent years by its executive arm, the European Commission.

Many American legal scholars believe the new nation might not have survived - and certainly not in its present form - without the U.S.Supreme Court's assertion of its influence in a pair of early 19th-century cases.

In the Marbury vs. Madison case in 1803, Justice John Marshall asserted the federal courts' rig ht to declare a law unconstitutional. Sixteen years later, in McCulloch vs. Maryland, Marshall set forth the principle that states cannot tax - or otherwise interfere with - the functions of the federal government.

These two monumental rulings, which in effect provided the vitality for the system of checks and balances, have no parallel in modern Europe, where the European Court of Justice operates much more narrowly in terms of what it can tell the EU and member states to do.

Military issues

The war in Bosnia, whether viewed as a civil war or as act of aggression by one nation against another, presents the EU with a troubling and divisive obstacle. Politically and diplomatically, the EU hardly seems prepared to present itself as a true union when it cannot resolve the war in its own backyard.

In America, on the other hand, the young nation's first war, in 1812, was against that familiar old enemy, England. It was a costly but unifying exercise.

Timothy Harper

Argomenti correlati:
International Herald Tribune
modello americano
stati uniti d'europa
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