CAN the EU be anything like the US? The answer is no, at least not in the foreseeable future. Equally, it cannot hope to match the economic, political, or military strength of what is the globe's sole superpower. Here is why.
There are fundamental cultural differences between the old and the new world.
Religion is perhaps the most important. As many as 59 percent of people living in the US feel religion plays a "very important role in their lives", according to the results of a survey of the Pew Global Attitudes Project, a series of worldwide opinion polls, released in December 2002.
"Secularism is particularly prevalent throughout Europe. Even in heavily Catholic Italy fewer than three in 10 (27 percent) people say religion is very important personally, a lack of intensity in belief that is consistent with opinion in other western European nations," reads the report.
Although some representatives try to sell acceding EU countries as religious, the truth is these countries to a great extent share the opinions of their western neighbours.
"Attitudes are comparable in former Soviet bloc countries. In the Czech Republic, fully 71 percent say religion has little or no importance in their lives - more than any nation surveyed - while barely one in 10 (11 percent) say it is very important. And in Poland, the birthplace of the Pope and where the Catholic Church played a pivotal role during the communist era, just 36 percent say religion is very important," according to the Pew Research Centre.
The fact is clearly reflected in the political reality of the two continents. It is expected that the US president, who as a rule is Christian, end his public speeches by asking God to "bless America".
Romano Prodi, the leftist president of the European Commission, can hardly be expected to feel the urge to call on divine intervention, but it would be scandal if he ever tried. Similarly, the notion of ever seeing the motto "in God we trust" on a euro note seems absurd.
The second important cultural difference is that the US is a melting pot of races, ethnicities, and nationalities. Not so the EU. The people who built America and made it what it is now arrived there to find a new home, while people living in Europe already have one. So while Americans focus more on creating the best conditions under which everyone can find their new home, Europeans tend to focus more on protecting the home they have against outside pressures.
Patriotism dominates one side of the Atlantic, national pride the other. And often, this pride is tied not only with one's nation, but also with one's region, or even city. For example, while it is perfectly possible that the LA Lakers will one day move somewhere else, Real Madrid will always have its home in Madrid. Always.
Then the US has a single official language, while the EU has 20. One best realises their quantity when seeing them listed: Spanish, Danish, German, Greek, English, French, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Finnish, Swedish, Czech, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Hungarian, Maltese, Polish, Slovak, and Slovene. It is true that English may come to play a more important role in the future, as it is the most widely spoken language in the EU. Before enlargement, as many as 47 percent of EU citizens spoke English well enough to hold a conversation, according to the findings of Eurostat. However, German was the mother tongue of 24 percent of the EU's citizens and English of only 16, a figure comparable to French. All these governments will continue to look out for the interests of their own voters. For smaller countries that fear the loss of national identity, the topic is equally sensitive.
Giving up on one's language would be no popular move for any administration, so a fierce fight over the language issue can be expected - if someone ever dares to bring it up.
How are these cultural differences reflected in the political and economic realm? In three ways: by determining Europe's social model, its population growth, and its willingness to turn power over to a common European government. The Europeans' very mild religious attitudes lead them to conclude that there is no guarantee that worldly suffering will be compensated after death. There is equally no guarantee that faith and righteousness alone can help one overcome this suffering in this world.
One higher force that can pitch in, however, is the state, which has the means and resources to help. Here are the roots of the strong position of Europe's socialist parties, an unknown term in US politics.
Parties affiliated with the Socialist International run some of the largest countries in Europe, including Britain, Germany, and now Spain. And even in countries where the right is in power, such as France and Italy, strong social systems exist. The EU itself has no say over what social policies its members adapt. There, the concept of the more fortunate helping the needy works on a larger scale; wealthier regions fund the development of poorer countries and regions.
There may be many arguments against this EU model, but it is designed to address the other cultural feature of Europe - nationalism. History has time and time again shown Europeans that social differences lead to an escalation of national tensions. It is therefore unlikely that the EU will soon give up on this approach.
Religion is no doubt connected with fertility, a major factor in the further growth of Europe's economy and political might. In 2003, over 14 children per 1,000 inhabitants were born in the US, according to the CIA World Factbook. Out of the 10 countries with the lowest ratio here, eight are members of the enlarged EU. Union giants are among those struggling with population growth. In Germany, the rate reached 8.6 and in Italy 9.2 births per 1,000 inhabitants.
In this aspect, too, nationalism comes into play. European countries are much less open to immigrants coming from outside Europe, most of which choose to go to the US anyway. In countries that do have large groups of migrants, such as Germany and France, newcomers have great trouble integrating into mainstream society. That is only natural, as these countries are no melting pots, but mostly homogeneous entities formed by centuries of continuous evolution.
A significant attribute of economic and political superpowers is that power is centralised. Only centralised command can give an administration flexibility. But the union is about stability, not flexibility. The EU is clearly not on its way to becoming a superpower. The question is whether there is any point in being one.
by Lukáš Fila
10. May 2004 at 0:00