A Europe of Provinces, Not States

As the European Constitutional Convention assembles to debate the fine points of the European Union's future institutions, now is the moment to think the unthinkable about where Europe is heading. Or at least, to consider perhaps a quite different question: where would it be reasonable for the EU to move?

Communism's fall saw the appearance of several small states in Europe. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania reemerged from Soviet occupation. Czechoslovakia split into two separate states. Yugoslavia gave way to Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia; it may perhaps shortly disgorge Kosovo and Montenegro as well. Although the Baltic republics merely reestablished their pre-WWII independence, and Yugoslavia's breakup was a bloody affair like so many other wars of independence, there is something tantalizing new in all this as well.

In the interwar years, the Baltic states were often viewed as impractical, artificial creations of the Great Powers. Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia came into existence because their constituent parts were not seen as viable independent states. Why was this? Because 80 years ago, when Wilson, Clemenceau, and Lloyd George redrew the map of Europe, small states were dysfunctional in times of both war and peace. To be viable, a state needed to be large enough to defend itself and to constitute a relatively self-contained economic market.

None of this holds true today. With the prospect of entry into the EU, national markets matter less. Both EU and NATO membership make war among European member states unthinkable, and an attack on even the smallest NATO member would bring a response from all NATO members. Lacking such external threats, the ties between, say, Czechs and Slovaks (to say nothing of Serbs and Croats!) are too weak to warrant a common national level of government.