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Disunited States

Long held up as a model for Europe, the United States is now also suffering from balkanization, internal competition, out-of-touch and short-sighted leadership, and narrow turf battles. Given the large number of pressing global challenges, the world must hope that America does not go further down that road.

MADRID – In 1946, with war-ravaged Europe exhausted and in disarray, Britain’s wartime leader, Winston Churchill, gave a speech in Zurich in which he emphasized the need to “recreate the European fabric” in order to restore peace and freedom to the continent. “We must build a kind of United States of Europe,” Churchill declared. It was a foundational moment for what would become the European Union, even if Churchill’s views of the United Kingdom’s place in Europe were rather more nuanced.

Subsequent attempts to construct a united Europe have never lived up to the grand vision that Churchill advanced that day. Indeed, in the 74 years since his speech, the United Kingdom first refused to take part in the European project, then grudgingly entered the bloc and secured numerous opt-outs and concessions, only finally to leave it in January this year.

Nonetheless, the idea of a cohesive Union remained, with the United States of America seen as the ideal model for what Europe might someday become. Indeed, in 2006, a year after French and Dutch voters rejected the ill-fated European Constitution, Belgium’s then-prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt, published a manifesto for the continent’s future that evoked the Churchillian dream. He titled it “The United States of Europe.”

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