The Integration Conundrum

CAMBRIDGE – Europe and the United States have rarely mirrored each other as closely as they do now. Faced with major economic challenges and afflicted by a pervasive sense of decline, they are falling victim to the very principles of global openness and integration that they have promoted for decades. But, rather than attempting to delay further progress toward interdependence, the US and the European Union are in the early stages of free-trade negotiations – a move that both sides may come to regret.

Europe and the US have very different relationships with history, reflected in their distinct worldviews. Europe proudly recalls its contributions to human development, but fears the resurgence of conflict. By contrast, the US eagerly anticipates its future global impact, with the awareness that its leadership role is transient.

These perspectives have long shaped both sides’ politics and economies. Indeed, the EU was founded after World War II in the hopes that the free movement of labor, goods, and services would strengthen social and political ties among conflict-prone peers. Whenever politics permitted – or necessitated – EU leaders sought to add another brick to the union’s architecture.

Likewise, the euro stems from an agreement between France and Germany aimed at counterbalancing German unification. But the eurozone did not meet any of the criteria for an optimal currency area. The worry now is that the creditor-debtor dispute between northern and southern member states could revive the kind of conflict that European integration was intended to eliminate.