WARSAW – The debate about Europe’s future is burdened by misleading and emotionally charged rhetoric, with vague talk of “more Europe” hampering productive discussion about European countries’ real problems. Indeed, beyond the loaded language lie fundamental questions that have yet to be answered convincingly. What exactly would “a federal Europe” entail? Is “European solidarity” a euphemism for the transfer union that Germany opposes, or for massive bailouts by the European Central Bank?
Such rhetoric usually displays a centralist bias, with the pursuit of “more Europe” depicted as the only way that the European Union can compete economically with politically centralized countries like the United States and China. But this confuses economic competitiveness with military power. In order to reap the benefits of European integration, it must be achieved through individual interactions, economic and otherwise, facilitated by the removal of regulatory barriers.
The centralist approach disregards the vast discrepancies in economic performance among EU countries – and ignores the fact that one finds more economic success stories among Europe’s smaller countries than among its large ones. Within the eurozone, cumulative GDP growth since 2008 has ranged from –23.6% in Greece to 5.2% in Slovakia; outside the eurozone, it has ranged from –4.1% in the United Kingdom to 12.5% in Poland. The economies of Poland, Slovakia, the Baltic states, Bulgaria, Sweden, and Germany have all grown faster than that of the US, while Hungary, Denmark, and most eurozone countries have registered negative growth.
These variations are rooted in differences in national policies, which highlights the fundamental flaw in the idea that solutions to European countries’ problems lie mainly at the EU level. In the US, the federal government does not take responsibility for solving states’ individual problems; indeed, the states that have been hardest hit by the crisis have undertaken their own reforms.