In some quarters, pessimism, sad to say, dominated the recent celebrations marking the European Union’s 50th birthday. Unease about the EU’s future is, of course, understandable, especially given the uncertainty surrounding efforts to revive the Constitutional Treaty. But the European project has been an enormous success, not only for Europe, but also for the world.
Europeans should not be dismayed by comparisons of GDP growth in Europe and, say, the United States. Of course, Europe faces great challenges in perfecting its economic union, including the need to reduce unemployment and boost the economy’s dynamism. But, while GDP per capita has been rising in the US, most Americans are worse off today than they were five years ago. An economy that, year after year, leaves most of its citizens worse off is not a success.
More importantly, the EU’s success should not be measured only by particular pieces of legislation and regulation, or even in the prosperity that economic integration has brought. After all, the driving motivation of the EU’s founders was long-lasting peace. Economic integration, it was hoped, would lead to greater understanding, underpinned by the myriad interactions that inevitably flow from commerce. Increased interdependence would make conflict unthinkable.
The EU has realized that dream. Nowhere in the world do neighbors live together more peacefully, and people move more freely and with greater security, than in Europe, owing in part to a new European identity that is not bound to national citizenship. This stands as an example that the world should emulate – one of shared rights and responsibilities, including the obligation to help the less fortunate. Here, too, Europe has led the way, providing more assistance to developing countries than anyone else (and at a markedly higher fraction of its GDP than the US).