Europe’s National Wild Cards

DUBLIN – Europe’s needs and Europeans’ desires are at odds. At a time when strong, coordinated action is needed to stave off financial collapse in the European Union, the popular support that drove European integration over the last six decades is waning.

After almost 70 years of peace, Europeans seem to have forgotten why unity was so important, indulging nationalist sentiment without regard for its potential consequences. At the same time, they fail to grasp that their economies are too closely interconnected for independent economic policy to work.

This failure is rooted in electoral politics’ confinement to individual countries, which forces politicians to pretend that they can address economic issues with national policies alone. Indeed, politicians face no electoral pressure to pursue broader action, even if it would bring domestic benefits.

Now the euro crisis is forcing EU leaders to address institutional changes – namely the creation of banking, fiscal, and political union – that they have long deferred. But, while member states must agree unanimously on all key decisions, their mandates oblige them to view EU issues through the prism of national interest. The brinkmanship and bargaining that this approach encourages make it impossible to develop and present pan-European visions to the public.