We the People of Europe

FLORENCE – Europeans who are eager to revive the continent’s unification process have recently turned their attention to the founding of the United States. Many, however, reject the US precedent on the grounds that today’s problems are too dissimilar from those encountered then. Others, who accept that federalist principles might be well suited to addressing the problems of a European common market, despair that the “European people” who could bring about this new political structure are missing.

But there are striking parallels between America’s founding years and the European Union’s ongoing political and economic crisis. In fact, the creation of the US Constitution and the birth of the American people offer reasons to hope that some of the most difficult issues facing Europe can one day be resolved.

The years following the American War of Independence were difficult. Under the Articles of Confederation, the 13 former British colonies had created a common market, with common institutions, including a central bank. Nevertheless, they spent a great deal of time squabbling over fiscal policies, in disagreements between creditors and debtors, and fights over the currency. Schisms emerged between northern and southern states, and between smaller and larger ones. It seemed as if the young country was on the verge of tearing itself apart.

In the 1780s, a small group of American political leaders completely reframed these problems. Their key insight is as relevant in Europe today as it was in the US then. The problems facing the country were not the result of politicians acting in bad faith or of an ill-informed or ignorant citizenry; they were a direct consequence of an ill-suited political structure.