Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Avoiding Political Swan Songs

by Whitney Taylor

Recently, the European Union Center at the University of Illinois, alongside EU Centers from the US and Europe, participated in a teleconference with the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schultz.

During Mr. Schultz’s visit to the US, he spoke with scholars, young professionals and journalists about the state of EU-US relations. This topic is particularly noteworthy as both the EU and US are facing tough budgetary decisions. Responding to recent Euro-skepticism in the media, Mr. Schultz was quick to mention that naysayers of the EU should consider the significant progress that has been made since the end of the Second World War. It is no small feat, in Mr. Schultz’s words, that the leaders of EU Member States now negotiate over conference tables; these are not brutal fights that lead to wars between States and this fact alone, should signal that the EU has accomplished quite a bit. The economic debates that shape current affairs in the EU are important as Mr. Schultz acknowledged. Moreover, he mentioned the importance of the EU deciding how it will structure itself from here forward.

It is true that both the EU and US have experienced jarring shifts in constituency opinion of late, mostly on account of economic factors. Financial crises have risen to become critical threats to national sovereignty; whereas in the past, wars more often held this position. The collateral damage perpetrated in the wake of a financial crisis of the magnitude most recently seen, cannot be ignored and people are displeased with their leaders.  We have noticed in elections in the US, that the economy is the number one concern of many. Similarly in Europe, political parties that fall to both ends of the spectrum have picked up steam and popularity. With parties such as the Pirate Party in the Czech Republic, France’s National Front and Greece’s latest “Golden Dawn” party, it is apparent that many want a seat at the bargaining tables within their national governments as well as in Brussels. These political shifts can cause fractures and economic and social momentum gained, to be lost. Mr. Schultz referred to the US “fiscal cliff” as a defining moment where political compromises must exist in order to move forward. Likewise, leaders in the EU must also find political compromise if the EU is to prosper and continue breaking new ground.

But these compromises do not stop at the EU and US borders – they move into the transatlantic partnership between the EU and US. It is this partnership that has helped both and can continue to do so. As Mr. Schultz said, financial crises are no longer black swan events and we must compromise if we are to properly handle future events in the financial sector. However, without compromise within our borders, it will be difficult for the EU and US to work together to further shared values abroad if internally, we are weakened by economic downturns and disagreement over solutions.

The EU may be experiencing growing pains, but it seems that the political will for it to further develop exists quite strongly and there is reason to believe that the EU is not a black swan either. If the EU experiment has shown us anything, it's the importance that economic compromise can play in smoothing over political rows and a warring past. So far, the EU has the staying power of a white swan. Nevertheless, if the EU and US are to work together abroad and share their political and social values, they must act like white swans at home. Both cannot act as exceptions to rules and must instead choose solutions that yield staying power and long-term economic and social health.

*For an alternative take, U.S. News published an interesting article by Jeff Weiss titled “Washington Doesn’t Need Compromise, It Needs Creativity”.

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Whitney Taylor is a Master's Candidate in European Union Studies at Illinois where she is also pursuing a graduate minor in Corporate Governance and International Business. Her research interests include monetary policy, corporate social responsibility and trade. 


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