April 20, 2012

Why Americans distrust the EU and are growing more Eurosceptic

Ordinary Americans can see that the European project is failing
Ordinary Americans can see that the European project is failing
I’ve just returned to Washington from the Midwestern state of Minnesota, where I gave a talk to conservative academics, businessmen and students from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-Saint Paul, on the decline of the European Project. The audience, I’m pleased to say, was deeply Eurosceptic, and horrified at the prospect of the European social model crossing the Atlantic. After all, the United States is built upon the foundations of individual liberty, economic freedom and democratic accountability – everything the EU is not.
The European Union’s big-government approach hasn’t worked in Europe, and it certainly won’t work in America. The Minnesota audience had a view of the EU that would not have looked out of place at a meeting of grassroots Tory activists in Buckinghamshire or Surrey. When it comes to attitudes towards Europe, Middle America increasingly resembles Middle England.
The Minnesotans I talked to are representative of a growing number of Americans who are wary of the United States going down the same route as the EU, which many on this side of the Atlantic see as an economic basket case. This is an important development. For decades, US administrations have backed the process of "ever-closer" union, with Washington supporting economic and political integration in Europe. The Obama administration has entrenched this approach, with a distinctly Eurofederalist mindset on European issues. In the words of Louis Susman, US Ambassador to London: “all key issues must run through Europe.”

But US support for the European Project has been overwhelmingly an elite-driven process. For most Americans, developments in the EU haven’t been an important issue, and have hardly featured in presidential elections. This year is different, however, thanks to the eurozone financial crisis, which has shone a spotlight on the huge economic problems now facing the European Union.
American television viewers have been bombarded in recent months with images of of riots and protests on the streets of Athens and other southern European cities, and the unfolding Greek tragedy has become the enduring image of the EU in the eyes of many Americans, whose own pensions, stocks and investments have been rocked by the turmoil in the eurozone. They are seeing the devastating consequences of decades of socialist dogma, and what happens when governments are barely able to pay their debts after running out of other people’s money (as the Iron Lady famously put it).
Above all, the EU debt crisis has served as a warning to the United States that mountains of public debt and years of overspending have consequences. The European model is an election issue in America, and Barack Obama’s support for the European Project is a liability for the President. Euroscepticism is on the rise across Europe, but it is also gaining ground in the US, where conservative politicians are hammering the EU’s big government approach, with its bloated bureaucracies, vast welfare states, and highly regulated markets. As House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said earlier this month, America must avoid Europe’s fate by reining in federal spending and cutting entitlement programmes now.
Outside of liberal-dominated Washington, and the editorial pages of The New York Times, support for the European Project is eroding in the United States. Americans are reaching the same conclusion that Margaret Thatcher came to in her book Statecraft:
That such an unnecessary and irrational project as building a European superstate was ever embarked upon will seem in future years to be perhaps the greatest folly of the modern era.