Imagining an election in the United States of Europe

November 16, 2012

By Kathleen Brooks. The opinions expressed are her own.

The aftermath of the U.S. presidential election has seen some tentative steps towards political harmony. After a bruising campaign with Democrats and Republicans at each others throats for most of the last two years, President Obama declared in his victory speech that there is no such thing as blue or red states, there is only the United States of America.

This is what makes America one country.  Different states may have various social and cultural attitudes, but at the end of the day each person identifies themselves as American, and they are proud. Likewise, the euro zone is made up of disparate member states with different cultures, attitudes and fiscal stances. But that is where the similarity ends. The U.S. presidential election was a stark reminder just how far we from a United States of Europe.

To highlight this, take a moment to imagine what an election in the U.S.E. would look like. Who would run for office? What would be the major issues that dominated an election? Would the people in Europe vote in a harmonious group or would there be regional variations as you see in the U.S., with the two coasts mostly held by the Democrats while the middle is dominated by the Republicans.

Let’s take a closer look at the first point – who would run for office? Right now you could imagine a neat North and South split – with the frugal North vs. the spendthrift South. The campaign trail could be fairly fiery with the North campaigning on a platform of austerity and the South pledging to do away with austerity and budget cuts instead proclaiming to boost growth.

Obviously in a U.S.E there would be one central Treasury. Thus, it shouldn’t matter who put more money into the pot as their vote would not count for more. In the U.S. some states generate much more revenue than others, yet at the ballot box everyone is counted as the same regardless of their budget position.

This contrasts sharply with the state of affairs in Europe right now. Greek elections in June were essentially a binary outcome: vote for the centrist candidate and stay in the euro zone or vote for a radical who would more than likely renege on bailout pledges and get thrown out. Germany and Greece’s other paymasters would not tolerate any deviation from the package of bailout conditions. Thus the Greek people chose the guy most likely to keep them in the euro zone.

But in a United States of Europe Germany would not have that much say. Just as the Republicans found their message of austerity and fiscal prudence was rejected by voters at the polls, so too may Germany’s austerity platform turn off voters. Added to that, demographics could also erode Germany’s seat of power. It has an aging population, unlike Spain or Ireland where the populations are much younger. Thus, Berlin may find it harder to attract young voters with its message of economic hardship and sacrifice. In the U.S. Obama easily won the youth vote who were attracted to his message of hope, future prosperity, opportunity to all and a decisive lack of focus on fiscal prudence.

An election in the United States of Europe could see the North portrayed as an un-hip and old-fashioned party, while the South could be portrayed as the opposite – full of hope and pledges to make your lifestyle next year better than it is this year.

The United States of Europe may have been the aim of the original fathers of Europe, but today it seems less likely than ever. As a loosely joined currency bloc, power is concentrated in the rich creditor nations. If you are a debtor then you have to accept a loss of sovereignty, other nations and agencies nosing into your fiscal affairs and strict conditionality for any special help you receive during your time of financial hardship.

If there was a United States of Europe, the power base could turn on its head with the “fiscally prudent” party finding it hard to attract enough votes to win power.  For example, it’s hard to see France vote for a party that wanted to shrink its budget deficit and sort out its structural financial problems. After all, it didn’t vote for that in September’s presidential elections.

It is worth remembering that the U.S. was created out of a civil war. Thus, there could be large hurdles to a U.S.E., but after watching the U.S. elections, perhaps Berlin may start to think that more political unity isn’t in Germany’s best interest after all.

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