The American Interest

European Disunion

In early 1980, the Soviet Union appeared to be more powerful than ever before.  Its hold over Eastern Europe had been sealed in Helsinki five years previously.  Its presence or influence in the Third World was rising, while that of the United States was diminishing.  The notion of its eventual demise was dear to a few diehard Cold Warriors, but even they viewed it as a possibility distant in time and fraught with nuclear dangers.  Within a few years, however, the war in Afghanistan, the challenge of Ronald Reagan, the unrest in Poland, and the inability of the Kremlin gerontocracy to find a viable successor to Brezhnev revealed many structural weaknesses of the empire of “real socialism.”  Gorbachev’s ineptitude helped turn the crisis of the system into the crisis of the state.  By 1991, the Soviet Union was dead and gone.

It is too early to tell whether the rejection of the proposed European Union constitution by the voters of France (May 29) and the Netherlands (June 1) heralds the beginning of a similar downward slide in Brussels, but the parallel appears apt.  Only a year ago, in the aftermath of its expansion to 25 member countries, the European Union appeared poised to become a superstate of some half-billion people.  The euro was strong, while Euro-skepticism appeared weak and confined to the union’s British fringe.  A team of dedicated federalists had completed...

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