On the first day of my class IR405: European Institutions and Enterprises, someone said: “I don’t get how the EU functions: it has a common currency, but it is comprised of different countries. I don’t think it will last.”
The EU is a common market, which means that there is free movement of goods, services and money among its twenty-seven member states, and what’s probably more interesting for you and me, citizens of the EU can travel freely, work, and live in any of the EU countries. Thus, you can find an Easy Jet flight from London to Milano for only €33. With its federal character, the EU is similar to the US, but its political structure is invariably more complicated and its population is more diverse. That is, the EU is comprised of very distinctive societies.
Take the euro coins for example. They all portray the map of Europe on one side, but have different national designs on the other. These are seventeen special designs that feature the national symbols of the seventeen countries that have adopted the euro, and thus belong to the European economic and monetary union. The euro design testifies that although we are economically and politically linked, Europeans are still to a great extent nationalists. This is why you wouldn’t hear a foreigner in the States say “I’m European,” but rather “I’m French” or “I’m Polish”. Interestingly, I’ve noticed that many Americans in London introduce themselves with “I’m from LA” or “I’m from Jersey,” which means that you too have greater allegiance towards the smaller political and economic unit that defines you.
Despite EU’s efforts to become more like “united states,” there is one giant obstacle: language. There currently are twenty-three official languages in the EU and many more unofficial ones. There is no common language policy, although every country encourages learning multiple languages (in Bulgaria, learning a foreign language is obligatory since elementary school , and most students take on a second foreign language in high-school). Open a euro banknote and you will notice two alphabets: the Latin and the Greek; when Bulgaria adopts the euro on Jan 1, 2013 (if we survive 2012, that is), a third alphabet will be added: the Cyrillic alphabet.
Another reason why Churchill’s idea might fail is the EU’s cultural and social diversity. Of course the USA is not at all less diverse than Europe (Fancy me and imagine a stereotypical Texan with leather cowboy boots and a bolo tie sitting next to a preppy Boston lawyer in a Starbucks). Still, in the States, different cultural groups have developed across vast territories due to great differences in climate, geography and lifestyle. In Europe, you can find very diverse populations in a very small area.
Naturally, major cities both in Europe and the States are affected by globalization, which allows cultures to permeate each other: only in South Kensington, there are so many Italian pizza restaurants, French patisseries, and Japanese sushi places. But the diversity of Europe is even more evident as we move away from the urban centers. The way people live in South France is very dissimilar to the way they do in Bavaria and is worlds apart from the way they do in Romania. There are different traditions, different professions, different levels of economic development, different worldviews. It is nothing like in the States where people speak the same language, watch the same TV, talk about the same politicians, and eat the same brand of ketchup.
You’ve already seen the proper and poised English; I encourage you to visit the hot-tempered Spanish, the practical Germans, the romantic French, and why not the hospitable Greek too. You might enjoy the different cuisines, fashion, stores, and entertainment, but don’t forget to make a note of these differences because they might be the key to why the European Union might never become “The United States of Europe.”