Professor identifies strengths of EU
United States’ biggest trade partner, the European Union presents an alternative political and economic model to the one used in the United States.
R. Daniel Kelemen, director of the Center for European Studies, said the EU, one of the largest confederations in the world with 27 countries represented, is a model to which the United States can look.
Kelemen, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science, said he believes the EU serves as a viable model for reform in American policies. His research helped launch “Lessons from Europe,” a two-year program of events that explores what US policy-makers can gain from the experiences of European democracies.
The EU is an organization that brings together European countries to cooperate, financially and in terms of security, Kelemen said.
“The European Union is an organization that is unprecedented in world history, which makes it hard to define. It’s something between a federation and an international organization,” he said. “It’s more unified than an international organization and less unified than a federation, such as the United States.”
Kelemen said looking at the EU as a whole and learning from individual countries within the Union may be a good option for lawmakers in the United States.
America is looking in many areas to reform current policies, he said.
“Some European countries can present useful models,” Kelemen said.
He pointed to Finland as having one of the top education systems in the world and said that Germany’s operation of an efficient public transportation system is more developed than any American network.
“A number of European countries have much better child care plans for social welfare than America, and every European country has some form of paid maternity leave,” he said.
Even policies that have been under heavy political debate over the past years in the United States, such as health care, have solutions seen in the EU, Kelemen said.
“Many European countries have health care systems ranked above U.S. health care systems and are much more cost-efficient. The countries spend much less on health care and get better results,” he said.
Kelemen said though the European Union is in a crisis at the moment, so far it has gotten out of every previous crisis, coming out stronger on the other side.
“One thing that a lot of the media is ignoring in the coverage of this crisis, while some European countries are struggling — Greece, Italy, Spain — others have performed very well throughout the global recession — Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden,” he said.
Kelemen said the press coverage focuses on the countries experiencing financial difficulty while it ignores the fact that the countries loaning other struggling countries money are doing economically well.
Belinda Davis, an associate professor of history, agreed European policies do provide a solid model but, if implemented, may have some backlash from politicians.
“It would require a change of approach and underlying principles that we haven’t seen embraced by U.S. politicians in power for many decades — notions of economic as well as political rights,” she said. Davis gave the example of security, child care, health care and education, which contrast American tendencies of mass incarceration and militarization.
This all ties into the idea of American “exceptionalism,” a theory that Kelemen said many politicians would use to protest the idea of implementing any sort of foreign policy — let alone a policy coming from Europe.
“Many of those politicians … warn that Europe illustrates the dangers of big government and the welfare state,” he said.
But he said while some European countries are displayed as struggling economically, they are actually doing quite well.
“The goal [of the European studies program] is to raise awareness to students of contemporary Europe to counter some of the misconceptions brought by the media. Overall, the program aims to give a better-informed understanding of modern Europe,” Kelemen said.
Some students at the University feel a bit differently about modeling the United States after Europe.
Michael Demmel, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said he feels that shifting to a European model may not be the best idea.
“I believe that competition fuels progression in technology and the economy,” Demmel said.
He said there is no permanent solution to America’s problem and using the EU as a model may just seem like another shot in the dark.
Overall, Kelemen said the EU exemplifies countries overcoming old rivalries and hatreds to come together and cooperate for their mutual benefit.
“Over the past 50 years, the European Union has strengthened and developed to a point that no one could have predicted,” he said. “Although many critics have thought that it would fall apart, it consistently survives and gets stronger.”