WARNING: This post isn’t funny until the end. It’s barely even infotaining. If you want European hilarity, just skip the article and check out the YouTube clip at the bottom of Nigel Farage being a dickhead to Herman Van Rompuy.
Brussels is akin to the Washington of Europe. It’s multicultural, young, educated, and international. Like Washington, it is a one-trick pony built entirely around government. The Commission and the European Parliament, two of the EU’s main institutions, are both headquartered here, making it the nominal “capital of Europe.”
Any further comparison between Washington and Brussels is quite a stretch. Most obviously, there is no United States of Europe (a phrase originally coined by Winston Churchill). The European Union may be a nascent federation, may someday coalesce into a nation-state, but it is presently looser than a confederation yet stronger than a free trade area. (Star Trek‘s Federation of Planets is more akin to the EU than the USA, with planets retaining their own ambassadors and laws.)
Brussels does not hold a monopoly on government offices, either. The European Parliament convenes there to do committee work, make speeches and consult lobbyists, but they go to a separate Parliament building in Strasbourg to actually vote. The European Court of Justice is located in Luxembourg, and the European Central Bank is in Frankfurt. The Presidency of the Council of the European Union rotates between member states every six months, although this ever-transitioning office is separate from the President of the European Council, which is an entirely different role.
If the United States worked the same way, Congress would spent most of its time in Washington, but vote on legislation in Philadelphia, the Supreme Court would convene in Richmond, and the Federal Reserve would hang out in New York. Instead of a president, executive authority would reside collectively in the fifty state governors, who would meet up to approve legislation. (Europe does have a President of the European Council, but this is not the same as the President of Europe, which does not exist. It would be like if the hypothetical council of fifty governors had a chairman who organized meetings.) Some of the states would use the dollar, whereas wealthier ones like Vermont or Alaska would print their own currency.
Congress wouldn’t create legislation, either, it would receive legislation and then advise on it. Its greatest power would be approving the budget. Otherwise it would have only stalling tactics to encumber bills it disliked. The legislation of the European Union is written by the Commission, which has no American equivalent. Euro-enthusiasts conceive of the Commission as a group of impartial experts; Euro-skeptics see it as a body of unelected bureaucrats. It would be about as if the Congressional Research Service wrote bills, then sent them to Congress to talk about and look over.
Once the governors or their representatives approved legislation, it would be sent to state capitols, where local legislators would write their own tailored laws to incorporate the rules sent from on high. By some estimates, seventy-percent of European laws are devised in this manner, written by the Commission, approved by national heads of government, then implemented by national parliaments.
This sounds terribly complicated, but it’s of course hard to streamline twenty-seven countries, nearly that many languages and umpteen thousand years of history and aggregate sovereignty into an efficient nation state. And of course Europe makes no claims to being a nation state. Some Europeans would like to see something like a “United States of Europe” someday emerge, but warring camps are fiercely protective of their national sovereignty, and would love to scale back the power of Brussels.
Smaller countries tend to be in favor of European integration, whereas larger countries like Britain are fiercely protective of their perceived sovereignty. In Luxembourg, for instance, history museums speak of Luxembourg as a part of Europe, and emphasize the connections between Luxembourgers and their neighbors and its role as a European “hub.” Conversely in Britain, Europe is seen as a separate entity entirely, with Great Britain floating halfway between North America and France. To many Englishman describing oneself as “European” would be like a Texan introducing himself abroad as “North American.”
I don’t feel particularly compelled to be my usual cheeky self in this article. As an American I think we’ve loudly shouted our thoughts on foreign political systems quite enough in recent history. Europeans seem to have a system that works for them, so I try and remain neutral on assessing their preferred methods and procedures, and of course wish our allies the best.
Humor being the reoccurring theme of this blog, however, I would be remiss in offering only a brief analogous exercise in comparative government. So I have posted a video of Britain’s most outspoken Euroskeptic below. In the clip, Nigel Farage, European Member of Parliament from Britain, addresses Herman Van Rompuy, the first permanent President of the European Council.
His acerbic comments more than compensate for this article’s dearth of pithy comments.
Andrew Heaton is a writer and standup comedian in New York City. If this post made you laugh or think, kindly "like" it on Facebook.