Home > F. Politics & the Velvet Revolution > State of the Unions. 2014

State of the Unions. 2014

File:Global European Union.svg


RT never could resist a puzzle. But life is life, and during, say, the last 15 years, he hasn’t had much time for puzzling things out, so he has confined himself to just a few puzzles, among them putting Gilgamesh to verse and figuring out what a world government might look like. For better or worse, if it’s smaller than a world, it doesn’t interest him.

Take, for instance, President Obama’s State of the Union address last night. Devoted readers will remember that RT thinks that Obama is about the best thing that’s happened to American politics since, well, it’s hard to say. FDR’s election, maybe? The censure of Joseph McCarthy? Something like that. And RT will  say that he thought that last night’s SOU was yet another example of Obama’s gift for public speaking. As for content, as far as RT is concerned, if all Obama does in his last years of office is get America trundling along the road to immigration reform, he will have done more good in office than all but a handful of the Oval Office’s best occupants.

And now, thanks to European ingenuity and harsh historical memories stretching back 100 years, America has a control population to check its political progress against: the European Union.


Ah, fellow Americans loyally picking apples on family farms, just what might this creature, the EU, be? The short answer is: a new political structure struggling to be born. As such, its institutions lack the simplicity and grandeur of those specified in the American constitution, but they do reveal the guts of a bureaucracy and legislative process in a most helpful, if somewhat complicated, way. Consider the following chart:

File:Political System of the European Union.svg

What the heck is that? you’ll be wondering. What does it mean for constitutional law, not to mention history and the well-being of the EU’s 508 million citizens and 28 member states? The beauty of the answer is that no one knows yet. But RT is willing to wager that the EU is good news for Europe, and even for America’s purple mountains’ majesty (RIP, Pete Seeger, though actually Katherine Lee Bates wrote the poem that the unofficial American national anthem, “America the Beautiful,” is based on.).

Let’s look at the EU’s structure in terms of the familiar American political system. The EU has:

1) a bicameral legislature, composed of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. Note these differences from the American system: while the EP is directly elected by EU citizens every five years, the CEU consists of one minister from each member state, with the council’s presidency rotating among states every six months (and the actual ministers switch depending on which subject (e.g., agriculture) is being discussed).

2) a collective presidency, the European Council, consisting of the heads of state from all the member nations. The EC is charged with determining the EU’s priorities and overall direction. Without formal powers, it nonetheless exercises considerable influence over the EU’s political agenda.

3) a judiciary, the Court of Justice of the European Union, charged with ensuring that the treaties that underlie the EU are observed.

4) a bill of rights, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (adopted 2009).

5) a central bank, the European Central Bank, which issues a common currency, the Euro. Please note that several member states, including the United Kingdom and Poland, have not adopted the Euro.

6) a graduated division of powers between the EU and its member states. The EU treaties create a spectrum of authority, with the EU responsible for items such as financial and commercial policy, enjoying priority of responsibility in others (e.g., the internal market), sharing responsibility in still others (e.g., technological development and humanitarian aid), and playing a support role in areas such as industry and disaster prevention.


This is just a quick overview of what seems to be an evolving and in some ways difficult political reality–the EU at this point is no longer an economic union but not yet a political federation. If RT could single out a specific feature of the EU system for praise, it would be the detailed, graduated sharing of power between the union and its member states. When one considers the either/or situation created by the American constitution, where the federal government has de facto priority over the 50 states, leaving individual states to champion important improvements (e.g., the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage). Of course, in this situation, the federal government can be the one on the right side of an issue (as during, most famously, the civil war). But then, come to think of it, there’s the mediating power of the judiciary to consider…

And it’s also worth noting that a trend seems to developing in the EU’s division of powers: the EU is taking responsibility for the more scientific and economic powers, leaving the members states with more individual matters such as culture and language (and dare RT say it, poetry!) To be sure, the division is hardly exact, and reflects a developing thread in RT’s thought, the genius of place.

The EU drama is not played out, RT surmises, and the ongoing story of the struggle to create a peaceful and just Europe will continue to fascinate us on the other side of the pond.   RT


Map Projection: The European Union (2014). Author: S. Solberg J. WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Unported. EU Chart: Political System of the European Union. Author: 111Alleskönner. WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Share Alike Germany.


  1. January 30, 2014 at 12:41 am

    Much pause for thought here, RT, on a union which the UK is sadly going from lukewarm to cool about, where advocates of withdrawal get too much coverage and general ignorance rules the day.

    • January 30, 2014 at 3:00 am

      calmgrove: it seems to me that for all the troubles that the U.S. is going through with the newest influx of immigrants into the country and the cultural tension between the regional sections of the country, Europe is suffering more from the similar but more pronounced division between Muslim immigrants and “traditional” Europeans. And the financial turmoil surrounding the ECB, which is at least partly rooted in the deeper and definitely traditional cultural differences between northern and southern Europe, is adding its own note of agony to the process of political integration. This is to say nothing of the immigration and human trafficking from the former Soviet republics.

      I, for one, used to be an avid fan of the Euro union, but was shocked when I learned that the introduction of the currency had doubled prices in Ireland and elsewhere practically overnight.

      Is it time to throw in the towel? It seems to me that a major course correction might be in order. Could reinstating national passports help control the tides of internal immigration? The significant Muslim minorities, on the other hand, strike me as being a much more serious, and perhaps unprecedented, problem. While Islam as a religion is not so very different from Judeo-Christianity, the culture underlying it did not experience the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. All of this bears directly on Turkey’s candidacy for membership in the EU (and for that matter, on Turkey’s existence as a secular Muslim state). And come to think of it, the difference between the northwestern and southeastern Mediterranean basin has always been considerable.

      One way to address these problems is to acknowledge cultural rights independent of political rights–that is, cultural rights that reflect a particular country’s genius of place. In other words, we could say that Islam is the current expression of the SE Mediterranean’s genius. Likewise for modernism/pluralism/Christianity in Europe. From this perspective, Islam would be welcome in Europe, but it would have to respect Europe’s culture or genius of place. Is it possible to separate a religion from its cultural context? How would you do it? Could religions develop this kind of flexibility?

      As hard as all these questions are, I really cannot imagine Europe retreating back into its pre-EU political status. It isn’t just religion, but the nation state also, that needs to develop flexibility. And so we shall see what the 10th circuit court has to say about the pro-gay marriage ruling in Utah. Is gay marriage a cultural or political right? Yeesh! RT

  2. February 3, 2014 at 11:56 am

    Brilliant post (and comment, even) especially regarding the over reverence of the enlightenment.

    • February 5, 2014 at 12:12 am

      LC: thanks for the appreciation; it’s always fresh wind in the sails! RT

  1. February 1, 2014 at 7:00 pm

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