Book Review: Thomas R. Reid’s United States of Europe

More People, More Wealth, and More Fairness, T.R. Reid Sees Europe as a Warning - and Model - for America

Thomas R. Reid’s United States of Europe is an insightful account of the European Unions development since World War II and why the European Union will play a much more important role in the future.

An American, Reid is a respected reporter for the Washington Post, who has held position of Bureau Chief in both Tokyo and London. It was the latter that gave him his first insights into the developments of the European Union as a geopolitical entity as well as the advantages, even ‘perks,’ of living in Europe.

The book starts out sounding almost like a warning to Americans. “The United States of Europe… has more people, more wealth, and more trade than the United States of America. … It has more votes in every International Organization than the United States, and it gives far more money in development aid.”

Reid proceeds to give us a compelling review of recent European History and the birth of the EU, as we know it today.  Going from the ravages of World War II, he reminds us of Jean Monet’s bold vision for the European Coal and Steel Community that not only cemented peace in Europe by ensuring the interdependence of Germany and France, but also introduced the concept of joint economic effort that would culminate in the adoption of the Euro and the expansion towards the East.

The Euro gets its own chapter. Reid can’t stop praising the smoothness of the transition from the old European currencies to the Euro, its effect on the global marketplace, giving a viable alternative to the dollar, as well as the excellent performance on the foreign exchange market.

Reid’s great and not-so-secret love however is the European social system, where you get first class treatment without having to rob a bank to afford it. From a European point of view, it is strangely satisfying to read such appraisal – especially when he starts a passionate defense of a high Value Added Tax (VAT) that most European Countries impose to pay for these services. One is reminded that the book is written for an American Audience.

He is also impressed with the pride of European youth inside the EU, what he calls “Generation E,” emphasizing the growing number of students and young professionals that define themselves by being European rather than French, Italian or Dutch.

Reid fails to see the problems that some European countries experience with their Educational system, problems that seem to be growing rather than diminishing. The image of The Viennese Audimax auditorium comes to mind, where 1000 students cram into a space suitable for perhaps 500, sitting on the steps or standing in the aisles, trying to take notes while dodging their neighbor’s elbow. Add winter climate, dirty boots, layers of wet clothing, and it can become unbearable.

However the EU has facilitated the transition between educational systems, principally through the Erasmus Program and the ECTS, the European Credit Transfer System. Students can attend public universities all over Europe, learn the languages, get to know the cultures and have a truly pan-European experience.

The overall impression, however, is of a defense of “those weird European ways” to the average America. There are constant references to an imaginary American audience and many comparisons between the systems. The writing style is entertaining and reads swiftly, soundly argued and backed up with many examples, facts and numbers that illustrate his point.

However any good argument weighs both the positive and negative sides. And this book largely fails to capture the problems posed by the growing unification and the malcontent that many Europeans feel towards the clumsy sovereignty of the EU.

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