Are Europe and America drifting apart? Dear Tim
8th April 2002
Britain is a European country with European values. Its home is in the European Union-the most successful political and economic institution in the world. The enormous concentrations of private power set in train by globalisation are triggering an accompanying imperative to create global public goods-from policing the environment to ensuring trustworthy accounting standards. For these tasks a multilateral institution like the EU is a precious asset.
Our obligation is to uphold and deepen the EU, to entrench European values at the same time as deploying the EU’s power to underwrite a liberal global order. These goals are jeopardised by a US where the 30-year rise of conservatism has left it more philosophically, culturally and politically detached from the mainstream western tradition than ever. Indeed, until American liberalism reasserts itself, the EU will have to do what the US is no longer willing or capable of doing.
These are big claims, and profoundly controversial in Britain where even the pro-Europeans in New Labour are cautious about asserting our Europeanness. The fact that Blair is the most pro-European prime minister the British political system could throw up is a tribute to the British political class’s suspicion of Europe-although, given the chance, I believe the British people would recognise they have more in common with their fellow Europeans than the consensus admits.
For a start, the British, like other Europeans, are profoundly committed to the idea of a social contract. The NHS, universal education, the treatment of the old and the provision of social housing are British expressions of a European set of values-the idea that society must sustain social institutions that underwrite individual risk and give every citizen an opportunity. These values have different manifestations around Europe but everywhere they seek broadly the same outcomes. Even Europe’s attitude to prisoner rehabilitation is part of the same approach.
The American conservative tradition is wholly opposed to the entire social contract conception, which it characterises as threatening liberty, undermining self-reliance and leading to coercive taxation. It has successfully resisted attempts to build an American social contract and, over the last 30 years, has scaled back what little existed. Thus the US has incomplete health coverage, offers very little vocational training, has scant social housing, has virtually abandoned rehabilitation in its prison system and only offers highly conditional support for those on low…