Seton Goddard ’15 – Since Monday was our first full day in Germany, we had the opportunity to spend a lot of time talking with different officials, policymakers, and civilians whose perspectives impacted the way that we viewed the European Union. Throughout our class discussions, we have questioned whether or not the European Union can survive, and if it does, whether its survival will be a meaningful one. Often, the class would conclude that the European Union simply isn’t sustainable and that there are just too many problems for it to work the way it was intended.
However, our experiences today revealed quite a bit. First, it has become clear that while the E.U. may look like a train wreck from the American vantage point, there are intelligent minds guiding the monetary policy of the European Union. Like America, though, we are beginning to see where politicians take policies crafted by experts and turn them into policies that are appealing to their voters. In turn, bad policies are implemented, and in many cases, this is what Americans and the rest of the world see.
Nonetheless, our discussions with people who live and work in Germany made it obvious that Americans are not the only people who are skeptical of the European Union. At a pub in Frankfurt Sunday night, we talked with two German interns who shared their views on the European Union, the challenges it has created, and in some ways, confirmed the things we were told at the European Central Bank today. First, while the European Union may be a “nice idea,” taking dozens of existing government structures and central banking systems and placing them under the jurisdiction of a loosely defined, constitution-less governing body leads to a lot of skepticism — even more than we might see if we spent a lot of time comparing the federalist system in the United States to the attempt at federalism in the European Union. On top of this, the students we talked to made it apparent that two of the greatest challenges in making the European Union work in a cohesive way are labor mobility and cultural differences. In other words, while Americans don’t have to think much about moving from Indianapolis to Kansas City, for example, moving from Frankfurt to London is a much bigger deal: the German who moves to London is forced to learn a new language (or expand his or her existing knowledge of English), change national citizenship (though the European Union has expedited this process substantially), and deal with differences in accreditation and licensing processes. And while some of these challenges would exist in the Indianapolis-Kansas City move, those challenges aren’t nearly as debilitating as they are in the European Union.
Additionally, the students we talked with identified substantial cultural differences between E.U. states that create even more challenges as leaders attempt to craft policies. They pointed out that, even though they’re German, they don’t tell people that they’re German. They say that they’re Bavarian (meaning they’re from Bavaria, a state that is often compared to Texas in its cultural attitudes and slightly hyperbolic desires to secede), which reveals that not only do they not necessarily call themselves Europeans who are apart of the European Union, but also they don’t even call themselves Germans. All in all, even though it was only the first day, we gained multiple valuable perspectives that we couldn’t gain by staying in a classroom.
The lectures, experiences, and simple conversations offer a perspective that simply wouldn’t be possible without being here. All thanks to Professors Mikek, Hollander, and the Rogge Fund.