The USA: The clue is in the title – and it is the greatest example of pooled sovereignity between states

Four of the USA’s founding fathers: (l to r) Adams, Morris, Hamilton, Jefferson

There was a rather strange moment on Thursday’s BBC Question Time. There was a discussion about President Obama’s intervention in the EU referendum debate.

Liam Fox was waxing lyrically about how the USA has great democracy, and all we want is the same democracy ourselves without our country being, he posited, controlled by “Brussels”.

What this argument seemed to miss is the title of the country: “The United States of America”.

That great country is the most outstanding example of a federation known to man! Fifty states have pooled sovereignity over relevant matters while retaining strong powers over appropriate areas in their states.

If there is any strong argument, through example, for the EU, it is the USA.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is currently taking a break from his role as one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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40 Comments

  • Not sure that the United States of America is a good example. If the “in” camp suggested we become part of a United States of Europe the “leave” camp would win the referendum by a country mile. I think even in the “in” camp many would prefer it if the EU went back to being a Common Market and not an ever closer political union.

  • Christopher Haigh 23rd Apr '16 - 12:31pm

    Hi Peter, I agree with you. The European Central Bank ought to have the power to recycle euros, through some sort of governmental contribution system , from surplus countries to deficit countries in order to make the eurozone work in practice as the dollar works in the USA. I am under the impression that once somewhere becomes a state of the USA it is not allowed ever to leave the Union so its a bit difficult to see the EU becoming totally like the USA.

  • Barry Snelson 23rd Apr '16 - 1:17pm

    They didn’t pool voluntarily. Eleven states once asked to leave and 600,000 deaths later they found out they couldn’t.

  • Andrew Suz
    German almost became the common language of the United States some years after its foundation. Today many speak Spanish there and a few the native American languages.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Apr '16 - 3:09pm

    As people have said: language is probably the main difference between the United States and the European Union. We need to spread the English language throughout Europe more and across the world more. This can be done via positive means such as funding English language courses and we should perhaps work with the British Council to achieve this. We could also do with working with America and the Commonwealth too.

    British people learning other languages is also important – people don’t have to become fluent – any new words or phrases are progress and it will help Europe and the world too.

  • If the UK and France had even half as much in common as Florida does with New York then sure, great, all in favour. “Pooled” sovereignty means the states lose their sovereignty utterly of course. But that’s fine if you give it to a polity you trust to share your values.

    I notice that even in the USA there are strong voices who don’t want to be ruled by the people one state over who share a religion, a language, news networks, philosophical assumptions, and heritage….

  • Iqbal Mohammad 23rd Apr '16 - 3:24pm

    For those of you using the argument that the USA works because of a common language (English). I would like to point out that the USA has no official recognised language.

  • Richard Underhill 23rd Apr '16 - 3:30pm

    The USA is diverse. political campaigns are in Spanish, French, Creole, …
    Tax policy varies widely. Propositions (referendums) on tax in California have made the state ungovernable. Anomalies abound: Texas joined by treaty and has the right to leave, enhancing its power and likelihood of getting the Presidency, Vermont joined by treaty but does not have the right to leave. Intellectual freedom was better in California than in New York, hence Silicon Valley.

  • Rightsaidfredfan 23rd Apr '16 - 3:31pm

    The EU won’t share with other countries like the USA would. If it did then being in might be a good idea. After the European Union hung Greece and others out to dry leaving policies giving them 25% unemployment it became clear to me that this Union not something I want any part of. If the going gets tough Europe won’t be there for us. It’s the remain side that seem to dreaming.

  • No the main difference between the united states and the EU is that it is a single country with a single leader and a single government, rather than a collection of countries. The USA isn’t even united with other North American countries so is absolutely nothing like the EU. Arguably, closer to the EU than the USA is the old soviet block!

  • Christopher Haigh 23rd Apr '16 - 4:02pm

    Fred-why didn’t the other eurozone countries stand up against Germany to support Greece ? The UK could not do anything as we are not in the eurozone. If we leave the EU Germany will be
    completely the dominant power in Europe whether she likes it or not !

  • Rightsaidfredfan 23rd Apr '16 - 4:53pm

    @Christoper

    Why other countries didn’t take greece’s side? Probably because like Germany they couldn’t care less about Greece and the Greek people, and I see no reason to believe the UK would have been any different had it had a role to play. The U.K. is as self interested as the rest of those countries, no better and no worse.

    This is therefore a reason as to why those countries shouldn’t be in a union with each other, not a reason why they should.

  • Rightsaidfredfan 23rd Apr '16 - 5:11pm

    @Andrew Suz

    If you vote to remain then ever closer union is what you’ll get. If we vote remain that is it, we will be signed up to this thing lock stock and barrel with no way out.

    Then the pro EU side will start lobbying for Turkey’s entry. The EU will expand and it’s powers over member states will grow, that is the reality. A remain vote is an endorsement of the EU project.

    Who knows. If turkey is in the EU then next time a comedian insults their president maybe rather than get Germany to prosecute them they will simply issue a European Arrest Warrent.

    Germany are already closer to Turkey than they are to the USA. Germany refused requests to prosecute comedians for insulting George W. Bush but they wouldn’t refuse to do it for Turkey.

    Are you sure this is the future you want?

  • John Mitchell 23rd Apr '16 - 5:22pm

    There are clearly limits to state sovereignty in the United States. The Supreme Court’s decision to legalise same-sex marriages is just one example. Individual states were bypassed by the Supreme Court. That is how the system works, but before the court and its decision, states were left to decide. Do states ultimately decide? Or is it Washington DC? It’s mostly the federal government. So, true federalism in America does not exist or is not fully realised.

    Another example would be education. Republicans want to abolish common core (or federally run education) and put it back to the states. In this scenario, again it is Washington that is telling states what to do as opposed to the states making decisions themselves.

    The USA unlike the EU is an accountable institution. That’s key to everything and I see no evidence to suggest that the EU Commission wishes to become more transparent or accountable to the people it is supposed to serve.

  • John Marriot.
    We think of the USA as a country because it is a country not a set of countries. There are huge strains between the regions of England and probably strains within most countries for that matter.

    From what I can tell The Tea Party is about the internal struggles of the Republican Party, politicised religion, race and endless arguments about the constitution than anything applicable to either Britain or the EU. It’s a foreign country with different mores and ideas. It’s like trying to link the politics of India or any other country to the UK. Personally, I think everyone has grown up with so much American Pop Culture we tend to think the USA is more like us than it actually is.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Apr '16 - 6:19pm

    Very interesting notion from Paul , very intelligent response thread above.

    I believe the United States , due to its , melting pot of ethnicity ,the extent of its democracy , its background and history , is somewhere in between the usual sort of norm for a single country ,and a federation of joined states.

    Certainly it is and has long been , one nation , indivisible , as the constitution says , making the war to defend it , that became the American Civil War , inevitable, due to the voluntary and thoroughly unconstitutional ceding from the Union , by the South.

    Yet it is very different, as shown in that war and since , with a genuine regional and State identity or autonomy sensed and practised.

    The European could , in the absence of an official common language , in the dislike of developing a common structure , at lest in our far greater differences than within the United States , develop more understanding and true friendship.

    It is in our diversity we can find strength , in our differences feel stronger , but only if we had the security of the knowledge that our individual nations are still autonomous and respected as such .

    What we need is a European Union with a knowledge of each others countries .And cultures.

    A European Union that could learn from the humour and humanity of the Eurovision song contest !

  • Nonconformistradical 23rd Apr '16 - 8:15pm

    @Rightsaidfredfan

    “Then the pro EU side will start lobbying for Turkey’s entry. The EU will expand and it’s powers over member states will grow, that is the reality. A remain vote is an endorsement of the EU project.”

    A remain vote would enable the UK to veto the entry of Turkey to the EU if the country felt that was appropriate.

  • Rightsaidfredfan 23rd Apr '16 - 11:10pm

    @noncomformist

    It would leave the UK government with a veto, not the UKs people. Next time there is a government like the new labour one Turkey would have no problem getting the OK from the UK. It doesn’t matter what the people want, even in Ireland where the people do get a vote they get told to vote again if they get the wrong answer. The pro EU side are generally in favor of turkey joining, so are the British political establishment which the lib dems are a part of.

  • At least we now know the value of our so called special relationship with the USA.

    If UK voters have the audacity to vote leave, our ‘friends’ in the USA will push us to the back of the queue in terms of negotiating a trade agreement,you really couldn’t make it up.

  • Nom de Plume 24th Apr '16 - 6:44am

    I also oppose the federalist model. It involves large transfers of money from rich states to poor states; a process which becomes entrenched. Convergence will not occur. Secondly, there are large cultural differences between states. The nation state is not an artificial construct. They need to find a different path, otherwise they endanger the project itself. Belgium is not a good model for the EU.

  • Christopher Haigh 24th Apr '16 - 9:17am

    John, it is stated that 7.5 million Germans emigrated to the northern parts of the USA between 1820 and 1870 which doubled the population of the country. This especially happened after the crushed1848 liberal uprisings against monarchial rule in the German states leaving Germany devoid of liberal thought and enterprise. The idea that USA has a special relationship with Britain is a bit wishful thinking on our part.

  • Bill le Breton 24th Apr '16 - 10:20am

    Perhaps we should all be reading The Leopard ; “Unless we ourselves take a hand now, they’ll foist a republic on us. If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”

  • Richard Underhill 24th Apr '16 - 10:40am

    Rightsaidfredfan 23rd Apr ’16 – 3:31pm Eurozone, not EU.
    John Marriott 23rd Apr ’16 – 11:28pm
    “For Turkey to gain entry ALL member states need to agree”
    and the European Parliament. The country most likely to cast a veto is Cyprus, although negotiations with the north are happening.
    France would have a referendum, by law.
    Several EU member states were part of, or threatened by, the former Ottoman Empire.

  • Nom de Plume 24th Apr '16 - 1:38pm

    @ Colin

    Rather melodramatic. Europe is not America and we do not live in the 18th century. If you want to make suggestions about the possible development of the EU, then it would be better to study european history or follow contemporary, european political debate.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 24th Apr '16 - 5:07pm

    The special relationship does exist and like any good relationship worth staying with , it adapts , changes, deteriorates, improves, lasts.

    President Obama has a varied way of expressing things , far more than most presidents. He is a soaring orator at the podium.He is the measured interviewee in the studio.He is the casual responder off the cuff.We cannot know his remarks were planned in the detail of what he said or the way he said it in particular .His saying ,we as a nation , negotiating a trade deal with the USA, would go to the back of the queue, was not , in my view a patronising command in the vain of a schoolteacher telling off the pushy kid , but a statement of fact , knowing that we , because of first come , first served , could not , should not , jump the queue, but realise that these things take time The TTIP has taken over two years , the deal for Canada with Europe took over ten !

    Obama can be flippant in his off the cuff way , but he is our friend .Trump,Cruz,? Help!

  • Nom de Plume 24th Apr '16 - 6:10pm

    @ Colin

    I have now read the wiki article about US history and, interesting as it may be, I now see even less of a likeness of the US at its founding and the EU. The Boston Tea Party was in 1773. Since July 4, 1776, the US was conceived as a single nation with a more powerful constitution in 1787. The civil war was about slavery. The social conditions were very difference. You need to expand your argument, not just make assertions.

  • Denis Loretto 24th Apr '16 - 6:40pm

    The real point is not to compare the USA with the EU – or any practicable extrapolation of the EU – but to recognise the sheer size and power of the USA when compared with the UK or indeed any one of the 28 countries making up the EU. I am a proud Briton and in many ways marvel at the degree to which the achievements of the UK exceed its size but the brexiteers are getting more and more carried away with the idea that we are a megapower. The USA does not need to form some sort of continental union – it virtually is a continent in itself. I think Obama was clearly too polite to dismiss the attempts to claim equivalence between the USA and the UK. Indeed the restraint and respect he showed during his impressive visit here were exceeded only by the simple and devastating logic of his message.

  • Nom de Plume 24th Apr '16 - 6:59pm

    @ Denis
    I am pro-EU and anti-federalist. At least for the UK. The eurozone may have to become federal.

  • I don’t want to keep coming back to this but it would nice if other people were not making sweeping statements about why people might be voting out. Personally, I’m not interested in Britain being a mega power. In fact one of the main reasons I’m voting out is so Britain can withdraw a little from the world stage and maybe concentrate on things at home.

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