The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has warned US president Donald Trump that he should be more supportive of the EU. If Trump continues to support Brexit, and disparage the EU in general, Juncker says he will promote secession in Ohio and Austin, Texas.
Juncker’s threats should not be taken seriously. There isn’t even an inkling of secessionist feeling in Ohio. Vermont, which does have a secessionist movement, albeit a small one, would have been a better choice. Texas, meanwhile, has a history of independence. But Austin is probably the least secessionist city in the state. If given the choice, the liberal electorate of Austin would probably prefer to secede from the state of Texas than from the union.
Juncker has a history of saying and doing bizarre things. (Just watch this video of a sozzled Juncker slapping European leaders.) But this implicit comparison between the US and the EU is telling – he clearly views the two unions as analogous. And he isn’t the only one. Both EU supporters and Eurosceptics say the end goal of the EU project is a ‘United States of Europe’. During the stormiest days of the EU’s debt crisis, many commentators also drew parallels between the two unions – both have wealthy, northern states that provide fiscal support to their poorer, southern states.
But while these parallels exist, there is a fundamental difference between the two unions. They are born out of very different ideas, with very different founding philosophies – particularly in relation to democracy. The US is founded on the principle of self-determination and self-rule. This is expressed in the first few words of the preamble of the US Constitution, which starts with ‘We the people’.
This sentiment is expressed even more clearly in the US Declaration of Independence, upon which, as the late author Harry Jaffa argued, the whole enterprise of the US and its experiment in self-rule rests. It declares that all men are created equal, and so governments can only derive their ‘just powers from the consent of the governed’. From this doctrine flows the fundamental idea that the people are sovereign.