Differences between the United States of America and the European Union?

, by Grégoire Henning

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Differences between the United States of America and the European Union?

Lawyers would say us that the European Union and the United States of America are completely different. They are probably right, but from the point of view of the citizens, the similarities in their daily lives are numerous, even if some fundamental differences still remain.


Let us start with the most obvious similarity: in the USA, as in the good parts of Europe, citizens use a single currency, identical to the currency of their neighboring States. The borders between the States are also completely open inside the Union. Just as in Europe, in the USA, a number of decisions remain the responsibility of the States: such as highway code, certain taxes, social welfare, minimum wages, certain areas of justice (legislation on marriage, drugs or weapons for example), etc. Opt-out procedures also exist for certain legislation at federal level (for example, opt-out could exist for certain parts of the reform of the health system championed by Barack Obama). At the political level, some call for more independence of the States in relation to the federal government, while others wish for more control by the Union. The governors, senators, and other local representatives in the USA States keep indeed a great importance in daily life.


The historical differences are obvious: the United States of America was born more than 200 years ago, out of a will of the British colonies to release themselves from the Crown. Europe, on the contrary, has been built less than one century ago, little by little, block by block (first by coal and steel, then by an economic area, etc.). What Europe is still missing to unify all its citizens is the election by universal suffrage of a President. In 2008, the American President’s election brought together all Americans - and this even if the power remains de facto quite limited. On the other hand, in the European Union, the parliamentary elections are marked by a decreasing participation rate. Euro-enthousiasts call for political parties created out of transnational lists, and for proposals of a candidate to the presidency of the Commission at the time of the parliamentary campaign, in order to strongly politicise the debate.

Another fundamental difference between the USA and the EU is the language: even if the plurality of the accents (sometimes different at the point to be almost incomprehensible one for the other) is real, English language is the standard in the USA. A presence of media on all the American territory, is also something which does not exist in Europe where 23 official languages coexist. The link between citizens in general and of the policies in particular to the “Founding Fathers” is also very different: in the USA, it is common to refer to them in political discussions, whereas in the EU few citizens even know the names of the founders of Europe, and even less the principles which guided them. Finally, the American citizen feels completely American, while, on the opposite, the European will first (or even only) feel belonging to his/her State of origin.

Does Europe have to take the United States of America as a model?

Probably not: similarities exist, but it is not simply by copying the USA that we will promote Europe. On the other hand, it is interesting to look in detail at these differences; and, why not, take up some ideas. As mentioned above, giving a European dimension to the Euro-MPS’ elections, with transnational lists and a candidate designated for the presidency of the Commission, could give more political substance to Europe and bring together the voters around truly European subjects. Similarly, the history of the European integration and the principles which guided it remain too unknown to many, which harms the European feeling. A stronger representation on the international scene, with common positions and answers coordinated between the Member States, could also bring together all the Europeans; it is this idea which guided the creation of the post of High Representative for Foreign Policy, occupied since December 2009 by Mrs Catherine Ashton, but we are still far from having made a success of that. Lastly, it is of up most importance, to keep the cultural and linguistic diversity of Europe. This wealth has to be preserved, but we have to lead to greater comprehension between Member States, not only linguistic, but also cultural.

Image: picture of an American flag, source: wikimedia

Your comments

  • On 24 February 2015 at 16:11, by RHWhite Replying to: Differences between the United States of America and the European Union?

    Although “the founding fathers” get mentioned a lot in American political debate, I will tell you the majority of people actually do not know anything about what Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin were really like and “the principles which guided them.” People make huge assumptions based on rhetoric, not facts.