While the rest of the U.S. is preparing for another contentious election cycle, Dr. Kerstin Hamann has her finger on the pulse of Western European politics. Hamann, the UCF political science chair, knows that the heart of Western European politics lies in the actions of the collective, or more specifically, the European Union (EU).
Though this concept may be unfamiliar to those followers of American politics who regard the U.S. as sovereign and capitalistic versus socialistic, the challenges Europe faces also impact the U.S., which is one reason why more Americans should pay attention, Hamann says.
“The greatest myth is that Western Europe is socialist. They are market economies that operate under a democratic nature. Socialism implies that the productive forces are owned by the state,” Hamann explains. “None of this is true; you have private ownership of productive forces, and you also have democratic elections. They are certainly not socialist like we see in Cuba, where there is a state-planned economy and no democracy.”
Most of Western Europe, however, is part of the EU, a partnership between 27 countries that developed a single market based on a standardized system of laws. The EU also developed the euro—the currency adopted by 17 of its 27 nations—which has its pros and cons.
“The greatest myth is that Western Europe is socialist.”
“Western Europe is an interesting beast. You have all the independent nations with their voter-elected governments,” Hamann says.
“Increasingly bound by the EU, many countries have given up a portion of their national sovereignty. They only have as much power as their allies.”
The euro prevents countries in financial crisis, such as Spain and Greece, from enacting strong economic policies because they can’t independently devalue their currency like the U.S. In many ways, Hamann says, the global economic crisis has been most challenging for Western Europe.
“There have been different proposals in the EU; the euro is still fairly new to these countries. They are trying to find solutions that are economically feasible and politically acceptable,” Hamann says. “The catchphrase is true: We do live in an increasingly interconnected world. If you want to understand economic crises, it’s important to know what is going on in the rest of the world.” ✦