UO professor says the EU is doing better than people think

May 11, 2017 - 5:53am

With the French taking a pass on populism in the May 7 election, a UO political scientist says it’s time to recognize that the European Union is more successful than most people realize.

In fact, Craig Parsons has found that it compares favorably to the U.S. in some surprising ways.
“Despite many challenges, the EU’s efforts at building a ‘single market’ economy across the continent have made many aspects of cross-state exchange legally easier than in the United States, which retains more fragmented state-to-state regulations,” Parsons said.

However, he said, the accomplishments of Europe’s single market are at risk, most obviously by the prospect of a British exit from the union.

“Brexit is a giant mess,” he said. “The people who led it want to preserve as much access to the EU market as possible, but they insist they want full control of their own borders with respect to the movement of people. Their demands are fundamentally unrealizable. Nobody really knows how it will end up.”

Parsons, who heads the Department of Political Science, was a featured speaker during Scotland’s celebration of the European Union’s 60th birthday. That occasion marked the 1957 Treaty of Rome, which created the European Economic Community, or Common Market. It was formalized into the EU in 1992 and took effect in 1993. (Watch a video of his talk)

Scots voted 62 percent against Brexit in 2016, and their leaders are demanding a new referendum on Scottish independence in hopes of staying in the EU.

The National, a pro-Scottish independence newspaper launched in 2014, covered Parsons’ presentation to high-profile members of the European Movement at the Scottish Parliament. Michael Russell, minister for the UK negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe, hosted the event.

“It was a great honor to speak in Scotland’s parliament building and to be introduced by Minister Russell,” Parsons said. “I was really gratified that he said my talk changed how he thought about both the U.S. and the EU market.”

In another talk, Parsons discussed differing strands of conservatism with Shirley-Anne Summerville, Scotland’s minister for Further Education, Higher Education, and Science, and members of the David Hume Institute at the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Many American and British conservatives, he said, see the top level of government — the U.S. federal government or the EU — as the main obstacle to functioning markets.

“They tend to overlook the problems created by fragmented regulations across lower levels of government, and the advantages that the EU has achieved in streamlining them,” he said.

For example, he said, American elevator safety regulations vary at the city level. The EU worked out common standards in 1995.

“Professor Parsons raised some interesting comparisons, which most of us had probably never considered,” said Iain More, who helped arrange for the talks. More earned his master’s degree at the UO in 1967 as an international student from Scotland.

Gifts from More and fellow UO Foundation Trustee Emeritus Art Carmichael, BS ’62, and the UO Office of International Affairs helped make Parsons’ visit possible. The opportunity builds on connections between members of the UO’s economics department and their peers at the University of Edinburgh. Those relationships also have led to an exchange of economics students. Parsons would like to see similar exchanges happening in more disciplines.

“Scottish people easily identify with Oregon, and vice versa,” he said. “Their country is a green peripheral spot with a center-left government that values quality of life and sustainability. We should be encouraging connections with Scotland, getting our students excited about it and having our faculty go back and forth.”

A prize-winning author, Parsons is an authority on European politics. He has written broadly on the European Union, French and British politics and on American federalism.

—By Melody Ward Leslie, BS ’79, University Communications