Habsburg Lessons for an Embattled EU


Caroline De Gruyter in Carnegie Europe:

The Habsburg Empire, formed in 1526 and later known as the Austro-Hungarian Empire, had much in common with the European Union. It was a complex international construction that aimed to bring security and prosperity to several nations by eliminating borders and pumping money around. The Habsburgers had a well-functioning internal market, set up as a tool to foster political cohesion. Each nation in the empire had its own distinct arrangement with Vienna, just as every EU member state nowadays carves out its own deals (and exceptions) with Brussels.

Habsburg was also an advanced bureaucracy, albeit on a much bigger scale than the EU. Even after Empress Maria Theresa’s reforms in the eighteenth century, the Habsburg Empire was known—and ridiculed—for its huge, centralized administration. Likewise, many perceive and despise the EU as a giant bureaucracy. In reality, the union has fewer civil servants than Paris’s town hall, but most of them are in the same business as Roth’s fictional weights and measures inspector: administering and monitoring the functioning of the internal market and other agreements between member states.

The similarities between the EU and the Habsburg Empire do not end there. Most Habsburg emperors loathed warfare, just like the Europeans who, traumatized by two world wars, set up the European Economic Community in the 1950s. The emperors preferred to acquire territories peacefully by marrying off family members all over Europe. And like in the EU, small nations felt relatively safe and protected in the empire: being part of it meant being protected from invasion by bigger neighbors. All nations were granted equal rights under the Crown.

More here.