Conquerors and intellectuals have dreamt of one big European government for centuries. The goal, as with all such millenarian fantasies, was to transform people’s national allegiances (viewed as reactionary and divisive) into larger loyalties to “Europe” (viewed as progressive and cosmopolitan). But they face the barrier even today that there are no “Europeans,” but only Frenchmen, Britons, Sicilians, etc.

Those who have pushed for a politically unified Europe hoped this would be their year. But in a surprising vote, the Danes said no to the Maastricht unification treaty, which would have abolished their nation’s economic, monetary, and military independence. Many Danes suspected it would also eventually eviscerate their cultural identity and language. To them, the vision of a unified Europe meant the reality of being ruled by an unelected foreign bureaucracy in distant Brussels. “We are a country with an Anglo-Saxon tradition of self-governance by elected laypersons at a low level,” said a Danish political scientist. “We are mistrustful of central governments.”

Because the treaty requires the approval of all 12 countries in the European Community, the people of Denmark—despite a massive campaign by government, business, media, and labor—have killed it. All the special interests, political and financial, that stood to benefit from the treaty, and have worked so hard on it for so long, are in an open state of panic. After the vote, the leaders of Germany and France vowed to “proceed unswervingly” towards “European union” and called an emergency session of the European Commission to try to figure out how to do it. But they face a legal barrier: the treaty cannot go into effect without 12 affirmative votes.

In fact, the problems for super-Europeans may have only just begun. Despite Ireland’s endorsement of the treaty on welfare grounds—about as surprising as Harlem’s approval of Food Stamps—all over Europe, there is a growing sense of nationhood and a desire for local self-government. The German people are more and more reluctant to give up their strong mark for a weak European Currency Unit run by a Continent-wide central bank. In France, right-wing political leader Jean Marie Le Pen draws huge crowds to oppose the treaty, while the social democratic EC president, Jacques Delors, talks to himself. Northern Italians are voting in greater and greater numbers for independence from the central government in Rome and its welfare clients in the South. The last thing they want is a supergovernment that makes Rome look frugal and responsive. Margaret Thatcher has long warned against the “socialist superstate in Brussels,” and in fact her reforms might have been impossible had the Maastricht treaty been in effect. Now even her pro-Europe successor, John Major, may be coming around, as more and more Britons cheer Queen and country against bureaucrat and Continent.

Unity seemed tempting. With a population of 340 million and a GNP of more than $4 trillion, the EC would be the world’s largest trading bloc. The left liked the centralization as well as the EC’s Social Charter, which guarantees welfare “rights” and trade union control of European labor markets. European neoconservatives liked it because it was a basic building block of the New World Order.

Negotiations have been in progress for decades, but for a finally awakened Danish people, the treaty seemed like a dive into the abyss. Danes began to wonder: Can a nation secede from the union? How long is the agreement binding? Are there limits to the economic policies Brussels can impose? Will a Continental tax and regulatory police enforce EC policy? Will Brussels be able to impose economic sanctions on rebellious countries? There were no answers from the pan-Europeans, meaning the truth was unpalatable.

Maastricht would have established Europe-wide regulations, taxes, and antitrust policies. But the most serious danger was the abolition of separate currencies and the creation of a new European currency and central bank. Such a system would have meant Continental credit expansion to the benefit of the elites, while the middle class bore the inflationary and business-cycle consequences. If stability of the international monetary system is the goal, there is only one way to bring that about: abolition of central banking and establishment of a 19th-century gold standard. Even the current managed exchange rate system is better than more centralization.

For many years, ideologues have told us that small, independent nations are irrelevant. Conventional wisdom during the Cold War said they had to be part of a massive bloc to matter. This was always bunk, but with the Cold War over, most people in both Europe and America want a return to normalcy, meaning, working hard, raising families, participating in community life, and enjoying peace and prosperity. That implies small political groupings. People are tired of big experiments like a unified Europe, which promise much and deliver little. And they realize, if only instinctively, that distant government is always more oppressive than local bodies.

Cut through all the rhetoric about “cooperation” and “coordination” and the plan to unify Europe is about one thing: social democracy. That’s an idea that, like its brother socialism, ought to be tossed in the trash compactor of history.