Summary of Europe’s Hamilton Moment

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Pierpaolo Barbieri and Shahin Vallée suggest that the European Union today needs a “policy leap,” resembling the one Alexander Hamilton – the first US treasury secretary – initiated in 1790. Barbieri and Vallée draw historical lessons from the United States, Germany and Switzerland, which all in their unique ways evolved from loose federations to become strong, unified entities. getAbstract recommends this Foreign Affairs article to historians, political scientists and Europeans in general.

In this summary, you will learn

  • Why now is a good time for the European Union to reform its monetary union, and
  • What the US and Switzerland can teach the European Union about federalism.

About the Authors

Pierpaolo Barbieri works for the Harvard Kennedy School’s Applied History Project. Shahin Vallee is a former economic adviser to French president Emmanuel Macron and EU council president Herman Van Rompuy. 



Brexit and the election of US president Donald Trump have rekindled European enthusiasm for a strong European Union. The Union’s Archilles’ heel, however, is the ineffective structure of its monetary union. As far back as the 1970s, several reports found that “varying degrees of fiscal federalism” were essential for a common European currency as well as a more integrated political union. The 2008 global financial crisis and the required bailout of several EU member states demonstrated that a currency union without a federal budget and a federal debt was unworkable.   

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