This blog’s been getting pretty dialectical lately, so let’s have another thesis-antithesis post. Walter Laqueur pronounces on Europe’s future in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
In brief, by the turn of the millennium, at the very latest, it should have been clear that Europe was no longer on the road to superpower status, but that it faced an existential crisis — or, perhaps more accurately, a number of major crises, of which the demographic problem was the most severe. That began to be recognized almost immediately, but there was confusion, because the crisis seemed intractable — it had been discovered too late. One could only hope that the newcomers indifferent or hostile to European values would gradually show more tolerance, if not enthusiasm, toward them, or that multiculturalism, which had been such a disappointment, would perhaps work in the long run.
Those were not exactly strong hopes, and they certainly do not explain the illusions of some foreign observers, particularly Americans, who continued to claim that the 21st century would be Europe’s. They maintained that there had been a revolution in Europe, of which Americans were not even aware. Europe had a vision of justice and harmony very much in contrast to the American dream, which no longer existed. The European vision emphasized the collective, in contrast to the narrow stress on individualism in the United States. It preferred the quality of life to amassing money. Americans had to work harder than Europeans, had fewer holidays, did not live as long as the Europeans, and, generally speaking, enjoyed life much less. Europeans were selfless, it was argued. As one observer put it, power politics was a thing of the past; Europe’s main weapons were justice and the law. Coming from Europe, that idea would spread all over the world and become the main instrument in world politics.
Now for the antithesis: Europe’s doom isn’t inevitable. Let’s not forget that many who predict it also desire it, for a variety of reasons ideological and economic (not that Laqueur belongs in this category). If Walter Laqueur gets you down, I’d suggest Andrew Moravcsik’s cautiously optimistic assessment:
To most who live in Europe—or have visited lately—all this [doomsaying] seems wrong, even absurd. As the European Union turns 50 this week, let us consider all that has been achieved. Europe arose from the ashes of the Great Depression and World War II to become whole and free. Half a century ago, only a utopian would have predicted that, today, one can traverse Europe from Sweden to Sicily without encountering a border control and—most of the way—using a single European currency. Or that a tariff-free single market would exist, cemented by a common framework of economic regulation.
Europe is now a global superpower of world-historical importance, second to none in economic clout. It has constructed one of the most successful systems of government—the modern social-welfare state, which for all its flaws has brought unprecedented prosperity and security to Europe’s people. It is the single most successful advance in voluntary international cooperation in modern history. The original European Economic Community of 1957 has grown from its founding six members to 27, knitting together just under 500 million people from the western Aran Islands of Ireland through the heart of Central Europe to the Black Sea. Its values are spreading across the globe—far more attractive, in many respects, than those of America. If anything, Europe’s trajectory is up, not down. Here’s what the critics get wrong.
Now for my two cents. Laqueur thinks that opposition to America’s foreign policy and values, especially as embodied by the Bush Administration, drove many commentators to overestimate Europe’s prospects. It’s a sort of wishful thinking: "I find Europe’s approach so much more pleasing and consonant with my views, therefore it must be the wave of the future."
I don’t disagree with Laqueur on many points. It’s become clear that there are worrying fissures at the heart of many European countries. Further, Europe’s stock (as a shining beacon of reason and conciliation compared to the U.S.) has hit a new high against the background of the Bush administration, but will fade once someone halfway competent enters the White House. I’m not quite as pessimistic about Europe’s demographic future as Laqueur, but there’s no doubt that a demographic time bomb is ticking, and the people who might be able to defuse it are still bickering bitterly with each other.
I’m a Europhile not because I think European values will prevail, but because I think they should prevail. Sure, Europe’s social welfare systems do saddle it with some competitive disadvantages. That’s why I found the parts of Jeremy Rifkin’s European Dream — the parts in which he assumed away these disadvantages — so unconvincing. They’re there, and they’re found not only in some EU and national policies, but also in the mindset of many denizens of Europe. However, from what I have seen and experienced, Moravcsik’s thesis holds: the competitive disadvantages are greatly outweighed by the benefits social welfare systems bring to European residents. And there’s no question that many of the foreigners I talk to here in Germany are quietly impressed by Germany’s social-welfare system. Many of the leaders of the countries these people come from promise their residents a welfare state, but Germany actually delivers one. As long as the vast majority of the world’s population continues to prefer welfare-state models to unrestrained capitalism, the European dream will remain alive.