Home / Articles / Will “Europe” Survive the 21st Century? A Meditation on the 50th Anniversary of the European Community
Part I of II: The Other Age Born in the Year 1957
It has gone down in history as “the other world series”: a championship match even more shocking than the Milwaukee Braves’ upset victory over the New York Yankees in baseball’s 1957 Fall Classic. That shot literally “heard ’round the world” was the Soviet launch of Sputnik 1, the first artificial earth satellite. It gave birth to the Space Age, and its fiftieth anniversary this October 4 is sure to inspire worldwide attention. By contrast, another anniversary of equivalent importance was all but ignored this past March. The birth certificate of that other age born fifty years ago was the Treaty of Rome, which founded the European Economic Community, or Common Market. Its charter members included only the “original six”—France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg—and they pledged only to coordinate some tariff and industrial policies and cooperate on peaceful atomic energy. Fifty years later Europe is not just a Community, but a Union. It numbers not six, but twenty-seven members. And the purview of its institutions so transcends economics that Europe today has become a veritable state of mind.
European integration fulfilled a very old dream. The Holy Roman Emperors, as putative leaders of Western (Latin) Christendom in the medieval centuries, dreamed of restoring a unity unknown since the fall of ancient Rome. So, too, needless to say, did the popes. In early modern times, monarchs such as Habsburg Emperor Charles V, French King Louis XIV, and Russian Tsar Alexander I hoped their force and persuasion might reunite a broken and warring civilization. The persistent dream of European unity even survived the onslaught of nationalism in the modern era. At the 1814 Congress of Vienna following the initial defeat of Napoleon, Austrian foreign minister Klemens von Metternich identified aristocratic cosmopolitanism with the cause. “Europe,” he said, “has always had for me the quality of a fatherland.” In 1831 the diplomatic Concert of the Great Powers declared: “Each nation has its own particular rights, but Europe also has rights, bestowed upon her by a common social order.” At a congress of radicals in 1849, Romantic author Victor Hugo prophesied: “The day will come when you, Russia, you France, you England, and you Germany, when all the nations of our continent, without forfeiting your distinctive characteristics or splendors, will bind yourselves together into a single, superior entity, and constitute a European brotherhood.” In 1860, Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini exhorted all peoples to “reinvent Europe as a federation of free republics.”
Of course Europe instead descended into the twentieth century’s era of virulent nationalism and world wars. But their horrors only made the cause of unity more pressing still. In 1944 Hans von Schreebronk, a German aristocrat executed for resisting the Nazi regime, wrote in his final testament, “I instinctively know that a Union of Europe would command far more of my loyalty than any one Fatherland.” Even Winston Churchill, bulldog of the British Empire, imagined in 1946: “If Europe were once united in the sharing of its common inheritance, there would be no limit to the happiness, to the prosperity and glory which its three or four hundred million people would enjoy…. We must build a kind of United States of Europe.”
The old dream began to take shape in the late 1940s because new circumstances, imperatives, and incentives all suggested that the nation-state was obsolete. They included the idealistic federalist movement that captivated resistance movements during World War II; the onset of the Cold War, which impelled West Europeans to unite in the face of external Soviet and internal communist threats; the obvious bankruptcy of nationalistic ambitions in the wake of the fascist catastrophe; the new predominance of Christian Democrat and Social Democrat parties favorable to integration; the war’s powerful example of economic mobilization and regulation; the American insistence that recipients of Marshall Plan aid jointly plan their recovery through the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development; the Europeans’ realization that they must pool their resources if they were ever to escape U.S. domination; the rationality of uniting the coal, iron, and steel producing regions spanning the Rhine; Konrad Adenauer’s appreciation that West Germany could regain sovereignty only by subordinating itself to international organizations; and the desire by all other countries to institutionalize the division of Germany.
The French Fourth Republic, inspired by technocrat Jean Monnet and foreign minister Robert Schuman, began the process by inviting its neighbors to merge their metallurgical industries into a common cartel. So it was that the “original Six” founded the European Coal and Steel Community as early as 1949. But momentum flagged, in part because Britain remained aloof from the continent and Britain and France alike still imagined themselves global colonial powers. Thus, when the United States pressured its NATO allies to rearm during the Korean War, first London then Paris rejected the proposal for a European Defense Community that would have obliged Europeans to forge the common foreign and defense policy that still eludes them today.
Then came the twin crises of October 1956: the Anglo-French-Israeli assault on the Egyptian forces that seized the Suez Canal and the Hungarian revolt against communist rule. The former event reminded West Europeans, in the most humiliating way possible, of their subservience to the United States when the Eisenhower administration joined the Soviets at the United Nations to condemn the Suez operation and imply that the sun had forever set on European imperialism. The latter event reminded Europeans, in the most frightening way possible, of their vulnerability to the Soviet Union when Khrushchev ordered Warsaw Pact tanks into Hungary to crush the rebellion. Suddenly, Belgian minister Paul Henri Spaak’s call for full economic union among the “original Six” took on urgency. With French, German, and Italian concurrence, the Treaty of Rome was drafted and signed within five months. Its preamble stated that the signatories were not just acting from economic expediency, but were “determined to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe.”
A school of political science known as functionalism promptly argued that integration, once begun, must quickly lead to a United States of Europe. In the short run that appeared to be wrong. For the very humiliations in Indochina, the Suez, and the civil war in Algeria that rendered the French Fourth Republic pliant on matters of integration prepared the rise to power in 1958 of the nationalist Charles de Gaulle. He did not pull out of the European Community, as he did NATO’s military command. But during his decade as president he vetoed all attempts to broaden the Common Market by accepting new members (especially the British) or deepen it by expanding the EC bureaucracy’s mandate. De Gaulle spoke of a Europe of the Fatherlands, not a United States of Europe.
Still, the European idea never went into reverse. During the 1970s, a decade marred by oil shocks, stagflation, and domestic terrorism, the EC not only admitted Britain, Ireland, and Denmark, but established its first executive, the European Commission, a European Parliament, and a European Monetary System. In the 1980s, despite more talk of “Euroboredom” and “Eurosclerosis,” newly democratized Greece, Spain, and Portugal became members and a vigorous campaign to deepen the EU was launched in the belief that Europe must unite to compete in a globalized marketplace. Thanks in large part to the tireless Jacques Delors, president of the European Commission from 1985 to 1995, EC members ratified the Single European Act of 1986. In so doing they agreed to abolish hundreds of legal barriers to the free movement of people, goods, capital, and ideas, adopt standardized laws and procedures for labor, welfare, budgets, and currencies, and forge a genuine European Union by 1992.
Little did anyone know that by the time that deadline arrived a revolution would topple the Berlin Wall, dissolve the communist bloc, and partition the USSR. The resulting reunification of Germany—by posing anew the danger of an imbalance of power—and liberation of Eastern Europe—by posing the danger of Russian revanchism—made Europe’s “larger and deeper” agenda more pressing than ever. In 1995 the EU admitted Sweden, Finland, and Austria. In 2002 it launched the audacious common currency, the euro, to replace the once sacred deutschemark, franc, and lira. In 2004 the EU embraced the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Malta, and Cyprus, then Romania and Bulgaria in 2007. So the Age of Europe not only survived the death of the Cold War environment that nurtured its infancy, but flourished in its absence.
“Evolved” Europe as Model for Humanity
To appreciate how much Europeans have achieved through their fifty-year process of integration, all one need do is to look back one hundred years and contrast Europe in 2007 with Europe in 1907.
Measured in constant 1960 U.S. dollars, Europe’s per capita gross domestic product in 1907 was about $750. It is estimated to surpass $6,650 in 2007, an increase in per capita standard of living of 800 percent despite an almost doubling of the population. In 1907 average European life expectancy was about 45 years due to high infant mortality, disease, and poor health care. In 2007 Europe’s life expectancy is well over 70 in every country but Russia. In 1907 literacy rates among the population ranged from around 80 percent in Britain, France, and Germany to less than 40 percent in most of eastern Europe. In 2007 literacy rates range from 95 to 100 percent everywhere. In 1907 representative government, civil rights, and the rule of law were established and honored only in northern and northwestern Europe. Today they are taken for granted everywhere outside Russia and a few spots in the Balkans.
In 1907 Europe bestrode most of the world as its industrial, imperial center, with only the U.S., Europe’s offspring, posing an imminent challenge. Yet today’s statistics for higher education, equal employment, medical care, nutrition, labor productivity, per capita energy consumption, leisure time, spending on entertainment, culture, self-improvement, and a dozen more such indices prove that by comparison to 2007, Europe in 1907 was merely a “developing region.”
Most obviously, Europe in 1907 was a powder keg, a crowded continent bristling with jealous, fearful Great Powers—seven of them, counting Italy and Ottoman Turkey—all racing for armaments, divided into hostile alliances, and teetering on the brink of total war. By comparison, Europe in 2007 is a pastry shop. It sees no wars or invasions on the horizon. Its small volunteer militaries are more suited to peacekeeping than warfighting. Almost all its nations are united in a single alliance (NATO) and single market (EU). The violent international relations of the past 500 years—the Rivalries of the Great Powers—exist only in history texts. In sum, Europeans have never known peace, prosperity, and unity anything like what they enjoy today. Europe truly seems to arrived at the “end of history” and found it a very happy ending indeed.
Genuine Pursuits of Happiness
What is more, many Americans look upon Europe’s success story with admiration and envy. Consider Jeremy Rifkin, the sociologist specializing in long-range trends, whose book The European Dream: How Europe’s Vision of the Future is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream (2004) offers an arresting perspective. Rifkin digs into the roots of the American Dream and finds that the New World has in fact become the Old World! That is, we Americans are still motivated by ideas and aspirations born 250 to 500 years ago in Europe’s Enlightenment and Protestant Reformation. Colonists bearing that era’s notions of liberty and equality, continual progress, and pursuit of wealth and power proceeded to invent the American Dream and imagine it a model all nations were destined to emulate. One result was the most astounding success story on earth. But another result has been that Americans remain loyal to notions of Providence, patriotism, individualism, materialism, and “Don’t Tread on Me” unilateralism that Europeans have long discarded. The obvious reason for that, explains Rifkin, is that modern history has been a tale of almost continuous triumph for the U.S., but one of almost continuous trauma for Europe. Hence Europeans lost faith in traditional religions, ideologies, and even Enlightenment reason itself. They ceased to accept the liberal, industrial era’s equation of better with richer, bigger, faster, stronger, and cheaper. In other words, Europeans leapfrogged Americans on the road to the future by, in effect, becoming conservative again! That is, they relinquished their millenarian or utopian belief in mankind’s ability to create heaven on earth and got to work forging a humane, sustainable civilization where no wars of religion, patriotism, or ideology would disturb their personal fulfillment. Thus, whereas restless, dissatisfied, future-oriented Americans spend their whole lives pursuing happiness yet in most cases remain profoundly unhappy, Europeans are content with who they are and what they have, live for the here and now, and imagine themselves integral parts, not of a nation or civilization, but of the whole human race and even the biosphere in which they live and move and have their being..
Rifkin concludes with a rapture: “Much of the world is going dark, leaving many human beings without clear direction. The European Dream is a beacon of light in a troubled world. It beckons us to a new age of inclusivity, diversity, quality of life, deep play, sustainability, universal human rights, the rights of nature, and peace on Earth. We Americans used to say the American Dream is worth dying for. The new European Dream is worth living for.”
Europe as Vanguard
Another paean to Europe written by another smitten American is Michael Mandelbaum’s The Ideas That Conquered the World: Peace, Democracy, and Free Markets in the Twenty-first Century (2002). The title echoes Francis Fukuyama’s notorious claim (The End of History and the Last Man, 1993) that the end of the Cold War brought modern history to its “end” insofar as liberal Western values had triumphed over all its ideological competitors including monarchy, imperialism, fascism, and communism. The historical chapters trace the origins of the conquering ideas to the French Revolution, which raised the standard of popular democracy; Britain’s Industrial Revolution, which raised the standard of free market capitalism; and America’s Wilsonian crusade, which raised the standard of peace through international organization. But Mandelbaum provocatively asserts that those conquering ideas are best embodied today, not by any nation-state, but by the EU as a whole. Nowhere else has a political community carried the triad to fuller realization; nowhere else have the causes of oppression, poverty, and strife been so thoroughly overcome. Americans have always imagined their nation a “city on a hill” for the world to emulate. Mandelbaum boldly imagines world government to be the true goal of humanity and believes Europe the example to emulate. The EU, he concludes, is “a foretaste of the way the world of the twenty-first century will be organized.”
Europe’s False Paradise
How realistic are such reveries? What does Europe’s pulse tell us about its health and prospects for growth? I suggest that the EU is at best incomplete and at worst a false paradise for which even its own citizens are unwilling to die.
The EU’s potential for superpower status is beyond dispute. Its 484 million people outnumber Americans by more than 50 percent. The EU today is the world’s largest internal market in terms of purchasing power and boasts the largest volume of world trade. The combined GDP of EU member states surpassed that of the United States ($15.5 trillion to $13 trillion) for the first time in 2003. The euro has been a magnificent success. Instead of struggling to maintain parity with the dollar, it has soared to $1.30 or $1.40. Yet Europe remains what the Germans call a Handelsstaat: a trading state bereft of significant military power or diplomatic influence. That is because NATO Europe simply refuses to spend more than a comparative pittance on its military. Of all the old Great Powers only Britain can pretend to have some capability for power projection. Thus did an American neoconservative tease our transatlantic friends with the quip that if men are from Mars and women from Venus, so are Americans from Mars and Europeans from Venus. Indeed, make love, not war could be Europe’s motto.
Polls confirm Europeans’ New Age attitude toward defense. Only 24 percent think their nation-states should be responsible for security; 20 percent think NATO should be responsible for their security (take that, Uncle Sam!), and a pacifist 14 percent do not believe in having any military at all. That leaves a plurality of 42 percent who want the EU itself to take charge of defense (which is precisely what President Eisenhower hoped Europeans would do back in the 1950s). But European governments allocate less than 2 percent of their combined GDP to defense. Britain and France still deploy small nuclear deterrents plus a few aircraft carriers and bomber squadrons, but the EU itself has no strategic forces, just a handful of aircraft and armored vehicles, and virtually no capacity for long-range logistics or space-based reconnaissance, communications, command and control. The vaunted 60,000 man EU rapid reaction force may be sufficient to help patrol Bosnia or pacify a troubled ex-colony in Africa, but it is hard to imagine any other mission for which it is adequate.
To be sure, Europeans boast of what Harvard’s Prof. Joseph Nye termed soft power in the belief that diplomatic, cultural, and moral suasion is more humane and effective than brute force. But even Europe’s soft power may be overrated in an era when few leaders on other continents look anymore to London, Paris, Rome, or Berlin for their standards of philosophy, law, fashion, high or popular culture. In any event, Europeans can trumpet their soft power only because of (a) the absence of any hard power threat in their neighborhood and (b) the willingness of the U.S. to combat terrorists, aggressors, and rogue regimes. Nor has the EU yet considered taking out some insurance against the chance that those conditions may change.
Economic Stasis, Energy Dependence, and Sex-Shop Socialism
Nor is the EU quite the economic powerhouse it is cracked up to be. Its social regulations emphasize the quality and equality of life over competitiveness. According to OECD statistics, the U.S. devotes just 11 percent of its GDP to redistributing wealth through social programs. EU countries devote 26 percent to that purpose. Likewise, Europeans on average work just 35 hours per week and have 3 to 4 weeks paid vacation each year. Americans are lucky if they can work 40 hours per week and get 2 weeks of paid vacation. The result is that EU productivity is about 95 percent that of the U.S., but per capita income in the EU is just 72 percent of U.S. incomes. Still, that is just fine with them. As the saying goes, “Americans live to work whereas Europeans work to live.”
It is no accident that the draft European constitution guaranteed every imaginable human right except one many Americans cherish: private property. Europeans extol their comprehensive welfare programs, universal socialized health care, free public education through university, strict environmentalism, advocacy of animal rights and children’s rights, gender equality, plus programs promoting leisure, self-esteem, and (in progressive states like Denmark and the Netherlands) subsidized drugs and prostitution. Indeed, Boston University’s Angelo Codevilla has jokingly labeled Europe’s political economy sex-shop socialism.
How do Europeans pay for their welfare? Good question, since the same regulations that stipulate benefits retard wealth creation. Europeans have written into law such elaborate protections and benefits for labor that it is nearly impossible for corporations to lay off workers. The resulting high payroll costs discourage firms from either hiring personnel to expand or firing personnel to downsize. The result is a level of structural unemployment that would be unacceptable to Americans. To be sure, the system has brought remarkable peace to European industries since the last big labor outbursts around 1968. But sclerosis keeps EU growth modest—1.5 or 2.5 percent—even in good times.
Finally, Europe is heavily dependent on foreign energy. Some EU members, notably France, wisely invested in nuclear energy for domestic electricity. Others, such as the UK, made lucky oil strikes in the North Sea. But for the most part the EU is in thrall to oil and gas imported almost exclusively from Russia or the Middle East.
Brussels Bureaucrats And Democracy Deficits
Speaking of constraints, the EU’s voluminous rules can make China seem libertarian by comparison. Back in the 1960s and 70s, functionalists such Berkeley’s Ernest Haas predicted (approvingly) just that result, because the international bureaucrats were sure to claim, rightly, that “if we are instructed to regulate A and B, then of course we must have control over C, D, and E.” The Gaullist interlude notwithstanding, functionalism would seem to be vindicated. The progress of the EC, then EU, toward deeper integration has been driven, at every stage, not by the people of Britain, France, Germany, and Italy, but by Brussels-based Eurocrats who insist that all countries “harmonize” their policies regarding more and more issues.
EU regulations today are so numerous no one can say how many there are except that they exceed 200,000 and some 2,500 new ones are added each year. Moreover, since legislatures of member or applicant states are obliged to incorporate them into their national codes, they become little more than rubber stamps for the Eurocrats. The powers of the European Parliament in Strasbourg are also carefully circumscribed, so it mostly signs off on whatever the EU executive council proposes. In any case, who would bother to run for a seat at Strasbourg unless they believed in the EU, or bother to vote for those who do run? In truth, voter turnout for EU elections is embarrassingly small by comparison to that for national elections.
All this adds up to a Democracy Deficit that increases the chance that someday ordinary European voters will stand up and cry “Stop!”, not just to this initiative or that draft constitution, but to the whole project. They all cherish peace and prosperity, but will they still do if it means making an Orwellian Big Brother of the Brussels bureaucracy?
A Culture of Unbelief and Culture of Death
What do Europeans believe, stand for, and fight for if necessary? We really can’t say since they have not been tested, save for a few thousand professional soldiers in Bosnia and Afghanistan. If you ask Americans what they have faith in and would fight for, most reply God, Country, and Freedom. Most Europeans would not use any of those words. They have transcended religion and patriotism, and shucked off old moral taboos, to the point that it seems nothing is sacred, not even life. Cultural conservatives deplore Europeans’ tolerance of suicide, euthanasia, abortion, and high rates of addiction to drugs, pornography, gambling, and mind-numbing video games. Pope John Paul II preached repeatedly against what he called a “culture of death” and attributed it to the decline of religious faith. The numbers appear to bear that out. When asked if religion is very important to them, Germans said yes just 21 percent of the time. But that made Germany a highly spiritual state, because in Britain only 16 percent, France 14 percent, and Scandinavia less than 10 percent said religion was important in their lives. The response in the U.S. was 82 percent. Similarly, 40 percent of Americans report that they go to church or synagogue every week, while just 10 percent of Protestant Europeans say that they attend church once a month. When asked why the EU’s constitutional convention rejected any reference to God or Christianity, a French diplomat reportedly sniffed, “We Europeans don’t like God.”
The same is true of civil religion, the secular values citizens deem sacred. Almost 80 percent of Americans think it important that democratic ideals and institutions be spread more broadly around the world. Less than 40 percent of Europeans think that is important or even necessarily positive. In sum, a postmodern, post-Christian civilization has returned to the pagan values of group cohesion and collective hedonism, and elevated peace and prosperity from the status of blessings to the status of idols.
The sterling successes and worrisome weaknesses of contemporary Europe might be of no broader interest except for the fact that Europe is no island. It is trapped in a much wider world that mounts three existential challenges to the EU’s would-be nirvana.
Part II of II: The European Union in a Wider World
In 2003, during the debate over the Bush administration’s request for UN approval to invade Iraq, British diplomat Chris Patten was despondent. He was not working for Tony Blair, who supported Bush, but for the EU’s Commission for External Relations, which was torn asunder by the war on terror. At length Patten remarked, “Some Europeans think that grumbling about America is the same thing as having a foreign policy.” Therein lies the essence of the American Challenge faced by Europe in the twenty-first century. The U.S. seems too strong to ignore and too headstrong to resist, but also too reckless, dangerous, and unilateralist to support. One might assume that a powerful, out-of-control America launching preemptive wars would be just the impetus Europeans need to forge a common foreign and security policy. But so far the opposite has occurred. Europe has splintered under the pressure.
It began back in the 1990s when NATO almost wrecked itself over debates about burden-sharing, expansion, “out of area or out of business,” and finally the Bosnia and Kosovo debacles. But at least Bill Clinton maintained good relations with his counterparts over in Europe. He did it through charm, caution, and diplomatic deception. That is, Clinton courted favor by signing every protocol Europe favored in the knowledge none would win Senate ratification. Indeed, some agreements he never bothered to submit to Congress at all. George W. Bush, on the other hand, candidly stated his opposition to the Kyoto Protocol on global warning, the Rio Pact on bio-diversity, the treaty banning landmines, the International Criminal Court, and the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. To Europeans it seemed that post-Cold War America was reverting to a go-it-alone, cowboy diplomacy that placed power and growth above humane global values.
Then came 9/11 and a Europe-wide outpouring of sympathy with the United States. Le Monde said the next day, “We are all Americans.” German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called the Al Qaeda attack a declaration of war against civilization. Tony Blair, noting that 67 British citizens died on 9/11, promised to “stand shoulder to shoulder with our American friends” and “not rest until this evil is driven from our world.” On September 12, for the only time in history, NATO invoked Article 5 of its treaty to declare 9/11 an assault on all of its 19 member states. That is why Afghanistan, whose Taliban regime harbored Osama bin Laden, was invaded by NATO and remains a NATO responsibility to this day. The entire EU declared September 14, 2001 a day of mourning.
Yet, almost from the start Europeans expressed certain misgivings. They knew how Americans, once attacked, can lurch to extremes and lash out against any and all suspected enemies, deaf to counsels of prudence and blind to war’s unintended consequences. Europeans declared their fears justified when President Bush declared an Axis of Evil including, not Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Europeans cringed to hear the new Bush Doctrine, arrogating to the U.S. the right to launch preventive attacks on anyone suspected of harboring terrorists or developing weapons of mass destruction. Europeans understandably howled when Bush announced, “You are either with us or with the terrorists.” Rage over 9/11 seemed to eclipse any subtlety, humility, or sense of proportion Americans had learned over a century as world leaders. Finally, Bush showed none of the patience and skill his father displayed during the 1991 Gulf War. Bush Sr. had built consensus among Arab states, European allies, and the UN before striking at Saddam Hussein. Bush Jr. just demanded consensus and declared he would go ahead whether he got it or not.
Britain loyally followed America, as did Spain, Italy, and the new NATO members of Eastern Europe. But France, Germany, and Belgium, not to mention Russia and China, did not. When Bush called on the UN to sanction a war on Iraq, the French and Germans protested hotly. During Schroeder’s reelection campaign in 2002, German justice minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin allegedly even made an analogy between Bush and Hitler. Critics accused the U.S. of exploiting “rogue regimes” to behave like a “rogue Superpower.” French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine accused America of becoming a hyperpuissance, or hyper-power and law unto itself. Americans replied with their own accusations, most famously Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s comments about the tired, toothless countries of “Old Europe” led by France and Germany. Needless to say, in the wake of Saddam Hussein’s overthrow, the French and Germans patted themselves on the back for staying out of the quagmire, while Tony Blair was eventually dumped by his own party.
If Americans are from Mars and Europeans from Venus—if their perspectives on values and world affairs are so contrary—how long can NATO survive? Prof. Andrei Markovitz of the University of Michigan goes so far as to define Anti-Americanism as Europe’s lingua franca, conventional wisdom, and measure of belonging. That is, you just don’t say nice things about the U.S. in polite European society, or else you are not a good European. In short, the EU has defined itself against a hated Other, and the Other is Us.
Even in Britain defenders of the Atlantic partnership are a distinct minority. John Blundell, director of London’s Institute of Economic Affairs, is among those Brits who despise the EU and fear a widening gap between the U.S. and Europe. In a 2006 speech, “Is the EU America’s Friend and Foe?” he advised Americans to quit pretending to support the European project, as their presidents have ritually done, and instead try to loosen or break up the EU. Of course, talk like that only magnifies Europeans’ distrust of the hyperpuissance to which they are chained.
The Asian Challenge
Yet its tension with the U.S. may prove modest compared to the Asian challenge Europe will face in the twenty-first century. China, India, and still formidable Japan are already fierce competitors for economic and soft power, and could easily surpass the EU in hard power. While labor costs rise and productivity stagnates in Europe, low labor costs and soaring productivity turn Asia into the Workshop of the World. Their exports of cheap but high-quality goods have created such balance of payments surpluses that Asian coffers overflow with dollars and euros. Asians invest much of that cash in Western government bonds, which means that U.S. defense spending and European welfare spending are made possible courtesy of Asians’ largesse. In short, Europe (like the U.S.) is living beyond its means and will do so even more as its population continues to age.
China, India, and the smaller Asian “tigers” have already moved into many high-tech industries pioneered in the West. In another twenty years their R&D may be so dynamic they will cease playing catch-up and instead pioneer new frontiers. What can the EU do? Pull up the drawbridge of tariff protectionism and make Europe a castle? That would only hasten its retreat into the inferiority medieval Europe suffered vis-a-vis Asia. Eurocrats are well aware of this Asian Challenge. They invoked it to justify plunging ahead with the euro. But now they must decide what to do with the EU and euro in hopes of remaining competitive.
The Islamic Challenge
The Islamic challenge begs the most fundamental question: What is Europe? Europeans themselves cannot say. EU membership criteria stress common values, not geographic, ethnic, or religious identity. Indeed, geographers say there is no such thing as Europe; it’s just a convention to divide the Eurasian landmass at Russia’s Ural Mountains. And what about the Muslims whose ancestors have dwelt in the Balkans for six hundred years? When “Europe” began to come into common usage a millennium ago it simply denoted Christendom. But that is obsolete today since most Europeans are not religious at all, whereas Christianity remains the world’s largest religion thanks to its strength in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Is Europe a strictly institutional reality based on EU membership, then? Or a state of mind based on those values consciously inculcated? Back in 1948 Churchill said, “We hope to see a Europe where men of every country will think of being European the way they think of belonging to their native land,” and Jean Monnet cautioned, “Europe has never existed; one must genuinely create Europe.” Both implicitly hearkened back to those state-builders, both royal and revolutionary, who forged modern nations through bureaucratic centralization, linguistic standardization, and mass education, and urged those same methods be used to transcend nation-states.
But do Europeans really want to transcend the nation? Their embarrassing dilemma concerning immigrants, especially Muslim ones, suggests that hypocrisy lurks at the heart of the EU project. While determining the number of Muslims in each country is difficult and one finds varying figures, as of 2001 official estimates of Muslims as a percent of the population were as follows: France 7.5; Netherlands 4.4; Germany 3.9; Britain 3.3; Spain 1.8; Denmark 1.4; Italy 1.2. Not high percents, you may think, but Europeans think otherwise. Indeed, prior to an abashed reform made in 1990, an ethnic German refugee from, say, the Ukraine who spoke no German could get automatic citizenship, while an ethnic Turk born in Germany and fluent in its language and culture could almost never gain citizenship. Indeed, Europeans have consistently regarded immigrants as a cultural threat, a drain on welfare budgets, and a danger (one-third of all prison inmates in Germany are foreign born) long before Islamic terrorists infiltrated their cities.
But postwar Europe desperately needed workers. So huge numbers emigrated from North Africa and Turkey over the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. The oil shock and recession after 1973 slowed down immigration, but it picked up again in the 1990s. All told, Germany absorbed 24.5 million immigrants from 1950-88, France 21.9 million, and the rest of northern Europe (including the UK) some 25 million. By the end of the century, more than one in twenty “Europeans” were not European—or were they? The result is that the European “Union” now counts 87 languages and dialects.
The other trend that has made immigration an existential concern and source of panic is the concomitant plunge of fertility among native Europeans to the lowest in the world. The birthrates for Germans, Swedes, Spaniards, Greeks, French, Italians, and Russians have fallen as low as 1.4 or even 1.1 per woman, whereas the mere replacement rate is 2.1. In Germany 31.2 percent of women bear no children at all. As a result, Europe’s population is expected to fall 13 percent by the year 2050 and the median age is expected to rise to an unprecedented 52 years (compared to just 35 in the U.S.). To put it another way, most Europeans will then be older than the average life expectancy of people 150 years ago.
The result will be that Caucasians (people of European stock), who numbered 31 percent of humankind in 1900, will likely plummet to just 11 percent by the year 2050, while Caucasians in Europe will number just 7.5 percent.
Such “demographic suicide” (as George Weigel termed it) is virtually unknown in biological history. To be sure, massive die-offs have occurred periodically, but they were due to famine, epidemic diseases, or warfare. Europeans today, at least west of Russia, are as well fed, healthy, and peaceful as any civilization in history. They are simply choosing not to have babies. Why? Studies done by national and EU institutions point to the decline of marriage and family values, lenient divorce and abortion laws, ubiquitous contraception, the choice by women to pursue careers, and the preference of couples for two incomes rather than children. Moral critics blame the birth dearth on the selfishness of a “me first, do your own thing” generation. But morals aside, it is clear many Europeans no longer consider children a part of their pursuit of happiness and may even find them a hindrance.
All that is relevant to the “Islamic Challenge” because it means people of native European stock are shrinking in absolute terms while the Arabs, Turks, and other extra-European immigrants among them are procreating at very high rates. Moreover, Europeans are going to need immigrant workers all the more as their own population rapidly ages. That is why even Rifkin admits this seemingly idyllic European Dream is in fact placing the dreamers “between a rock and a hard place.”
So far, efforts to deal with Muslim immigration have been singularly unsuccessful because efforts to assimilate, or tolerate, or repress Muslim cultural habits have fomented protests and race riots among immigrants and nativists alike in France, England, and Germany, while neo-fascist splinter parties have arisen in France, Italy, and Austria that promise to halt or reverse immigration.
Pathetic Caucasian birthrates, Muslim immigration, the revelation after 9/11 that Western Europe was the Number One haven for terrorists outside of Afghanistan, and the Al Qaeda bombings in London and Madrid make for a crisis that is not going away for a very long time. Yet, even they do not pose the most immediate Islamic challenge. That distinction goes to the innocent, proper, and sensible application by Turkey to become a member of the EU. The Turks have been begging for years to be admitted to Europe on numerous grounds. Turkey included more or less of the Balkan peninsula for six centuries. Hundreds of thousands of Turks already live in the EU. Turkey’s economy is closely tied to Europe’s. Turkey was a charter member of NATO. Turkey is a secular, not an Islamic Republic. Still, the EU always keeps the Turks at arm’s length, citing the role the military has played in Turkish politics. But even that is somewhat disingenuous since the political role of the Turkish military has been precisely to keep Islamic parties from taking power in Istanbul. The unspoken truth is that Europeans are just terrified of granting 60 million Muslim Turks the right to travel and live across Europe.
We began by contrasting Europe in 2007 with Europe in 1907. Let us conclude by invoking a grander timeline, that of European civilization itself. Once upon a time the term Europa referred only to a beautiful maiden in Greek mythology who attracted the wandering eye of Zeus, or else to a directional term referring to the Greek side of the Hellespont as opposed to the side on the peninsula Greeks called Asia Minor. The Roman Empire, encompassing parts of three continents around the Mediterranean, had no concept of Europe, and the Germanic tribes whose invasions dissolved the empire based at Rome certainly had no concept of Europe as a geographical, cultural, religious, linguistic, racial, or political entity. Nor did the Arabs, who swept out of the desert in the seventh and eighth centuries of the common era full of zeal for Allah and his prophet Mohammed. The Arabs overran fully half of all the provinces of Christendom, imposing their rule by sword and Quran on Mesopotamia, Syria, Lebanon, the Holy Land, Egypt, all of North Africa, and almost all of Spain. The Umayyad Caliphate even dreamed of expanding the Dar al Islam, the Land of the Faithful, across the Pyrenees and extirpating Latin Christendom altogether. But its Saracen soldiers were checked, for ever as it turned out, by the knights of a Frankish prince named Charles “the Hammer” Martel at Tours in 732.
That victory allowed the heirs of Charles the Hammer to imagine a destiny for the Franks, indeed for all the Christian tribes, greater than mere survival. Chief among them was his tall, imposing grandson, also named Charles. Exceptionally skilled at war, diplomacy, administration, and court politics, he created by sheer force of will a great empire that among his own subjects earned him the epithet Charles the Great, to wit Karl der Grosse or Charlemagne. The glory and booty he won in battle kept the lords and knights satisfied. His religious donations and support for public morality won over the clergy. His protection of commerce and administration of royal law pleased the merchants. His reign was immensely popular. Moreover, though not himself literate, Charlemagne gathered around him the most learned monks from the British Isles, Italy, France, and the Low Countries. He founded schools, patronized art, and presided over a Little Renaissance in the midst of the Dark Ages. Above all, Charlemagne was a pious man who believed himself called to unite the Christians orphaned by the collapse of the Roman Empire and spread the gospel to pagans north and west of Francia. He succeeded in all this to a remarkable degree: indeed, the empire based at his capital of Aix-la-Chapelle coincided remarkably with the boundaries of the original Common Market formed in 1957: France, the Low Countries, West Germany, and northern Italy.
What every pupil used to learn about Charlemagne is that the Pope crowned him Emperor of the West at a Christmas Day mass in the year 800. What few people know is that the year before, in 799, an anonymous court poet bestowed a still grander title. He dubbed Charlemagne “King and Father of Europe.” A continent, a civilization, had been willed into being by one man. Moreover, that self-conscious European idea survived the crackup of Charlemagne’s empire to inspire monarchs, popes, philosophers, conquerors, and at last economists and mere bureaucrats for 1,200 years. The idea had to wait until the spiraling orgy of nationalism spent itself utterly in World War II. But then, indeed in the year 1950, the good burghers of the Rhineland town Germans call Aachen and the French Aix-la-Chapelle, established a prize to be awarded annually to the person who did most to advance European unity. The town fathers named it the Charlemagne Prize after the “King and Father of Europe” who had made their city his capital.
What would Charlemagne make of Europe today? He would marvel, of course, at the wealth and technology. He would praise and bless the ubiquitous peace. He would recognize instantly the Islamic Challenge and tell Europeans it was ten times worse back in his day! Nor, having been a state builder himself, would he likely object to the intrusive EU bureaucracy. Indeed, it is fetching to think Charlemagne would discern in the EU the culmination of the great work he began over a millennium ago, and give glory to God. But three features of Europe today would doubtless grieve and trouble him greatly: military impotence; spiritual emptiness; and demographic decay. How long, the Emperor would surely ask, can a civilization expect to survive without arms, without faith, without children?
That is a question even the plodding Eurocrats will have to address before the twenty-first century gets very old.
Reviewed by this author in The National Interest, Winter 2003. [back]
Robert Kagan, Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order (2003). [back]
Joseph Nye, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (2005). [back]
Kenneth L. Woodward, “An Oxymoron: Europe Without Christianity,” New York Times (op-ed), June 14, 2003. [back]
William I. Hitchcock, The Struggle for Europe (2003), p. 473. [back]
“Minister denies Bush ’Hitler’ slur,” CNN, Sept. 20, 2002. [back]
Dec. 22, 2006 Heritage Foundation Lecture #983. [back]
See Nicholas Eberstadt, “Population and Public Health: Four Unexpected Surprises,” Orbis, Fall 2004. [back]
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