Europe Begins to Rise Early: With the Germans Leading the Way

By Brittan, Samuel | The International Economy, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Europe Begins to Rise Early: With the Germans Leading the Way


Brittan, Samuel, The International Economy


Pessimism about Europe is fashionable among foreign policy circles in the United States. The West as a whole is certain to decline in relative economic strength--and quite likely in relative military power as well--as the twenty-first century wears on. This follows from the vast population preponderance of China and India. What requires explanation is why the trend has taken so long to develop. Napoleon partially foresaw this turn of events when he speculated about what would happen when that "sleeping giant, China," woke up.

Yet there is more to say. The vibrancy of a civilization does not depend just on aggregate economic or military strength. There can be flourishing city states which do not aspire to empire or worldwide influence. But it is this kind of vibrancy that some observers assert is missing--more so in Europe than in North America. For instance, a noted American historian of German extraction, Walter Laqueur, has recently produced a widely noted book, The Last Days of Europe: Epitaph for an Old Continent (Thomas Dunne Books), where he canvasses the possibility that "Europe, or at any rate considerable parts of it, will turn into a cultural theme park, a kind of Disneyland of a certain sophistication for well-to-do visitors from China or India, something like Brugge, Venice, Versailles, Stratford-upon-Avon or Rothenburg ob der Tauber on a larger scale."

He parades all the usual suspects: a low birth rate, insufficient to maintain the indigenous population; difficulties in assimilating migrants; and the troubles of an overblown welfare state, increasingly difficult to afford with an aging population. In the end, he bases his pessimism on the difficulties of absorbing an ever-growing Muslim element into the population. He is careful to avoid crude anti-Islamic polemics. Indeed, he goes to great trouble to analyze the many different trends among European Muslims. He focuses particularly on the alienation of second-and third-generation young citizens who are not deeply attached either to their own religion or to their host countries, but who tend to form gangs combining the worst elements of their own traditions with the worst of European pop ("hip-hop") culture.

He is unclear whether European political integration is a sad failure or a misplaced utopian project. But it is difficult to disagree that the venture is faltering. At the time of writing, new French president Nicolas Sarkozy has just succeeded in deleting the competition element in the preamble to a new (or rather revived old) European treaty. The end result has been a dog's breakfast in which all sides from the open market British to the mercantilist French claim to have introduced tasty morsels. If the treaty is ever ratified, its meaning will have to be decided by the European Court which has a record of supporting federalist interpretations. In any case, the episode is bound to leave a legacy of rancor and bitterness.

The unseemly fracas should also have shattered any illusions about Monsieur Sarkozy as a neoliberal reformer--not that anyone who studied his record should have had any illusions. If he is a reformer, it is in the spirit of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV's highly mercantilist principal minister who devoted himself to protecting French business and trying to "pick winners" among industries and trades. The new French president's distance from any any kind of liberalism was revealed in his election pitch as the spokesman for "the France that wants to get up early in the morning." This is every bit as authoritarian as his left-wing and center predecessors who tried to slash working hours under the mistaken belief the lump of labor fallacy--that this was the way to create jobs. The really revolutionary European leader will be the one who first asserts that working hours are for workers and employers to decide for themselves on a case-by-case basis.

The cost of Sarkozy's budgetary "reforms" such as the tax subsidies for housing loans and overtime has been estimated by Morgan Stanley as costing 11 billion [euro] or adding 0. …

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