The Golden Moment; as the EU Celebrates Its 50th Birthday, Critics Say It Has One Foot in the Grave. but Many Countries Now Look There, Not to America, as a Model

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Byline: Andrew Moravcsik (Moravcsik is director of the European Union Program at Princeton University.)

American Alone. While Europe Slept. Menace in Europe. As the European Union celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding Treaty of Rome, the pundits agree: Europe is in terminal decline. It is a continental-size museum dropping into the dustbin of history.

That picture is especially popular in America. As U.S. skeptics tell it, the Old World (save for Britain, naturally) is finished. Economies are stagnant. Technological and entrepreneurial energy have passed to Silicon Valley and Bangalore. Politicians are powerless in the face of sclerotic social-welfare systems, coddled work forces and entrenched special interests.

Demographic decline is upon them. Immigration only exacerbates social problems. European foreign policy is anemic. "Europeans are from Venus, Americans from Mars," said Robert Kagan, referring to Europe's lack of military might. Europe, he went on to say, can muster neither the unity nor resolve to stand alongside America on the world's stage. The latest sign: spats over new U.S. missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Europe cannot save itself, critics argue, because it has lost any idea what it stands for. The EU recently spent a half decade trying to draft a new constitution, only to see it rejected by discontented Dutch and French voters seemingly fed up with too much "Europe." An anti-Muslim, neonationalist backlash is almost inevitable as Europe fails to integrate its rapidly growing minority populations, warn American conservatives like columnist Mark Steyn, who predicts Europeans will soon wake up "to the call to prayer from a muezzin." The bottom line: Europe is lost.

To most who live in Europe--or have visited lately--all this 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.

ECONOMIC REALPOLITIK Begin with the biggest--that Europe is bogged down in a cycle of slow growth and mounting, ultimately unsustainable, social costs.

It's true that the past half decade has been difficult for some of Europe's largest economies. The trillion-dollar cost of unification has kept Germany from playing locomotive to the rest of Europe. France and Italy have lagged as well. And yet, Britain is booming, as are the Nordic nations. Among the new EU members of Eastern Europe, average growth of 5 percent exceeds that of the United States. Slovakia, Estonia and Latvia are all growing at 10 percent or more annually.

Critics routinely claim that high European wages and social-welfare benefits stall job creation, and that Europeans "resist reform." In fact, there's no evidence for this. …