Geopolitical reality tends to change far more slowly than perceptions of it. To take a geophysical analogy: Underlying trends are like plate tectonics, slow to develop but irresistible over time; perceptions are like the weather, sometimes dramatic, often unpredictable and hardly irrelevant, but of lesser impact all the same. Perceptions of Europe have shifted markedly in just the past few years. Where once stood an attractive post-nationalist model of peace, prosperity, social justice and ecological virtue now stumbles a larger but seemingly aimless and far more ungainly project. Europe today seems apathetic about its achievements, confused about its future and largely ignored by those not directly affected by it. Thanks to the financial crisis and its meandering aftermath, Europe’s problems and limits seem lately to have accumulated into a genuine crisis. To understand how read Walter Russell Mead brilliant April 27 post on the economic origins of the “Greek” dimension of the crisis.
But is it really a major crisis we hear thundering toward us, or just the cacophony of nervous nellies? Is the promise of the once-vaunted European model now revealed as just a passing breeze, or is it our current dour attitudes that will dissipate once the economy stabilizes? The American Interest put the question to eight observers, four European and four American, for our July/August issue.
Is Europe becoming interesting again? A few years ago, in the eyes of some Americans at least, it was basking in a comfortable yet boring “paradise”, having abandoned national sovereignties in favor of supranational institutions and left security to the protection of martial American power against a dangerous world. Today it looks to be on the verge of collapse, torn by acrimonious divisions both among its member states and within those states’ respective societies. It lives under the shadow of an economic crisis born in the United States and, like the latter, is dominated by the twin fears of bankruptcy and unemployment, as well as those born of Asian commercial competition and the dilemmas of economically necessary but politically corrosive immigration.
Both visions of Europe—one idyllic and one implosive—contain a piece of truth and a piece of myth. To see which is which and why requires distinguishing between European projects and ambitions, on the one hand, and the real situation of European countries on the other. Then the implications for America may become clear as well.
Two rival European grand designs, that of Jean Monnet and that of Charles de Gaulle, have battled for decades. As Monnet’s United States of Europe strove with de Gaulle’s United Europe of States, most onlookers presumed that one or the other of these designs would win...