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Incredible Shrinking Europe

Posted by hkarner - 12. Februar 2019

Date: 12-02-2019
Source: The Wall Street Journal By Walter Russell Mead

The Continent’s grand unity project is failing, and its global influence is fading.

Last week offered fresh evidence that the most consequential historical shift of the last 100 years continues: the decline of Europe as a force in world affairs. As Deutsche Bank warned of a German recession, the European Commission cut the 2019 eurozone growth forecast from an already anemic 1.9% to 1.3%. Economic output in the eurozone was lower in 2017 than it was in 2009; over that same period, gross domestic product grew 139% in China, 96% in India, and 34% in the U.S., according to the World Bank.

As its economy lags behind, Europe is becoming more divided politically. Brexit negotiations have inflamed tempers on both sides of the English Channel; Central European countries like Hungary and Poland are alienated from the West; much of Southern Europe remains bitter about the aftermath of the euro crisis; and anti-EU political parties continue to gain support across the bloc. A recent report from the European Council on Foreign Relations projects that anti-EU parties from the right and left are on course to control enough seats in the next European Parliament that they will be able to disrupt the EU and weaken it further. This wasn’t supposed to happen. The EU was founded to stop Europe’s decline, not reflect it.
As Europe’s founders saw it, two factors contributed to the Continent’s geopolitical decline in the 20th century. One was inevitable: As the technologies of the industrial heartland spread to Asia and the Americas, the wealth gap between Europe and the rest of the world necessarily narrowed. The diffusion of medical innovations—which also often originated in Europe—contributed to population explosions in the rest of the world. Meanwhile Europe, the first continent to industrialize, was the first to experience the decline in birthrates associated with urbanization and affluence.

The second factor in Europe’s decline was internal division and nationalistic animosity. This was the problem the EU’s founders sought to cure. Two world wars left much of Europe impoverished and in ruins. If the Continent could unify under a single set of values and political institutions, future wars could be averted. The unification process began with Franco-German reconciliation after World War II. As the Cold War ended and Germany was reunified, European leaders launched an ambitious program to broaden and deepen transnational cooperation.

The union would expand to the east, securing democracy in the former Warsaw Pact countries. Economic cooperation would deepen with the development of a single market, the establishment of a common currency, and the adoption of common economic policies. Diplomatically, the Europeans would seek a united front in their dealings with the outside world. Building a new Europe that could compete on equal terms with the U.S. and China in the post-Cold War world is Europe’s overarching goal.

It’s become increasingly apparent that this grand project is failing. An uneven and perhaps overambitious expansion weakened rather than strengthened the EU. The euro was both an economic and political failure, and diplomatic unity remains a distant dream.

Neighbors like Russia, Turkey, Israel and the Arab states flout the EU’s wishes at will. European influence in Washington, already declining in the Obama years, has reached a nadir under Donald Trump. Neither Moscow nor Washington showed much regard for Europe’s interests while suspending the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which limits missile deployments in Europe. China takes Japan and India more seriously than it takes the EU, and neither the U.S. nor China has been particularly concerned about what Europeans think as they negotiate bilateral trade arrangements that may redefine the world trade system.

One European initiative did work: the single market. Europe remains formidable as a consumer bloc, and the EU’s ability to regulate the conditions under which foreign companies like Google and Gazprom operate inside its wealthy market is the most important card in its hand.

Leaders in France and Germany remain firmly committed to the European project, but with Britain on the brink of secession, Italy and Poland mutinous and Hungary defiant, the outlook is dimming. If Paris and Berlin could devise a program to reignite European growth, secure its frontiers, and satisfy the nationalist emotions now roiling the bloc, Europe could arrest its decline. So far at least, such an outcome seems unlikely.

Some on the nationalist right in the U.S. welcome Europe’s decline. This is a mistake. A strong Europe, even if it is sometimes cantankerous and disagreeable, is better for the U.S. than a weak Europe that can neither secure its own neighborhood nor contribute to global stability. But the U.S. must deal with the Europe we have, and the Europe we have isn’t doing well.

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