Monday, 20 December 2004

European Union Again

Professor Bainbridge has a lengthy post where he dissects the EU triumphalists. I went into this at some length the other day and won’t do so again.

What I will do is note that I agree with Professor Bainbridge—we referenced the same Economist article for Europe’s median age problem—though I don’t find the EU quite as bothersome as he seems to. The EU is a declining power for the time being and will continue that way just due to demographics. Even if they were economically ascendant, I wouldn’t find it all that troublesome since economics isn’t zero-sum (they would have to undo their labor market rigidities and limit their fiscal burdensand would still have a hard time growing as fast as the U.S. in the coming decades). On foreign policy, they won’t spend what’s necessary to build a military so there’s no threat there. The only problem I’m aware of is their recent decision to start selling weapons to China. More than a little troubling ($).

You know that the EU ascendancy meme has jumped the shark—along with that phrase—though when Jeremy Rifkin and others start getting worked up over it ($):

Eurocrats are understandably flattered by this unusual American praise for the grand European project; Mr Rifkin’s book has gone down well in Brussels. But the mood of real “builders of Europe” is often decidedly more pessimistic. This week European leaders are likely to take a big step towards admitting Turkey to the EU, a decision about which many of them have deep misgivings. Mr Reid’s argument that there is an inexorable historical logic driving forward European unity is often made by Brussels federalists too. But these same people are also well aware of the fragility of a process of political integration that has very shallow popular support.

Then there is the economy. Europe’s economic growth continues to lag that of the United States, let alone China and India. And Europe’s population is ageing and shrinking. Two-thirds of the way into his book, Mr Rifkin interrupts his dream to note that “the sad truth is that without a massive increase in non-EU immigration in the next several decades, Europe is likely to wither and die.” This looks like a fairly big qualification to the book’s general mood of sunny optimism. But no matter: within a few pages we are back to the “politics of empathy”.

Awareness of the depth of the political and economic challenges that lie ahead accounts for the fact that many European officials are more inclined to troubled pessimism than to Rifkinesque optimism. This European willingness to be self-critical is, as it happens, a genuine strength. Unfortunately, there is a lot to be self-critical about.

When Rifkin starts pimping an idea, you know it’s time to write it off.

(þ: The Professor)