THE QUIET POWER OF EUROPE

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THE QUIET POWER OF EUROPE

 user 2009-11-17 at 10:52:01 am Views: 120
  • #22948

    http://www.newsweek.com/id/220516
    THE QUIET POWER OF EUROPE
    It’s often easy to view Europe as an aging continent in terminal decline. Pundits and politicians lament that the European Union is weak, riven by conflict, and unable to translate its size and wealth into hard power. Or, as British Foreign Minister David Miliband put it last week, “the European whole is less than the sum of its parts.”Yet such charges of drift and decline miss a stark reality. As the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall arrives next week, Europe finds itself more united, prosperous, and secure than at any time in history. EU members have become some of the planet’s most adroit globalizers, opening themselves to the world while keeping in place their extensive social services—Germany alone exports as much as China. The continent has also fared better than expected in the downturn. Europe’s unemployment rate now bests America’s, and France and Germany managed to escape the recession faster than the United States.Things look almost as good on the political front. In the years since communism ended, the EU has doubled in size, and its population will pass 500 million next year. The Union, often decried as dysfunctional, has reached another important milestone: the Lisbon Treaty, a quasi constitution that streamlines decision making, has just been approved by the last of the 27 members. Its passage will curtail the veto that gave even tiny members the ability to block major projects, and will create a new post of EU president, who will be empowered to speak on the Union’s behalf.Thanks to this record, another half dozen countries are pushing to join. Enlargement has become a huge source of soft power as well, a potent weapon for spreading Europe’s influence. Turkey, for example, has enacted a long chain of reforms over the past two decades to improve its candidacy, and Albania, one of Europe’s most backward states, recently announced it would become the world’s first Muslim-majority country to allow gay marriage—just to show Brussels it can meet EU standards on human and civil rights.The EU is even beginning to extend its power beyond its neighborhood. EU countries now have some 100,000 soldiers, 60,000 diplomats, and countless aid workers deployed worldwide. And the cliché that Europeans avoid fighting is wrong: 21 European states have soldiers in Afghanistan, where they’ve suffered a full third of the Coalition’s combat deaths. Europe, in other words—despite its nature as an often bickering club of nations—has already become a global power. True, the EU method—slow, ungainly, and often incremental—may be boring to watch. But that method is working just fine, and its prospects look better than ever.