|I HAVE TO TELL YOU ABOUT a conversation I had on the plane flying up from Washington. The man sitting next to me was a pilot, an air safety analyst, and a tai chi fan, and he was coming up to look at Emerson College for his daughter. He asked why I was coming to Boston, and I said I was going to give a talk at Simmons College.|
What are you going to say? he asked me so I told him: Europeans, after centuries of fighting each other, have now enjoyed their longest period of peace in history. There has been a chain reaction of reconciliation, following that original French-German reconciliation after World War II, with German-Polish, Polish-Ukrainian, Romanian-Hungarian, and Bulgarian-Macedonian reconciliation. And the Europeans have decided that in an age of globalization, cooperation makes a lot more sense than the old balance of power.
Hey, he said, impressed; what a great time to be alive! My thesis is quite simple and, it seems, oddly, quite radical. Its this: Something extraordinary is happening in Europe. But we have missed seeing the forest for the trees. We have asked the wrong questions and gotten sometimes wrong, sometimes irrelevant answers.
As evidence of this, some eighty per cent of governmental economic decisions are now made in Brussels rather than in the capitals of EU member states. Meetings average once a week in Brussels or elsewhere for foreign-ministry political directors. Stacks of detailed coreux (European correspondence) arrive in civil servants in-boxes each day that have to be answered within twenty-four hours, stating Germanys or Frances or Luxembourgs position on this, that or the other thing. European courts without any enforcement body of their own have greatly expanded their own competence and have had the competence accepted by sovereign nations in a process reminiscent of the U.S. Supreme Courts invocation of the Interstate Commerce clause.
Im talking, of course, about core Europe. Im not talking about the Caucasus. Im not talking about the Balkans although I do entertain the hope that with the end of the worst bloodletting in ex-Yugoslavia, the vicious circle of murder, rape, and hatreds can be broken. There is a possibility, at least, of slowly integrating Croatia, Bosnia, and Montenegro, and maybe eventually even Serbia into the European family.
What do I mean by core Europe? Its fuzzy, but expanding. It starts with European Union-Europe (plus Norway and Switzerland). In the decade since the end of the cold war, core Europe is already adding Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, and Estonia to the list. Since the Helsinki summit of last December, it is committed as well to admit the other Central and Southeastern European countries, and eventually even Turkey.
Clearly, this core Europe has enormous problems. Some turn into crisis, and a lot of them turned into crises together in the wretched three years after the Maastricht Treaty was signed. But crisis itself has become a tool in EU development. And one cant view the crises in isolation but has to see them in the context of the multiple miracles of European development in the decade since the end of the cold war.
To name the most conspicuous among them:
How did the Germans, no-risk conservatives incarnate, come to be the agitators for the biggest change in Europe in half a century (or in three centuries, if you take the Peace of Westphalia as the measure)?
How has a style of consensus come to mean, not the lowest common denominator, but rather benchmarks that pull the sluggards up?
How was such anticipatory convergence achieved?
How did the EU, despite Henry Kissingers gloomy predictions, help Spain and Portugal to transform themselves from autocratic to democratic rule?
How did Irelands alternative orientation to London, gained through the European Community, help the country mature economically and politically and develop the self-confidence (whatever the problems today) to enter into the Good Friday peace agreement?
How did chaotic Italy discipline itself over five years to halve its inflation rate and budget deficit and qualify to be a founding member of European Monetary Union?
What made Hungary, with the largest per capita number of ethnic compatriots outside its borders, nonetheless reject irredentism?
Why has anticipatory convergence proved to be so powerful that the new democracies of Central Europe are striving to meet the strict conditions for membership in the Wests two premier clubs of the EU and NATO?
What made the Germans so convinced that widening and deepening of the EUthat is, both enlargement to take in new members and a strengthening of the cooperative elements within the EUwere not only compatible but complementary?
And how did Chancellor Kohl dare to open Germanys borders to Poland in 1990, immediately after German unification, and pull this off without controversy, despite traditional anti-Polish prejudice in Germany, as if it were the most natural thing in the world?
The riddles continue: How did the EU pull itself together after Eurosclerosis? How did the inertia of inertnesswhen nothing could moveturn into the inertia of momentum, with some parts moving even as other parts got stuck and eventually rolling the stuck parts over too? How does this camel of an EUwith a relatively small bureaucracy no larger than the administration of the city of Cologne, and with a budget under 1.27 percent of European GDP and without much discretionary authority to allocate thatfunction? How do political directors in foreign ministries ever have time to see their families or to enjoy the frequent flyer miles they rack up?
And a derivative question for the United States: Why is there such American myopia about Europe? Why does the nation that invented soft power not recognize the strength of it in the way Europe operates? And why dont we, in the words of my seat mate, think, Hey, what a great time to be alive!?