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View Full Version : Europeans! How much of this article on the EU is accurate?


Volcana
Nov 17th, 2004, 03:07 AM
http://www.truthout.org/docs_04/111604F.shtml

Welcome to the New Cold War
By Andrew O'Hehir
Salon.com


Monday 15 November 2004 It's Chirac vs. Cheney, SUVs vs. minicars, and pommes frites vs. freedom fries in the new transatlantic culture war. But here's what you don't know: In the global conflict for moral and economic supremacy, Europe is winning.

A specter is haunting America, and it ain't the specter of communism (however much George W. Bush and company might like to describe it that way). Barely a decade after the definitive collapse of the Soviet bloc, the United States finds itself in a new cold war, one being fought simultaneously on economic, political and cultural fronts, and one it is by no means certain to win. The unipolar world of uncontested American hegemony that we were told to expect into the indefinite future has come to an end; it lasted just about long enough for us to scratch our heads and wonder what was happening next.

Yes, "Old Europe," to borrow Donald Rumsfeld's famous quip, is back, and it's looking pretty spry for its age. As Americans are finally beginning to notice, Europeans (or most of them, anyway) have reconstituted themselves into an enormous transnational superstate of 25 nations, 455 million people and an $11 trillion economy. This is, of course, the European Union, and its aims have become much broader and deeper than the stuff you've probably heard about, like allowing citizens to drive from Seville to Sicily without a passport, or to use the same anonymous-looking currency to buy a pint of Guinness in Cork and a glass of ouzo in Crete.

American heavyweights like Alan Greenspan and Henry Kissinger, by the way, publicly predicted that the euro, now the common currency of 12 European countries (with many more to follow), would never work. This week the euro is trading at an all-time high of about $1.30 against an ever weaker Bush-economy dollar. Other confident-sounding things that you hear Americans say about the EU - that it's plagued by a sclerotic bureaucracy, that it squelches entrepreneurship and initiative with over regulation, that its cradle-to-grave welfare states are dragging down its economy - should be viewed with similar skepticism.

It might sound alarmist to use a freighted term like "cold war" to describe our relationship with an entity whose raison d'être is to avoid all war and resolve all conflict. The political leaders of the European Union are certainly willing to be partners with the United States, and potentially to be friends as well. (Realpolitik dictates that both sides will continue to insist that the relationship is warm even when, as now, it is anything but.) But elites on both sides of the pond now know what the stakes are, and they are also willing to be competitors, even fierce rivals. If the original idea behind a united Europe was to redeem the old continent from poverty, devastation and centuries of self-destructive warfare, more recently the goal has been to build a "good superpower," one that stands as an economic and ideological counterweight to the American colossus.

Once you grasp that this transatlantic cold war is not only happening but rapidly intensifying - as Jeremy Rifkin and T.R. Reid, the authors of two almost simultaneous books on the European conundrum, agree - you see the major news events of the last year or two in a different light. Both the Iraq war and this year's presidential election, for instance, start to look like key symbolic episodes in the U.S.-Europe conflict.

What was the contest between Bush and John Kerry, after all, if not a ***** war between pommes frites and freedom fries, a referendum on Europe conducted among the American electorate? Kerry, we were told, spoke French and "looked French." These gibes might have played as humor on Fox News, but they were in deadly earnest.

The French, of course, sank Bush's hopes for a truly international coalition against Iraq and became the American right's chosen exemplar of global treachery and cowardice. (Frenchness, you might say, is the new communism.) The French are also the principal architects of the European Union - suddenly, clearly, our greatest rival for economic and moral supremacy in the world - and if Karl Rove and Karen Hughes weren't thinking about that consciously, the thought wasn't far below the surface.

Kerry was an internationalist and a secularist (at least by American standards) running against a man who wrapped himself in the flag and was guided by divine inspiration. Bush didn't just run as an American; he pretty much ran as America, which Rifkin calls a nation "living in two seemingly contradictory realms at the same time," those being the evangelical Protestant faith in salvation and the rationalist drive to accumulate wealth and build industry. That cast Kerry in the role of Europe - intellectual and irreligious, faintly stained by the ghosts of socialism and Catholicism, with a belief in universal human rights and negotiated solutions, but not much in the way of a transformative spiritual vision.

That might be all anyone needs to know about how close the election was, or how it turned out. There is a large class of people in this country who are sympathetic to the "European dream" of a managed market economy in which cooperation is emphasized over competition, leisure is privileged over work, and the social costs of capitalism are closely regulated - and you know who you are, gentle readers. But to most Americans "freedom" still means untrammeled private-property rights, open markets, workaholism and the belief that somehow we'll all die rich.

Going back 18 months, one of the strategic considerations driving the Bush administration's 2003 invasion of Iraq was surely the opportunity it presented to drive a wedge between pro- and anti-American politicians in Europe. By peeling away Britain's Tony Blair, Spain's José Maria Aznar and Italy's Silvio Berlusconi from the antiwar EU consensus, the Bushies may have hoped to disrupt the idea of a Europe that spoke with one voice on foreign policy and military action (an expressed EU goal) for a generation to come.

As Reid, a longtime Washington Post correspondent, discusses in his book "The United States of Europe," the strategy seemed to work, at least at first. Those three prime ministers agreed to go along with the American war, and various other European leaders hemmed and hawed, trying somehow to split the difference between the Bush-Blair position and the vehement antiwar stance of French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

But then surprising things started to happen. When it came time to twist arms on the U.N. Security Council over the vote to authorize military action, the Americans were outfoxed. Most of the poorer nations on the council received substantial foreign aid from Europe - the EU gives almost three times as much aid to developing countries as the U.S. does - and proved more amenable to lobbying from the French and Germans than from the British and Americans. Bush and Blair needed nine votes and could never get more than four; at least in that limited arena, Reid writes, "Europe's political clout proved stronger than American military might."

Furthermore, the Iraq war became a galvanizing and radicalizing event for an entire generation of younger Europeans and, in Reid's judgment, led them to see themselves as Europeans, above and beyond their national identities. While the European political elites dithered in the spring of 2003, the European people streamed into the streets by the millions, in a nearly unanimous rejection of the Iraq war in particular and the interventionist Bush foreign policy agenda in general. (And, for good measure, what most Europeans perceive as America's promiscuously wasteful culture of burgers, SUVs and obesity.) Opinion polls revealed an explosion of anti-American sentiment, even in nations like Britain, Italy and Poland that remained officially within the "coalition of the willing." In several European countries, the United States is viewed as more dangerous to world peace than Iran and North Korea, and George W. Bush may be even less popular in Scandinavia, for example, than he is in the Arab world.

These young Europeans, Reid believes, now have a sense of their own political and economic power, and they have built a pan-continental "Euroculture" that borrows what it likes from American pop culture but now stands independent of it. "For many Europeans today," he writes, "the familiar concept of 'the West,' the transatlantic alliance with shared values and common enemies, is a relic of the last century." In this century, their goal is to challenge the American claim to global supremacy, at least in moral and political terms.

Indeed, what struck me on a recent visit to Germany is how un-American Europe still feels, despite all the stories we hear to the contrary. Sure, you can eat at Pizza Hut or shop at Wal-Mart in Hamburg, and teenagers affect last year's hip-hop fashions and wear Yankee caps. (Sorry, Boston - your triumph has not penetrated the Old World.) But those things, removed from their original context, have become, like Madonna or David Beckham, floating signifiers of a global culture that transcends nationality. The organic rhythms of the place feel nothing like the fevered consumption overdrive of American cities and suburbs: Bars and cafes remain busy long past midnight seven nights a week, but if there's any place in Hamburg where you can buy groceries or children's toys or paperback books after lunchtime on Saturday, I didn't find it.

"Europe's time is almost here," Reid quotes current EU President Romano Prodi as saying. "In fact, there are many areas of world affairs where the objective conclusion would have to be that Europe is already the superpower, and the United States must follow our lead." It's stuff like that that has Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and the rest of the neoconservative cohort gnawing on the executive branch's fine European furniture late at night. They're smart enough to know that Prodi has a point - even if they'd scoff at him in public - and there isn't much they can do about it.

After adding 10 new Eastern and Central European nations last May, the European Union now has a much larger population than the United States, and a slightly bigger economy. As Jeremy Rifkin argues in his dense and contentious new research-driven tome "The European Dream," the United States remains ahead in per-capita GDP, but the difference is not as significant as it looks.

Much of American "productivity," Rifkin suggests, is accounted for by economic activity that might be better described as wasteful: military spending; the endlessly expanding police and prison bureaucracies; the spiraling cost of healthcare; suburban sprawl; the fast-food industry and its inevitable corollary, the weight-loss craze. Meaningful comparisons of living standards, he says, consistently favor the Europeans. In France, for instance, the work week is 35 hours and most employees take 10 to 12 weeks off every year, factors that clearly depress GDP. Yet it takes a John Locke heart of stone to say that France is worse off as a nation for all that time people spend in the countryside downing du vin rouge et du Camembert with friends and family.

"The European Dream" is the richer of the two books, as Rifkin - the author of such previous big-idea volumes as "The End of Work" and "The Biotech Century" - mines deep lodes of history and sociology in search of the origins of the cross-pond cold war. But if you just want a reader-friendly survey of how the European Union was born (out of a modest Franco-German coal and steel accord after World War II), how it grew into the titan we see today, and what it's really like, Reid's personable "United States of Europe" is the better choice.

To the question of what the European Union actually is, neither author offers more than a conditional answer, largely because Europeans aren't quite sure themselves. I called the EU a "superstate" earlier, but it isn't a nation-state in conventional terms. It doesn't physically control any territory, it has no authority to tax its citizens, and it has only very limited police powers. It does, however, have an elected legislature and an executive branch, a court system and a central bank, all of which can override the laws of its 25 member nations. (It also now has its own military, the 60,000-strong European Rapid Reaction Force, or "EuroArmy," a development that led to much gnashing of teeth in Washington.)

At least some of this ambiguity is intentional; the EU looks different depending on who's looking. To the Euro-enthusiasts of France, Germany and the Low Countries, the EU is a grand federal state capable of transcending age-old problems of nationalism and sovereignty. To more standoffish nations like Britain and Sweden (neither of which has adopted the euro), it's a loose confederation of countries that remain largely autonomous. Rifkin calls it "the first really post-modern governing institution," amplifying that at another point to "the first post-territorial governing region in a network-linked global economy." (Much as I enjoyed his excursions through the historical and philosophical framework of the U.S.-EU clash, his tendency to wax lyrical with business-school buzzwords made me want to check whether I still had my wallet.)

If the EU has no intention of confronting America's military supremacy, that, Rifkin and Reid would agree, is actually Europe's ace in the hole. Let the Americans pour endless billions in taxpayer dollars down the Pentagon's money sink, the Europeans reason. As they see it, the key to future peace and prosperity lies elsewhere, in constructing complex webs of social interaction and economic cooperation that will undermine nationalism and fundamentalism of all stripes. While the United States foots the bill for the intractable conflict in Iraq and piles up huge budget and trade deficits, Europe has spent money on other priorities.

Whatever your intellectual and emotional responses may be to this burgeoning transatlantic conflict, it's difficult for any American to read Rifkin's book and not feel ashamed. The U.S. has fallen significantly behind the EU's Western European nations in infant mortality and life expectancy, despite spending more on healthcare per capita than any of them. (While 40 million Americans are uninsured, no one in Europe - I repeat, not a single person - lacks some form of healthcare coverage.)

European children are consistently better educated; the United States would rank ninth in the EU in reading, ninth in scientific literacy, and 13th in math. Twenty-two percent of American children grow up in poverty, which means that our country ranks 22nd out of the 23 industrialized nations, ahead of only Mexico and behind all 15 of the pre-2004 EU countries. What's more horrifying: the statistic itself or the fact that no American politician to the right of Dennis Kucinich would ever address it?

Perhaps more surprisingly, European business has not been strangled by the EU welfare state; in fact, quite the opposite is true. Europe has surpassed the United States in several high-tech and financial sectors, including wireless technology, grid computing and the insurance industry. The EU has a higher proportion of small businesses than the U.S., and their success rate is higher. American capitalists have begun to pay attention to all this. In Reid's book, Ford Motor Co. chairman Bill Ford explains that the company's Volvo subsidiary is more profitable than its U.S. manufacturing operation, even though wages and benefits are significantly higher in Sweden. Government-subsidized healthcare, child care, pensions and other social supports, Ford says, more than make up for the difference.

The new EU constitution, currently being considered by the member states, is an unwieldy, jargon-laden document that runs to 265 pages in English (and even more in Spanish and French). It should also serve as an inspiration to progressives around the world. It bars capital punishment in all 25 nations and defines such things as universal healthcare, child care, paid annual leave, parental leave, housing for the poor, and equal treatment for gays and lesbians as fundamental human rights. Most of these are still hotly contested questions in the United States; as Rifkin says, this document all by itself makes the European Union the world leader in the human rights debate. It is the first governing document that aspires to universality, "with rights and responsibilities that encompass the totality of human existence on Earth."

While Rifkin and Reid are unabashed Euro-boosters, both would urge Kerry voters rendered starry-eyed by the EU dream to ponder long and hard before pleading for asylum at the nearest consulate or scouring your family tree for relevant European ancestry. (Speaking as a dual-passport holder myself, I'm sticking it out - at least for now.) For all the grandeur of its new vision, Europe still has relatively high unemployment and relatively sluggish economic growth. The continent faces major structural problems, most notably a declining birth rate and a long-standing hostility to immigration, which has led to a population that is aging much faster than America's. While the European welfare state is certain to remain generous by American standards, significant renegotiation of rights and benefits will be necessary unless this demographic time bomb can somehow be defused.

Despite its deepening inequality, the United States remains to a large extent a more dynamic and less class-bound society, and it still offers individuals that opportunity for constant reinvention that lies at the heart of our national dream. Rifkin in particular believes that the new cold war with Europe will be good for America in the long run and may help rejuvenate the American left (even if the next four years are likely to get pretty ugly). Americans may need to be taught, by example, that unfettered corporate capitalism, regressive taxation and a bare-minimum social safety net are not the only way to guarantee prosperity - and perhaps that our definition of what constitutes prosperity could stand some scrutiny.

While America has been gnawing on its own innards for the last decade or so, feuding internally over White House blow jobs, flawed elections, the threat of terrorism, the ill-fated war in Iraq and an angrily polarized public discourse, Europe has quietly been cohering into an impressive whole, the world's newest superpower. For all its layers of bureaucracy and all the challenges it faces, the EU has forged a harmonious society on a continent that spent most of history at war with itself.

The rise of the European Union may in fact, as Rifkin says, represent a new phase of history, and we barely saw it coming. While the outcome of this new cold war between Europe and America is far from clear, we should feel humbled by the way it's gone so far. The EU has succeeded so dramatically in its ambitious goals that the utopian dreamers of the last century who dared to imagine a peaceful, prosperous, united Europe seem eerily prescient now. If nothing else, it's an object lesson in the power of vision. "I am a democrat," James Joyce wrote in 1916, while an entire generation of Europe's young men were slaughtering each other in the fields of Flanders. "I'll work and act for the social liberty and equality among all classes and sexes in the United States of the Europe of the future." People read that and laughed bitterly. Europe seemed poisoned by mustard gas and history; America was the land of liberty, democracy and the future. Nobody's laughing now.

GoDominique
Nov 17th, 2004, 03:25 AM
Bars and cafes remain busy long past midnight seven nights a week, but if there's any place in Hamburg where you can buy groceries or children's toys or paperback books after lunchtime on Saturday, I didn't find it.
I didn't read all of it but this part proves that the author is either blind or has NOT been in Hamburg on a Saturday. :o

kiwifan
Nov 17th, 2004, 03:43 AM
I wasn't aware the US was trying to compete with Europe. :lol:

Sounds like some democrat self righteous fantasy. :tape:

Poor, poor Volcana. :sad:

Despite your sour grapes Euros and Yanks are going to be buddies long after the oil in the Middle East is a distant memory. :angel:

Volcana
Nov 17th, 2004, 04:05 AM
I didn't read all of it but this part proves that the author is either blind or has NOT been in Hamburg on a Saturday. :oThat is the part that made wonder. I'm froma military family and have/had family stationed in Germany. They certainly didn't mention anything like that.

Is the fact-based stuff seemingly accurate?

The U.S. has fallen significantly behind the EU's Western European nations in infant mortality and life expectancy, despite spending more on healthcare per capita than any of them. (While 40 million Americans are uninsured, no one in Europe - I repeat, not a single person - lacks some form of healthcare coverage.)

European children are consistently better educated; the United States would rank ninth in the EU in reading, ninth in scientific literacy, and 13th in math. Twenty-two percent of American children grow up in poverty, which means that our country ranks 22nd out of the 23 industrialized nations, ahead of only Mexico and behind all 15 of the pre-2004 EU countries. What's more horrifying: the statistic itself or the fact that no American politician to the right of Dennis Kucinich would ever address it?

Perhaps more surprisingly, European business has not been strangled by the EU welfare state; in fact, quite the opposite is true. Europe has surpassed the United States in several high-tech and financial sectors, including wireless technology, grid computing and the insurance industry. The EU has a higher proportion of small businesses than the U.S., and their success rate is higher. American capitalists have begun to pay attention to all this. In Reid's book, Ford Motor Co. chairman Bill Ford explains that the company's Volvo subsidiary is more profitable than its U.S. manufacturing operation, even though wages and benefits are significantly higher in Sweden. Government-subsidized healthcare, child care, pensions and other social supports, Ford says, more than make up for the difference.
BTW, secularism in some parts of Europe, as reported by US media, seems to border on repression, at least if you're not Christian. BUt the sources are what they are.

rand
Nov 17th, 2004, 08:12 AM
I'm sorry to say, but having only read parts of the article, I don't get the point...of course on some points, like education and welfare europe scores better, but would have that ever been different with democrats in power? no, for a simple reason: the differences pointed out in the aricle are mainly simple consequences of the divergences in philosophy between euros and americans....like I always say in this situation: just read "the meeting of east and west" by Prof Northrop of Yale....you'll see that none is better than the other...just two flips of a coin...
you choose freedom above security(in a broad sense, not a military one), then you get the US, you choose security above freedom, you get europe...

Try to think about the fight club analogy I pointed out last week :lol:

Halardfan
Nov 17th, 2004, 10:42 AM
I think there are turbulent times ahead for the EU...the constitution mentioned in the piece still has to be ratified my the member states an Im certain that the UK for one won't do it...which is a great reason for regret. Of course they may chose to go on without us...


Oddly enough, I think America's direction will shape the new Europe...if come 2008 America is sick and tired of the aggressive foreign policy and christian fundementalism, and goes Democrat, then relations between the US and EU will improve...there will be a sigh of relief all round, things will settle down.

If as some fear, a new far-right age has dawned in America, then relations will get worse...they SHOULD get worse. The need for a progressive, stronger Europe will be all the greater.

Britian is left in a bizarre position, instinctively more Pro-American than European, but horrofied by GW and all his works. Should Bush chose a more aggressive stance with Iran for example, even Britain will not follow, Blair would be finished if he did. America will be truly alone. Ok, except for Israel.

Andy_
Nov 17th, 2004, 11:59 AM
First of all, volcana, thanks for posting an interesting read. It's quite good to get an idea how we're seen from the other shore of the Atlantic.
I have to say that a few elements in this article have struck me for a number of reasons...

http://www.truthout.org/docs_04/111604F.shtml

Europeans (or most of them, anyway) have reconstituted themselves into an enormous transnational superstate of 25 nations, 455 million people and an $11 trillion economy. This is, of course, the European Union, and its aims have become much broader and deeper than the stuff you've probably heard about, like allowing citizens to drive from Seville to Sicily without a passport, or to use the same anonymous-looking currency to buy a pint of Guinness in Cork and a glass of ouzo in Crete.

So far this reconstitution as a superstate is pretty much formal, I must say. Things have indeed changed, and it's kinda cool to cross the same borders where once upon a time you'd have to form a queue and have your ID checked as easily as if you were just getting across the street you live in. And having just one currency that you can use all over the EU is definitely convenient... I still remember vividly the first time I could use euros to pay the crêpe I used to pay in francs, the sangría I would once pay in pesetas, the gingerbread biscuits I once bought with Finnish marks... Aside from these little changes, we Europeans are still pretty far from feeling European, like 'part of a union of Nations'... (btw, I don't think our currency is that anonymous... at least we thought we'd use a variety of colors, instead of an all-green thing ;) )


Indeed, what struck me on a recent visit to Germany is how un-American Europe still feels, despite all the stories we hear to the contrary. Sure, you can eat at Pizza Hut or shop at Wal-Mart in Hamburg, and teenagers affect last year's hip-hop fashions and wear Yankee caps. (Sorry, Boston - your triumph has not penetrated the Old World.) But those things, removed from their original context, have become, like Madonna or David Beckham, floating signifiers of a global culture that transcends nationality. The organic rhythms of the place feel nothing like the fevered consumption overdrive of American cities and suburbs: Bars and cafes remain busy long past midnight seven nights a week, but if there's any place in Hamburg where you can buy groceries or children's toys or paperback books after lunchtime on Saturday, I didn't find it.
I can't quite talk about Germany... yet I've recently been to Poland, which I had last visited back in 1992, as the country was beginning its new life after the fall of Berlin Wall at the end of 1989. I was impressed by the changes and I did find those 'US' milestones like Pizza Hut and KFC, not to mention the existence of little cafés that only miss the 'Starbucks' sign, but their frappuccino brought me back to NY with the first scoop of whipped cream...
But what this journalist says is true: Europe still feels 'un-American'... or better: it just feels like Europe! And why should it be different? Why should Europe give up on its own characteristics, traditions, heritage, history... to be more American? I love the US, and their feel... but I like Europe, and its own feel, too! My Polish pics followed, on my film, my latest NY shots... the change was obviously impressive, yet I really liked the fact that anyone could say which was which. As for the grocery shopping... again, I can't talk about Germany, but at least in Italy you can do that on a Saturday afternoon, and often EVEN on a Sunday :eek: ;)


The new EU constitution, currently being considered by the member states, is an unwieldy, jargon-laden document that runs to 265 pages in English (and even more in Spanish and French). It should also serve as an inspiration to progressives around the world. It bars capital punishment in all 25 nations and defines such things as universal healthcare, child care, paid annual leave, parental leave, housing for the poor, and equal treatment for gays and lesbians as fundamental human rights. Most of these are still hotly contested questions in the United States; as Rifkin says, this document all by itself makes the European Union the world leader in the human rights debate. It is the first governing document that aspires to universality, "with rights and responsibilities that encompass the totality of human existence on Earth."
As someone already pointed out, this Constitution still needs to be ratified by the State members... it is true apparently that a remarkable importance has been given to preserving the rights of everyone, and that especially the minorities often subjected to discrimination are explicitly mentioned in the very first pages of the document. I still wonder how deeply this Constitution is going to affect each State's own laws, and how certain countries will react to the general indications, how they will be included in the national realities.

On the whole, though, I think the use of 'cold war' to describe the Europe-USA relationship atm is quite too much...

fifiricci
Nov 17th, 2004, 01:17 PM
I both like this article and think it is pretty accurate, but then I would wouldn't I, being at the moment both Pro Europe and Anti USA!