Gerard Baker, US editor of the Times of London, takes a look at what is happening in Europe right now. Is it a rebirth, a renewal or the last twitch of a corpse just before rigor mortis sets in?
If you've heard the celebratory noises coming out of European capitals of late, you could be forgiven for thinking that, as with Mark Twain's prematurely recorded demise, reports of Europe's death may have been greatly exaggerated. For a continent in the supposed grip of demographic implosion, economic stagnation, political paralysis and existential anomie, the news has been oddly cheerful recently.
In the past year, the rate of economic growth in the eurozone has actually overtaken that of the U.S. The market capitalization of companies quoted on European stock exchanges has surpassed American corporate worth for the first time ever. London has edged ahead of New York in most categories as global financial capital. The euro, closely watched in Europe as a barometer of continental self-respect, is close to its highest level ever against the dollar……
…….Is it possible, then, that the writers who have spent the past few years predicting Europe's collapse could be wrong? The short answer is: no. Even a corpse has been known to twitch once or twice before the rigor mortis sets in. The longer answer is provided by Walter Laqueur in "The Last Days of Europe," one of the more persuasive in a long line of volumes by authors on both sides of the Atlantic chronicling Europe's decline and foretelling its collapse.
Unlike the Euro-bashing polemics of a few of those authors, Mr. Laqueur's short book is measured, even sympathetic. It is mercifully free of references to cheese-eating surrender monkeys and misplaced historical analogies to appeasement. The tone is one of resigned dismay rather than grave-stomping glee. This temperate quality makes the book's theme–that Europe now faces potentially mortal challenges–all the more compelling.
The demographic problem is by now so familiar that it hardly bears restating. Mr. Laqueur notes that the average European family had five children in the 19th century; today it has fewer than two, a trend that will shrink the continent's population in the next century on a scale unprecedented in modern history.
The failure of Europeans to reproduce makes it vulnerable to internal schism. Too often Europe has reacted to the growing threat posed by extremists among its minorities with a tolerance and self-criticism that has bordered on capitulation. Meanwhile, social tensions increase, not least because of high emigration to Europe from Muslim countries and high birth rates among Muslim populations. No one has yet found a good way of integrating those populations into mainstream European society.
A lot of people have been warning about the demographics for a long time now. And those demographics should rightly terrify Europeans. The flaccid response to provocations from islamist extremists should also worry them. Is it still possible to pull back from the edge? It really doesn't appear likely at all.