U.S. media focus on Europe’s transition to the euro, Washington doesn’t
seem to understand the full implication of a unified continent across
The adoption of the euro by 12 European countries
signals something far more important than anyone on this side of the
Atlantic seems to realize. Europe is gradually emerging as the world’s
new superpower. Within a couple of decades, the European Union will
equal—if not surpass—the United States as the dominant economic force on
the world stage.
Consider the arithmetic. The U.S. dollar is used by
about 285 million Americans. The euro is beginning to be used by 304
million Europeans with comparable levels of prosperity. When remaining
EU members Great Britain, Sweden, and Denmark join the euro zone, as now
seems inevitable, that sum will rise to 378 million.
And that is just the beginning. Another 12 European
countries are preparing to join the EU. Their accession in the next
decade will bring the total to 483 million, in current figures.
Taking a longer view, Turkey, the Balkans and
eventually Russia enter the picture. Turkey is already in a customs
union with the EU, and German chancellor Gerhard Schroder is advocating
bringing Russia into the fold. For his part, Russian President Vladimir
Putin is likewise tilting toward Europe. Russia is already a member of
the Council of Europe. It is only a matter of time before it joins the
EU. Together with the remaining holdouts, that will bring the total to
roughly 800 million in current terms, almost equal to the population of
India or China.
But the EU is qualitatively different from India and
China. It is enormously more prosperous and technologically advanced. It
encompasses four of the Big Seven economic powers: Germany, Great
Britain, France and Italy.
Geopolitically, it includes a unified Germany in
further union with its historic rivals, France and Great Britain. Add
Russia to the mix and the implications are mind-boggling. Never before
has Europe been united through peaceful means. The emergence of the
continental superpower raises the prospect of a union more formidable
than the United States, stretching from the Atlantic across Eurasia to
the Bering Sea.
So why aren’t we hearing more about it? Because
Washington still doesn’t believe Europeans will be able to overcome
linguistic and cultural barriers.
Yet border checks have vanished, so that crossing
from one country to another is about as eventful as crossing a state
line in the United States. The EU already has a functioning parliament,
courts, capital city, flag, license plates, passports and now a common
Still, discussions with policy makers and experts in
the nation’s capital make one thing clear: as far as Washington is
concerned, the EU is but an elaborate mirage. Where, after all, is the
European president? The current European executive has 15 heads, a
recipe for gridlock that can only get worse with the admission of more
But even that is about to change. The EU is convening
a constitutional convention under former French President Valery Giscard
d’Estaing to consider a federal structure with an elected president to
complement the existing directly elected parliament.
Cynics will say that even so, Europe will never match
the vitality and the commitment to freedom and free enterprise that has
made the United States the world’s greatest-ever economic and
But all that is changing too. Europe now has its own
bill of rights, and a court in Strasbourg to enforce it. Just as tariff
barriers are vanishing all across the continent, so are the national
monopolies that have until now stifled competition. With a single
currency, reduced telecommunications and transport costs and a market
larger than the United States, vast new opportunities are opening up for
Already, there is a new dynamism in Europe.
Futuristic rail lines are spreading across the continent, whisking
intercity passengers at 185 mph. Cell phones are more ubiquitous than in
the United States. And even Americans are now flying in Airbuses instead
And, if you think about it, the adoption of a common
parliament, bill of rights, and currency by 12 nations with as many
different languages is an even more audacious feat than the union of 13
English-speaking colonies a little over two centuries ago.
(Pacific News Service Associate Editor Andrew Reding
is a senior fellow of the World Policy Institute in New York. A dual
citizen of the United States and the European Union, he recently
returned from a three-month visit to Europe.)