The Relevance and Future of Europe (and U.S.) and Their Role in the World

In this age of daily crises and self-inflected pessimism, an age that some in Europe and the United States consider a ‘decline,’ there is a need for resurgence of thinking anew! The newspapers this week-end are filled with criticisms and cynical thinking, but offer few with constructive answers concerning both Europe and the U.S.

Yet as each critical pundit and observer examines the elusive and often contradictory phenomenon of decline, it becomes somewhat self-defeating and counter-productive. There is the cry that European unity and the vision of Europe’s role in the world has been lost. Then there is the criticism that the Euro will be breaking up or that Germany is failing to lead Europe as the linchpin of their economy and the “European Project”, and that the austerity policies of the right in Europe especially in the UK and Germany have torn apart the social and political fabric of that region. That China will dominate the 21st century and make the West irrelevant. Also the inability to act to solve problems like the Middle East peace, Egypt, Syria and the unrest and chaos of the Arab Winter all point towards a serious lack of vision and will. So also let me add my thought that much of this is right!  But not all!  OK you critics, your responsibility is to give us not just doom but constructive ideas.

First, it is clear that both America and Europe are facing new and unprecedented challenges that are not easy to fix when there is so much disagreement about solutions.  One can cite the same points above including a persistent economic and financial crisis that seems to doom growth, robust unemployment and economic fairness in both Europe and North America. Yet solutions abound, and economists and President Obama have both pointed the way to solutions that, sadly, many key leaders in Europe and Republicans in control of the House and many in the Senate seem determined to fight. The sense that “China is Rising” adds to this pessimism, but the reality, once one looks at the interstices of China, is that this is not likely to happen in a way that China can dominate the global agenda in the coming decades or be a effective actor as an isolated and still internally conflicted power with an imbalanced economy and political system.

Second, as one would say, the real problem is “us.” The key leading countries of Europe are at cross purposes with real solutions and a common desire to make all of Europe whole. The UK is questioning even its membership in the EU and the right wing parties are highly racists and anti-Europe. In Germany, Merkel still has not acted fully as a leader of the whole and has not made saving European unity and its global relevance a core value.

Third, the same is true here in the U.S. due to a mindless opposition to anything that Obama does. But he has recognized the need to re-energize the project of a global consensus towards both growth and also global stability and security. His opening for Pacific and Atlantic trade pacts has stirred the juices, but he faces major obstacles in both Europe and Asia in addition to his Republican and even some Democratic opponents. He and Secretary Kerry have made a strong effort to bring peace to the Middle East. Though they also face hostility from both participants in the negotiations as well as cries that the “case is impossble,’’ they show the willingness to commit American efforts. This is not a sign of “decline” or irrelevance but of political dysfunctionalism. Major efforts are being made, often beyond the headlines, on Iran, Egypt, Syria, North Korea, Putin’s Russia –  none of these will be easy nuts to crack. It is unlikely that the U.S. or Europe will win all of its challenges, at least not at this moment. But to do nothing when doing “something” might help is abandonment of responsibility. Both Europe and the U.S. need less pessimism and a more determined leadership that focuses on solving problems.

Are the pessimists right, or are the “hopeful” and “persistent” right? This is hard to determine but we are less likely to gain the prize of prosperity, security or peace if we who are standing in the way of progress, damming every effort to solve problems however difficult, or trying to undermine a leader(s) that might risk taking bold and difficult action are part of the problem and not of solutions . And yes, there are still issues that have not been fully addressed like Syria, but if anyone has easy answers please write your comments here!

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