Europeans are constantly reminded of all that is wrong with the US. But perhaps Europeans should reverse the process: what do Americans think is wrong with Europe?
Above all, Americans see Europe as a continent of self-inflicted stagnation -- and with good reason. Economic growth in the EU was near zero last year. Several countries, most notably Germany and France, seem hobbled by inflexible labor markets and regulations that inhibit dynamism. The European Union's highly touted Lisbon Declaration of a few years ago, which proclaimed that Europe would become the world's most competitive region by 2010, appears laughable to Americans, whose productivity gains seem to scale new heights constantly.
The US also sees Europe as excessively inward-looking, sometimes dangerously so. Worse, informed Americans see anti-Semitism running rampant in Europe and xenophobic political parties on the march in country after country. Not even pacific Scandinavia is exempt from this.
Americans see a total inability by Europe to handle immigration in ways that encourage dynamism and diversity instead of antagonism and higher state spending. This seems all the more puzzling because Americans realize how badly Europe needs new immigrants, given its extremely low fertility rates.
Europe's perceived attitude toward rogue states and global terrorism only enhances this perception of self-satisfied inwardness. Americans may differ about what policy should have been pursued in Iraq, but they know that their country cannot run from its role as a world leader responsible for developments in North Korea, the Middle East, Pakistan, India, Taiwan and elsewhere.
It is a jungle out there, as Americans say; not every problem and conflict can be handled through the sort of peaceful, drawn-out negotiations that the EU prefers. Germany and France were against meeting former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein with military force, but had no alternative for getting rid of the butcher of Baghdad.
"What was the European answer to the problem of Saddam Hussein?" asked Senator Joe Biden in a panel discussion at the recent Davos forum. Biden is a Democrat and strong critic of President George W. Bush. "I asked French and German leaders, but never received any credible answer."
"We are not even ready to forcefully meet conflicts on our own continent," Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski sighed. Bosnia's Muslims thank the US, not the EU, for their deliverance from slaughter. Europe devotes half as much in financial resources to the military as the US, resulting in one-tenth of America's military strength, observed Pat Cox, speaker of the European Parliament.
Americans now see Europe as compounding its military weakness by losing its leading position in science. Two-thirds of Nobel laureates in the sciences during the last quarter-century were Americans; many of the others do or did research at US universities.
According to Time magazine, 400,000 European researchers now work in the US. Lack of funding, bureaucracies so complicated that even purchasing a used computer is problematic, hierarchies that hamper curiosity and creativity: all of these barriers confront European scientists and are responsible for inciting today's "brain drain" to the US.
Add economics to this sour recipe. Price regulations and other ill-considered features of European policy contribute to the fact that 60 percent of the world's new drugs are developed in the US, compared to 40 percent only 10 years ago.
This sterility and inertia make Europe less and less interesting for Americans. So US eyes are turning elsewhere: to China with its 1.3 billion people and an economy growing at 8 percent to 10 percent, year in and year out, and to India, with its 1.1 billion people and 6 percent annual growth.
Indeed, India now has some of the world's best engineers, information technology experts and medical professionals. India probably encompasses the world's largest middle class. With new patent laws coming into place, India will have the same attraction for the pharmaceutical industry that it has had for information technology, providing clinical trials for new drugs at a quarter of the cost of Europe or the US.
While the US increases its population somewhat due to normal reproductive rates and large immigration flows, Europe's share of the world's population is approaching a mere 4 percent and is growing older as it shrinks even more.
Demographic change in the US is also working to change America's global orientation. With US immigration dominated by Latin Americans and Asians, the US feels its European heritage less. Similarly, domestic US politics gravitates to the country's south and west, regions that look toward Latin America and Asia, not Europe. The fall of the Soviet empire naturally also reduced US security interests in Europe.
Is this US view of Europe unfair? Perhaps, but no more unfair than how the US is regularly portrayed in Europe's media these days.
But if Americans are critical of Europe, they are also self-critical, far more so than most Europeans. As a European editor wrote apropos the flow of scientists from Europe to the US: "What's most sad is that Europeans still believe that their society represents the epitome of civilization, while the US is on its way to downfall. What if the reality is the reverse?" Every European should contemplate that possibility, at least for a moment, before resuming their current aversion to all things American.
Hans Bergstrom, associate professor of political science at the University of Gothenburg, was formerly editor-in-chief of Dagens Nyheter, Sweden's leading newspaper. Copyright: Project Syndicate
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