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Georges Ugeux

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Europe Is Not a Lost Continent

Posted: 04/14/2012 6:14 pm

Reading most of the pundits and comments about Europe in the United States, there seems to be a fashion: Euro-bashing has become a way for look smart and ridiculing the continent is conventional wisdom.

The dangers of that approach are obvious: turning fashion into conventional wisdom, and ultimately self-fulfilling prophecy. The underlying current of those generalizations is that Europe is like the United States, an aggregate of countries who, under the beautiful flag of the European Union, act as some sort of a federal state. This misconception is doomed to disappoint the United States. Europe is 29 independent countries bound by a challenging common project: integration.

There is no European president (Mr. Herman Van Rompuy is the president of the European Council, one of the five EU entities who has a President). The European Commission is not a Government. The European Parliament is not a final decision maker and each national Parliament has to approve each piece of legislation. Treaties sometimes require in some countries a referendum that proved to be an oxymoron and sometimes a casino. The heads of state and government of the member states are the rainmakers, and saw their power increase during the two financial crisis.

That should be sufficient to make it abundantly clear that the decision process of the European Union and the Eurozone is neither federal nor integrated. The United States know that, if they want to be effective, they need to include this complexity in their handling of the European Union. It makes Europe a multifaceted ally and partner, and attempts to deal with it as if it was one miserably failed whether in foreign policy (the attitude towards Irak, Iran and Afghanistan to name one), in economic decisions or regulatory initiatives. While the G 20 has one seat for the United States, as many as seven presidents or prime ministers represent Europe.

That, however, does not make Europe a lost continent. In a strange way, the European sovereign crisis and its disastrous mismanagement by European political leaders evidenced the need to revise the European decision process in times of crisis and in handling economic and
financial decisions.

Europe suffers from a deficit of trust in the eyes of the United States, and most countries. Canada this week decided not to participate to the European bail-out mechanism, neither should it, or the Chinese for that matter. The International Monetary Fund has been created to handle multilateral support of failing economies.

This week saw a further deterioration of the Eurozone creditworthiness. Italy issued $3.7 billion three-year bonds at 3.89 percent. This represents a 41 percent higher interest rate than on March 15. The inaction that plagued the Greek crisis seems to prevail for Spain and Italy, who are not at the center of the world financial concerns with a global indebtedness representing 10 times Greece.

What is the smart way to look at Europe from an economic and financial viewpoint? As an economic powerhouse that has a difficult and complex decision process, and a weak leadership.

It is Europe's weaknesses that represent opportunities for the United States in its global reach. Acquisitions, partnerships and investments are plentiful and available. European companies are seizing the opportunity to look at the United States as a land of opportunity again.

Realism is the rule of the game: those who are willing to integrate that complexity and rather than exporting the US model, recognize the cultural and institutional complexity of Europe have become very successful throughout the "lost continent."

Europe is not a lost continent, but a set of countries who are dealing with a crisis of confidence stemming from the awareness that its social system needs to be overhauled and modernized. The trade unions refuse to adjust to this new world and continue to ask for increases of salaries, refusing the extension of the age of pension. This social crisis will take years to be resolved because it is the end of the illusions of the current system.

It also happens to be a continent that has with the United States a multiplicity of historical, human, cultural, political, military, economic, financial and social links that create a unique intimacy.

Europe is not a lost continent, but is undertaking a major revolution of its broken system. Underestimating the challenge and joking about it makes no sense. It is a painstaking process, a necessary one, and a land of opportunities. If the U.S. could understand the magnitude of the challenge, a new partnership could be built across the Atlantic.

 
 
 

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