Where in the World is... Europe?

12/06/2011 08:45 am ET | Updated Feb 05, 2012

On the 22nd of November, Justin Bieber was the invited guest on The Late Show With David Letterman. In his interview, Bieber talked about how his fame has permitted him to travel throughout all the world's continents. When Letterman asked him if he could name them, the surprised young singer started to list them: Asia, North America, South America, Africa, Antarctica and the North Pole... There was some laughter and Letterman informed him that he had missed some. Without wincing, Bieber said Canada. There were more laughs and Letterman had to assist him a little, until Bieber finally said Australia and Europe.

The media happily registered the popular 17-year-old singer's blooper and many emphasized on his "ignorance" in geography. Bieber has not been the only one to suffer the consequences of these brief "amnesia" episodes during the past few days -remember governor Rick Perry struggling to recall, during a televised debate, the name of one of the three agencies that he was proposing be eliminated from government if he reached the presidency --, and the problem of the young Canadian trying to locate a place in the world atlas is similar to the problem facing the majority of young Americans.

A 2006 survey by the National Geographic Society among American people aged between 18 and 24 showed that only 37% of the respondents could locate Iraq on a map, even though American troops had been in the country for four years and the war with the US had been on the news on a daily basis on TV. But let's not go so far; only about 50% could locate the state of New York on the US map. It has been known for many years that geography is not the strong subject for American students.

What is curious is that Bieber had forgotten about Europe. Though it appears that he is not the only one to have forgotten about the old continent. Based on the issues discussed in political debates, it would seem that many of our politicians are also unfamiliar with its existence -- or they pretend to know nothing about it --, and this could bring disastrous consequences for us. Europe is in the middle of a severe crisis that could drag with it the world's economy and this could severely harm the United States.

Sandro Pozzi, news correspondent for El Pais, recalled in a recent article the strong connections between the two economies' and the risk to the US economy if Europe could not survive the current storm. Europe and United States are, by far, the world economy's most important business partners, with their subsidiaries generating trade, investment, and sales with figures above 4.3 billion dollars. European investments in United States generate 3.6 million jobs; close to 15% of the total income of the 500 biggest companies in the US are generated in Europe, and that continent buys 22% of the US exports.

It's hard to find an issue more important to the US at the moment. President Barack Obama urged the leaders of the European Union that met with him in Washington at the end of November to adopt measures to resolve the crisis, instructed his officers at the Federal Reserve to, in collaboration with other central banks, inject liquidity into the markets while the European leaders find a solution to its problems and sent his secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner to Europe. That is an acknowledgment of the great magnitude of a problem. The US can't resolve it, but it can help, and should be prepared to face the consequences of the crisis.

It is believed that the European Summit to be held next Thursday and Friday will produce the measures that will permit the handling of the situation (there are even talks of the definition of a new Europe). But a lot of time must pass before things are back to normal and the US cannot stay backstage and act as a passive partner. It's very important that the old continent's crisis and its consequences become part of the American political debate and that all of us -- from young people like Justin Bieber to the American presidential candidates -- have a very clear idea of where in the world Europe is.