Ten years from now will we still be siblings, cousins, part of a family that is separated, but still stands solidly together on both sides of the Atlantic? Or will the great globalization blender have chewed up the shape the West has held for the past three centuries? In other words, will we Europeans and you Americans still be as close in 10 years as we are today?
Robert Kagan asked this question a few years back in his book Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order, in which he lent a deeply romantic spin to geopolitics -- describing the USA as "from Mars" and Europe as "from Venus." Kagan claimed that the perspectives of the two continents are growing further apart.
Taking stock of the world today, it seems clear that Kagan's perspective has some merit. The two sides of the Atlantic have grown further apart, but this divergence is not necessarily a bad thing. Today, we're separated by the same two elements that brought us together during the postwar period: technology and the cycle of great economic crises.
For a long time, the European continent appeared to lag behind the US in Internet use, in terms of the percentage of the population with Internet access and familiarity with the Internet. But today it has become clear that Europe also lags behind the US in the evolution of its production system. During the decisive years of Internet development in America, industrial innovation continued to advance apace in Europe, although at different speeds in different European countries. The gap between the two sides of the ocean has yet to be bridged today.
Only now are people realizing that the distance isn't so much about use, but about the ownership of these technologies: today the Internet and its most important companies are still entirely American -- and thus the new horizons for the future of the Internet, and their profits, are entirely American as well. Europe has let things develop, trusting the US -- as it has since the end of the last century -- to invent and populate new frontiers. Today Europe is waking up to take stock of the results of this approach, and finally seeing that things don't add up. The European continent has discovered it's neither well-equipped nor independent to be a full part of a world driven and shaped by digital innovation. Ironically, the first reaction -- provided by the government in Brussels -- has been to "tax" the Web's biggest companies, imposing stricter regulations and tariffs against Internet giants like Google. Overall, the reaction to the "American invasion" of the Internet is ironically reminiscent to a 21st-century Boston Tea Party: apparently taxation is still at the center of the cultural divide between Europe and the US.
There's a paradox at play here: the United States's reckless financial sector was the driving force behind the global financial crisis, and over the past years the U.S. has been embroiled in a series of complex conflicts abroad -- yet the American government has been able to mitigate the impact of these decisions. Meanwhile, a reluctant and indecisive Europe has found itself stuck on the front lines, deep in the heart of the grand turmoil that has characterized these years: terrorism and Middle Eastern refugees; migrants from Africa dying on the Mediterranean; the remnants of simmering Cold War conflict within a still-troubled Eastern Europe.
The continent also has to grapple with the effects of global economic instability, financial speculation, the relentless expansion of the Chinese economy as well as those of the major foreign funds. The cumulative effect of these fiscal stresses has driven Europe's currency to the verge of collapse, and left its managerial class increasingly unable to meet modern challenges.
So what is Europe to do? Save Greece? Welcome wave after wave of refugees? Send soldiers to fight terrorism? Work towards a solution in Libya? Fight Putin? Devalue the Euro? Combat the brain drain of the Euroskeptic? European governments -- including strong ones like Germany's -- appear surprised, unprepared to face what's required of them. Rather than compensating for a lack of preparation within the governments of its member states, the European central government, in the moment of its greatest formal unity, has withdrawn into a bureaucratic management style that its citizens openly detest.
And yet... Precisely within this risk of major collapse lie signs of a new path.
For many years, Europe has delegated its involvement in the world to the United States, preferring to play the role of a supporter that maintains fundamental values.
This division of roles has worked up until today, but in recent years the US has evinced other priorities, just as Europe is returning to the front lines, and can no longer sit wars out.
For all of us over here in Europe, this seems like our weakest, loneliest moment. But it is high time for Europe to grow up, and as everybody knows, there's no better way to force someone to grow than to inflict a little suffering on them.
I imagine that in 10 years, you over there in HuffPost in the US and we over here in HuffPost in Europe will seem a little less alike than we do today. But we're counting on the fact that opposites attract.
This post was originally published on HuffPost Italy and was translated into English.
This post is part of a series commemorating The Huffington Post's 10 Year Anniversary through expert opinions looking forward to the next decade in their respective fields. To see all of the posts in the series, read here.