The nay­say­ers are wrong about Eu­ro­pe (again), by Ke­vin O’Bri­en.

Handelsblatt Global Edition Magazine - - Table Of Contents - BY KE­VIN O’BRI­EN

Pu­b­lic dis­plays of op­ti­mism in Eu­ro­pe are of­ten dis­coun­ted li­ke faux pas or sym­ptoms of a brain pa­ra­si­te. The con­ti­nent’s his­to­ry is long and bloo­dy, and alt­hough it has en­joy­ed 70 ye­ars of re­la­ti­ve tran­qui­li­ty, it’s best to keep your exu­ber­an­ce in check.

So per­haps it is fit­ting that an Ame­ri­can who’s li­ved for mo­re than two de­ca­des in Ger­ma­ny is ar­guing why Eu­ro­pe won’t just sur­vi­ve but will thri­ve de­spi­te its per­fect storm of fi­nan­ci­al and cur­ren­cy trou­bles, de­mo­gra­phic woes, right-wing re­sur­gence and re­fu­gee cha­os.

I know what you’re thin­king. I’m go­ing to dish out that old up­beat, can-do mum­bo jum­bo you’ve heard be­fo­re. Even ma­ny Ame­ri­cans, stuck in their own eco­no­mic funk and cap­ti­ves of a gridlo­cked, un­re­s­pon­sive po­li­ti­cal sys­tem, don’t be­lie­ve it any­mo­re, you might ar­gue.

That may be true. But I’m not he­re to sing “Hap­py Days Are He­re Again.” Su­re, it would be ea­sy to ta­ke the op­po­si­te tack, don the con­ti­nent’s tra­di­tio­nal black street garb and fall in­to a pes­si­mis­tic, bo­he­mi­an funk. The­re are ma­ny re­a­sons to be worried.

Right-wing na­tio­na­lists may ta­ke con­trol of Fran­ce.

Bri­tain, al­ways am­bi­va­lent toward the Eu­ro­pean Uni­on, may lea­ve and go ro­gue.

The dark si­de of the force is on the march on the con­ti­nent, awa­ke­ned by re­fu­gees. Po­land and Hun­ga­ry are re­dis­co­ver­ing their in­ner So­viet child, tal­king trash again to the West.

The euro has be­en patched li­ke an old ti­re. The fi­nan­ci­al mecha­nics on the con­ti­nent say the road­si­de repair will hold, but not ever­yo­ne be­lie­ves them. On the eas­tern edge of Eu­ro­pe in Ukrai­ne, Rus­sia is gnawing on the prin­ci­ples of Eu­ro­pean li­be­ral de­mo­cra­cy, again.

Most trou­bling, the re­fu­gee cri­sis is ex­po­sing the de­sign flaws of the Eu­ro­pean Uni­on, a 28-na­ti­on bloc that dra­pes its­elf in the ter­mi­no­lo­gy of Ame­ri­can fe­deral con­trol and mem­ber“sta­tes,’’ but in reality is of­ten an opt-in, self-ser­vice club wi­thout ac­tive mem­bers.

So he­re, in the face of all that bad kar­ma, is my ar­gu­ment for why Eu­ro­pe will pre­vail.

A big rea­son, per­haps the big­gest, is that Ger­ma­ny won’t let it fail. It’s one of the big re­a­sons why bank ac­counts he­re, 16 ye­ars on, are still de­no­mi­na­ted in eu­ros. World-fa­mous eco­no­mists ha­ve pre­dic­ted the cur­ren­cy’s de­mi­se sin­ce its birth. Each ti­me, they ha­ve er­red.

If Eu­ro­pe fails, Ger­ma­ny, the world’s third-lar­gest ex­porter, would sei­ze up. Gi­ven its his­to­ry, Ger­ma­ny can’t win by go­ing it alo­ne. It nee­ds open bor­ders, for­eign con­su­mers and eco­no­mic part­ners mo­re than its Eu­ro­pean neigh­bors. It nee­ds the Eu­ro­pean Uni­on.

Deep down, Ger­m­ans and es­pe­cial­ly Ger­man busi­nes­ses, know this. The pu­b­lic flog­ging of An­ge­la Mer­kel over the re­fu­gee cri­sis will even­tual­ly ea­se as foot­paths to Ger­ma­ny are clo­sed. Woun­ded po­li­ti­cal­ly, Mer­kel will fi­nish her term, and if she wants, win again in 2017.

If not, the­re are able can­di­da­tes to re­place her, all com­mit­ted Eu­ro­peans: Wolf­gang Schäu­b­le, con­fi­ned to a whee­l­chair sin­ce 1990 af­ter being shot by a der­an­ged man at a cam­pai­gn ral­ly; Ur­su­la von der Ley­en, the de­fen­se mi­nis­ter, a phy­si­ci­an and mo­ther of se­ven with a ne­arWa­g­ne­ri­an bio­gra­phy, and a mo­de­ra­te, mea­su­red po­li­cy wonk na­med Fried­rich Merz.

But Ger­ma­ny alo­ne won’t keep Eu­ro­pe ali­ve. Tho­se un­co­ope­ra­ti­ve, bi­cke­ring EU mem­ber neigh­bors will sta­re in­to the abyss of the re­fu­gee cri­sis, weigh up the tra­de lost by re­sur­rec­ting in­ter­nal bor­ders, and bi­te the bul­let to repair so­me of the EU’s struc­tu­ral flaws. Tur­key may even help them, ex­pe­dit­ing its long-awai­ted en­try in­to the bloc and Eu­ro­pean re­spec­ta­bi­li­ty. The first signs of pro­gress may be jo­int con­trol of the EU’s ou­ter pe­ri­me­ter.

Em­bol­de­ned by their abi­li­ty to ac­tual­ly do so­me­thing to­ge­ther, EU coun­tries may mo­ve on to tack­le ot­her thor­ny is­su­es, such as bet­ter co­or­di­na­ting the an­ti-ter­ror po­li­ce ef­fort, de­ve­lo­ping a mo­re co­he­rent im­mi­gra­ti­on stra­te­gy, and even, God for­bid, ta­king in re­fu­gees.

Su­re, you say, that’s just op­ti­mis­tic pa­la­ver -- the equi­va­lent of ba­lo­ney in Ger­ma­ny -- the view of so­meo­ne un­fa­mi­li­ar with mi­li­ta­ry set­back and to­tal de­struc­tion. That is true.

But ne­ar­ly 20 ye­ars ago, I saw how Eu­ro­pe can work.

It was in 1998 be­fo­re the birth of the euro cur­ren­cy, when I was a jour­na­list ba­by­sit­ting the high-sta­kes, clo­sed-door mee­ting in Brus­sels whe­re the first batch of euro coun­tries we­re hagg­ling over set­ting ex­ch­an­ge ra­tes for their old cur­ren­cies.

Na­tio­nal pri­de and na­tio­nal for­tu­nes we­re on the li­ne.

As big mee­tings of­ten do in Eu­ro­pe, this one ran la­te, and ru­mors flew. Mid­ni­ght pas­sed, and by 3 a.m., the doub­ters see­med to be win­ning the day. But clo­se to dawn, French Pre­si­dent Jac­ques Chi­rac and Ger­man Chan­cel­lor Hel­mut Kohl emer­ged to face the press, a litt­le red-ey­ed and wea­ry, but re­a­dy to pro­ve the pes­si­mists wrong on­ce again.

Ke­vin O‘Bri­en is the edi­tor in chief of Han­dels­blatt Glo­bal Edi­ti­on.

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