Several recent publications have been quite euphoric about Europe’s prospects, leaving little room for doubts about the continent’s future trajectory. The director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform predicts, astonishingly, that Europe will economically dominate the twenty-first century (Leonard 2004). The former London bureau chief of the Washington Post maintains that the rise of the United States of Europe will end U.S. supremacy (Reid 2004). And Rifkin (2004) is impressed by the continent’s high economic productivity, the grand visions of its leaders, their risk-sensitive policies and reassuring secularism, and the ample leisure and high quality of life provided by caring social democracies.
Such writings make me wonder whether the authors ever perused the continent’s statistical yearbooks, read the letters to editors in more than one language, checked public opinion polls, walked through the postindustrial wastelands and ghettos of Birmingham, Rotterdam, or Milan, or simply tried to live as ordinary Europeans do. A perspective offered by the author, a skeptical European who understands the continent’s major languages, who has lived and earned money on other continents, and who has studied other societies should provide a more realistic appraisal. Of course, this does not give me any automatic advantage in appraising Europe’s place, but it makes me less susceptible to Euro-hubris and gives me the necessary Abstand to offer more realistic judgments.
Russia, too, is part of my Europe. Arguments about Russia’s place in (or outside of) Europe have been going on for centuries (Whittaker 2003; McCaffray and Melancon 2005); I have never understood the Western reluctance or the Russian hesitancy to place the country unequivocally in Europe. Of course, Russia has an unmistakable Asian overlay—there must be a transition zone in such a large land mass, and centuries of occupation by and dealing with the expansive eastern nomads had to leave their mark—but its history, music, literature, engineering, and science make it quintessentially European. On the other hand, its size, resources, and past strategic posture make it a unique national entity, and there is a very low probability that Russia will be integrated into Europe’s still expanding union during the coming generation. For these reasons, I deal with Russia’s prospects in a separate section.
The argument about Europe being the leading economy of the twenty-first century is inexplicably far off the mark. The reality, illustrated by Maddison’s (2001) millennial reconstruction of Western Europe’s GDP and population shares, shows an unmistakable post-1500 ascent that culminates during the nineteenth century and is followed by a gradual descent that is likely to accelerate during the coming decades. In 1900, Europe (excluding Russia) accounted for roughly 40% of global economic product; 100 years later it produced less than 25% of global output, and by 2050, depending above all on growth in the GDPs of China and India, its share of global economic product may be as low as 10%. By 2050, Europe’s share of global economic product may be lower than it was before the onset of industrialization, hardly a trend leading toward global economic dominance.