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.
In addition, the continent has no coherent foreign policy or effective military capability. As Zielonka (2006) argues, the current European Union is simply too large and unwieldy to ever act like state; rather than a coherent actor on an international scene, he sees a “maze Europe.” The European Union’s member states do not see eye to eye even on a major issue whose excesses and burdens simply cannot continue: the bloated, trade-distorting agricultural subsidies that have been swallowing about 40% of the EU’s annual budget. Europeans, so eager to sermonize about their superior economic and social policies and higher moral standards, and so ready to voice anti-Americanism, could do with some introspection in all of these respects. Europe’s labor productivity and ample leisure time have been bought by mass (and in some countries, persistent) unemployment, roughly twice the U.S. rate for the entire work force (∼10% vs. ∼5%). In some parts of the continent more than 25% of people younger than 24 years are jobless, and in 2005 the peaks were above 50% in three regions in Italy, two in France, and Poland (Eurostat 2005b).