Germany, France, and Italy, the continent’s three largest nations whose unity is not threatened by serious separatist movements (episodic Corsican violence or Lega Nord are not going to dismember France or Italy), have their own deep-seated challenges.
The German and French economies underperformed during the last two decades of the twentieth century. In the German case there was the partial excuse (or terrible miscalculation) of the economic cost of absorbing the former East Germany (DDR) (Bentele and Rosner 1997; Zimmer 1997; Larres 2001; Bollmann 2002). The French situation is a textbook illustration of failures arising from an overreaching dirigisme, economic planning and control by the state. Neither country offers a model for a dynamic reinvention of Europe during the coming two generations.
As for Italy, the EU’s third-largest economy, I can do no better than to quote an acute observer of his patria (Severgnini 2005, 77–78): “Life in Italy is so pleasant it becomes narcotic. . . . Italy, it would seem, suffers from a ‘squirrel syndrome’: everybody fi nds a comfortable hole, and hunkers down. The problem is that there are so many holes in the national tree that it may topple unless something is done soon.” But this comfort cannot last. Italy’s economy suffers due to the combined impact of rapid aging (rivaled only by Japan), precipitous destruction of traditional smalland mid-scale artisanal manufacturing by Chinese imports, and growing numbers of immigrants. The deep economic and cultural breach between the Nord and Centro on one hand, and Mezzogiorno on the other, has not diminished. Decades of massive (and largely wasteful) investment have not lowered chronic unemployment. And the Mafioso culture of violence and corruption still operates (Gambetta 1992; Cottino 1998 and 1999; P. Schneider and J. Schneider 2003).