Euro's arrival omen of power

Dynamism: The adoption of the new currency by 12 countries, with more to follow, promises to make the European Union a dominant economic force in the world.

January 06, 2002|By Andrew Reding | Andrew Reding,PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE

THE ADOPTION of the euro by 12 European countries signals something far more important than anyone on this side of the Atlantic seems to realize.

Europe is gradually emerging as the world's new superpower. Within a couple of decades, the European Union will equal -- if not surpass -- the United States as the dominant economic force on the world stage.

Consider the arithmetic. The U.S. dollar is used by about 285 million Americans. The euro is beginning to be used by 304 million Europeans with comparable levels of prosperity. When remaining EU members Great Britain, Sweden and Denmark join the euro zone, as seems inevitable, that number will rise to 378 million.

And that is just the beginning. Another 12 European countries are preparing to join the EU. Their accession in the next decade would bring the total to 483 million, in current figures.

Taking a longer view, Turkey, the Balkans and eventually Russia enter the picture. Turkey is in a customs union with the EU, and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is advocating bringing Russia into the fold.

For his part, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin is likewise tilting toward Europe. Russia is a member of the Council of Europe. It is only a matter of time before it joins the EU. With the remaining holdouts, that would bring the total to roughly 800 million in current terms, almost equal to the population of India or China.

But the EU is qualitatively different from India and China. It is enormously more prosperous and technologically advanced. It encompasses four of the Group of Seven economic powers: Germany, Great Britain, France and Italy.

Geopolitically, it includes a unified Germany in further union with its historic rivals, France and Great Britain. Add Russia to the mix and the implications are mind-boggling. Never before has Europe been united through peaceful means. The emergence of the continental superpower raises the prospect of a union more formidable than the United States, stretching from the Atlantic across Eurasia to the Bering Sea.

So why aren't we hearing more about it? Because Washington still doesn't believe Europeans will be able to overcome linguistic and cultural barriers.

Yet border checks have vanished, so that crossing from one country to another is about as eventful as crossing a state line in the United States. The EU has a functioning parliament, courts, capital city, flag, license plates, passports and now a common currency.

Still, discussions with policymakers and experts in Washington make one thing clear: As far as the United States is concerned, the EU is but an elaborate mirage. Where, after all, is the European president? The current European executive has 15 heads, a recipe for gridlock than can only get worse with the admission of more countries.

But that is about to change. The EU is convening a constitutional convention under former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing to consider a federal structure with an elected president to complement the existing directly elected parliament.

Cynics will say that even so, Europe will never match the vitality and the commitment to freedom and free enterprise that has made the United States the world's greatest-ever economic and technological powerhouse.

But all that is changing, too. Europe has a bill of rights and a court in Strasbourg to enforce it. Just as tariff barriers are vanishing all across the continent, so are national monopolies that have until now stifled competition. With a single currency, reduced telecommunications and transport costs and a market larger than the United States, vast new opportunities are opening for free enterprise.

A new dynamism exists in Europe. Futuristic rail lines are spreading across the continent, whisking intercity passengers at 185 mph.

Cellular telephones are more ubiquitous than in the United States. Americans are flying in Airbuses instead of Boeings.

And, if you think about it, the adoption of a common parliament, bill of rights and currency by 12 nations with as many different languages is an even more audacious feat than the union of 13 English-speaking colonies a little more than two centuries ago.

Andrew Reding is a senior fellow of the World Policy Institute in New York. A dual citizen of the United States and the European Union, he recently returned from a three-month visit to Europe.

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