Can Europe turn the corner?

Earlier this month, I wrote a post called “Europe, the Future That Works?” in which I expressed skepticism about the emerging claim that the European vision of the future will eclipse the American dream and bring an end to our supremacy. I suggested that Euro-triumphalsim in this country may be, in part, a fantasy of the Bush-haters (and America-dislikers), in which our condign punishment for rejecting the European approach to Iraq, and the “Euorpean” candidate in last year’s election, is the rise of Europe and the decline of the U.S.
Today, Jonathan Rauch expresses his own less flamboyant skepticism in a piece in the National Journal called “Europe Is the Next Rival Superpower. But Then, So Was Japan.” As turned out to the case with Japan, Rauch sees a future in which the Europeans move away from rivalry and begin to learn from the U.S. (and the U.S. from them).
As Rauch observes, one difference between Japan then and Europe now is that Japan, at least, was doing well economically when its admirers pronounced it a rising superpower. Europe, by contrast, looks more like a sick man than the next dynamo. Arthur Waldron, in the February 2005 issue of Commentary (not yet available online), provides the evidence. From 2001-2003, cumulative “Eurozone” growth was 3 percent, compared to 5.5 percent for the U.S. Eurozone growth in 2004 again looks to be running at about half the U.S. rate. Unemployment in France is at about 10 percent; in Belgium it is even higher, and runs at 22 percent in Brussels, the seat of the European Union. Moreover, the EU fertility rate is 1.46 children, compared to 2.06 in the U.S. This means, in Waldron’s words, “that more immigrants will be required and, as longevity increases, the young will increasingly be burdened by the old.” If the European dream is so attractive, why don’t European women want to pass it down to another generation?
Despite the gloomy numbers, Waldron ends up in the pretty much the same place as Rauch. He detects a serious desire among Europeans to engage in economic reform, as leading thinkers come to understand that for the EU to fulfill its grandiose ambitions it must remove barriers to entry into business and embrace the concept of economic freedom. It must, in short, alter its economic vision, the one that American leftists are insisting is superior to ours, and become more like the U.S. In addition, it seems to me, Europe could use a spiritual rebirth, the kind that will make Europeans feel like procreating at a rate in excess of 1.46 children per female. From where I sit, it’s assuming a lot to expect Europe to embrace both the reformist economics and the spiritual rebirth.