Friday, July 22, 2005

Is A New Europe Possible?

Maybe this is all just blind optimism, and it is at best little other than speculation. In the light of the meeting between Angela Merkel, probably the next Chancellor of Germany, and Nicolas Sarkozy, potentially the future President of France, though, it couldn't help but cross my mind that the new Europe that I would love to see may still be possible.

Why do I say this? Because Merkel (born in 1954) and Sarkozy (born in 1955) represent the next generation of European leaders. Together with Blair (1953), they are all the generation after the current leaders (or in Blair's case, his direct predecessors). In this case, it is particularly relevant, as their formative years were at a very different stage - the starkness of the aftermath of the war wasn't as great; their university years were after the 1968 generation. As a result, the belief behind their vision of Europe won't be the need to avoid another pan-European war.

One thing I certainly noticed travelling around Europe the past three summers was the extreme pro-Europeanism of the youth of Europe today (especially Germany, but France too). In particular, it was far more positive than the attitudes of the older generation. These three may not be the most classically pro-European politicians on the continent; they are, however, considerably more practical, and more willing to engage in liberalising reforms as opposed to a stultifying, reactionary clinging to the social model.

When combined with the willing and economic reform of the Eastern European member states, the thought of Merkel and Sarkozy as leaders does make me somewhat happier. Admittedly, any attempt at reform will prove very difficult indeed in France and Germany. Schroeder's government is only under threat because Hartz IV - the attempt to reform Germany's surprisingly anachronistic unemployment benefit system - met with such severe opposition, even sparking a return to the Monday demonstrations that had been so effective in toppling the East German dictatorship.

What may be most surprising, though, is that Britain may end up being the reactionary member of the trio. I don't doubt Blair's zeal in Europe - although I despise much of his domestic policy, foreign affairs is the one area where I feel he is actually genuine. Yet when Brown takes over, it's quite possible that Britain will possess the leader most committed to a tax-and-spend economy. How ironic.