Saturday, December 11, 2010

With all the trimmings

Prognoses for the destiny of Europe, the Union, and the Eurozone paint an ever bleaker picture. Yesterday's metaphor was the "tsunami"; tomorrow's ... Armageddon?

It was refreshing therefore to read on the same op-ed page an upbeat assessment finally of Europe's fortunes. The authors are the foreign ministers of four significant and quite various countries--Sweden, Italy, Finland, and the UK--and they write in anticipation of Monday's meeting of the EU's General Affairs Council. They believe that the royal road to European prosperity is the expansion of the Union, and they insist that that road runs through ... Istanbul to Ankara and beyond. It is Turkey that represents "the free flow of capital, goods, services, and labor" in an easterly direction--and back again. Its current rate of economic expansion is five times that of the EU's, and before long it would be one of its larger constituent economies--if it was one. What the ministers don't quite say, but almost, is that Turkey and the global markets it has developed could be the engine that pulls Europe into its next cycle of prosperity.

The ironies abound. Only yesterday Turkey was the land of ten million migrant workers waiting to storm the European frontier. For many it stillsounds the tocsin of Christian civilization and its bellicose values. Remember Vienna and the battle of Lepanto! In my one brief visit to Turkey (I was only in Istanbul and some western regions) I was struck by the signs of modernity and prosperity everywhere I turned. I was awed by the cultural legacy that includes much of what we call 'Ancient Greece,' and thrilled by the call to prayer broadcast across the courtyard of the Blue Mosque--much as I am by plainsong chant echoing through the galleries of St. Eustache in Paris or in the Florentine Duomo. Turkey struck me as confident, young, energetic, and--yes--open to the world. It would be the EU's good fortune if Turkey still wishes to embrace it.

And yet the same economic conditions that make Turkish inclusion suddenly a more palatable topic for discussion in Brussels have sharply raised the political stakes throughout Europe. Unemployment and recession have a way of intensifying people's most parochial feelings. Marine LePen polls over 15% these days, and the wave of Islamophobic politics is far from cresting (See my post, "Bigotry on the March," 9/19/10). Is either France or Germany in the mood for an expansive gesture? Can either afford retrenchment? In its quiet way Monday's meeting--and all the maneuverings that surround it--represents one of those crossroads where civilizations check their roadmaps. Does the EU know where it's going?


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