The End Of Europe

"Europe has never existed. it must be created." So said Jean Monnet, father of the original Common Market, at the outset of the grand experiment that over the past five decades grew to become the modern European Union. Were he alive today, would Monnet survey his creation with pride--or reservation?

On May 1, Europe braces for another of its periodic Big Bangs. Not war but its antithesis--a regime of stability and (one hopes) growing prosperity spanning a region of 370 million citizens from the Aran Islands to Carpathia. Ten new nations will join the existing 15 members of the European club: eight formerly communist countries of Eastern Europe and the Baltics, plus the divided island of Cyprus and tiny Malta. It is by far the most ambitious enlargement ever undertaken by the European community. Yet curiously, this epochal step inspires more angst than euphoria.

Ask a German diplomat about the EU of tomorrow, and he pauses. "The new Europe," he says thoughtfully, "is looking more and more like the old Europe." For half a century, he explains, Europe has dedicated itself to overcoming division and creating an "ever-closer" political and economic union. The Europe of the future, he predicts, will retreat from this ideal. Instead of coming together, Europe's trajectory will be more toward the past--more toward discord and division than toward unity. Years from now, as The Economist magazine recently put it, Europeans may well look back at today's era as a lost "golden age" of harmony and good feeling. With only slight exaggeration, May 1 can be viewed as marking the beginning of the end of "Europe."

Too pessimistic? Consider recent headlines, challenging traditional assumptions that Europeans inhabit a common house. British Prime Minister Tony Blair last week changed direction and called for a national referendum on Europe's new draft Constitution, painstakingly cobbled together over the past two years and needing unanimous ratification by the Union's member governments. Blair could have simply approved the document; by turning it over to voters, likely to reject it, he in effect cast a veto over the rest of Europe. Meanwhile, as the Union dismantles geographical barriers to the free movement of people and goods, others are going up. Fearing floods of immigrants from the East, taking jobs from locals and overwhelming social services, governments across the Continent have hastily erected restrictions against the incoming members of their European family. Germany and France, among others, have barred such workers from seeking jobs for periods ranging from three to seven years. Similar controversies have erupted over everything from the EU's budget to economic development. After years of touting their commitment to helping their neighbors rebuild from years of communism--much as they helped Greece, Spain and Portugal resurrect themselves from decades of autocracy--the rich members of the Union are balking at the cost.

Spats over budgets and internal migration may pass with time, but some of the endings occasioned by May 1 will be more enduring. Consider three:

THE END OF EUROPE AS THE WEST: "If you want to read the future of Europe, look east," says Jean-Marie Colombani, director of Le Monde in Paris. Until now, the European Union has been a purely West European institution, whose interests lay traditionally within the geography of the NATO alliance. With enlargement, he argues, "the center of gravity of the old Continent will move east." Europe's new backyard is a morass of failing states--Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova--whose problems will become Europe's. "What are the priorities of Poland, Hungary and the Baltic nations?" asks Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoanna, whose own country seeks to join the EU. The first is to reap the economic rewards of EU membership. But the second, he says, is to ensure their own security--and that means shifting Europe's diplomatic and financial attention to the problems on their periphery to the east, in lands Western Europe has long ignored.

THE END OF AMERICA IN EUROPE: Ever since World War II, the United States has been a European power. It created NATO and planted the original seed of European integration by making Marshall Plan aid contingent upon it. It was the guarantor of cold-war security. Transatlantic tensions over the Iraq war are only one sign that Europe and the United States are today on divergent paths. U.S. strategic interests long ago shifted to the Middle East and Asia, says Ronald Steel, author of "Temptations of a Superpower." If America was present at the creation of Europe's postwar order, it is now bidding adieu at its passing.

THE END OF EVER-CLOSER UNION: Even in its earliest days, when the modern EU was but a glimmer in the eyes of the creators of the original European Coal and Steel Community, Europe held close to a dream. It went by various names: "more Europe," "deeper Europe" and, of course, "ever-closer union." It began with the relatively simple task of eliminating tariffs and was to culminate in a "federal Europe," with governments devolving economic and political sovereignty upon the institutions of the European Union. Visionaries predicted the end of the nation-state.

As the EU embarks on its boldest move yet, that dream is all but dead. Yes, never before has such a broad swathe of Europe been subject to the harmonizing rule of Brussels. Yet Germany and France, once the locomotives of union, have lately gutted the EU stability pact limiting the fiscal independence of member governments. Joined by Britain, they have reaffirmed the primacy of national governments in foreign and social policy. The beleaguered new Constitution--an attempt to define what it is to be European, and how "Europe" should govern itself--resides in emblematic limbo. Ever-closer union? "Not in our lifetimes," predicts the German diplomat.

"If this is the end of old Europe, what is now beginning," asks Tony Judt, director of the Remarque Institute at New York University. As he and many others see it, Europe's future will be managing its growing diversity. Mounting immigration, especially Muslim, will increasingly alter Europe's ethnic and cultural landscape. Changing demographics will undermine Europe's traditional social-welfare states. If old Europe faced the challenge of integrating like with like, the new Europe must reconcile unlike with unlike, grappling with prickly issues of minorities, wealth versus poverty and national identity. "It will be an era of discord and civilizational clashes within states and communities," says Judt, "no longer mainly among them." Europe's disparate citizenry will argue for their very different interests and priorities with increasing vehemence, all the more so if Europe's economy does not keep pace with the region's expectations. The cozy days of a close and like-minded European club are gone. Back to the future? It looks very much that way.