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Europe Speaks Back

‘Criticism that Europe is too preoccupied with itself is both shallow and unfair.’ –wolfgang schüssel, former chancellor of Austria

By Michael Elliott

Three weeks ago Time published a story titled “The Incredible Shrinking Europe” in which we argued that “if Europe wants to become a global power to rival the U.S. and China then it needs to stop acting like a collection of rich, insular states and start fighting for its beliefs.” Simon Robinson’s story, accompanied by an interview with Europe’s new Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton and an impassioned column by Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, prompted readers and European leaders alike to write. Some thought our assessment was spot on, plenty that we had got it all wrong. To encourage further debate, we publish here a selection of views.

kishore mahbubani’s analysis of “europe’s Errors” actually contains a declaration of love for Europe: “It can provide an alternative pole of growth, a model for abolishing wars between neighbors, cultural education and a moral voice.”

Why then complain about an incredible shrinking Europe? Clearly, Asia’s economies are growing more quickly than those in Europe and the U.S. Great—Europe, too, benefits from this development. Europe is the biggest foreign investor in Asia and the biggest importer of Asian goods. This has contributed to some 400 million Asians escaping from poverty. Contrary to Professor Mahbubani’s assertion, Europe is indeed “looking towards Asia.”

Conversely, the E.U.’s full potential has not yet been properly appraised by Asia. While Asia is trying to improve relations and contacts with the U.S., Mahbubani asks Europeans to think the “unthinkable— the transatlantic partnership may come to an end.” Why should Europe give up a functioning partnership with an essential partner and friend on the global scene? Just like many Asians, Europeans dislike the idea of an allpowerful G2.

We seek intensified cooperation with America but also with Asia, the Middle East, Russia and the Mediterranean region precisely because we believe in a multipolar rather than a bipolar “G2 world.”

Furthermore, Europe is criticized for being too preoccupied with itself. True, several years of public debate over the Lisbon Treaty might be interpreted as institutional navelgazing. But have a broader look at the facts: over the last 15 years, the E.U. has taken on board 15 new members, doubling its size without compromising on its strict accession criteria. This required massive transfers of wealth and a high degree of solidarity.

The E.U. also refined its giant single market, created a new world currency, and introduced elements of a common foreign policy under the leadership of Javier Solana. We are not only the strongest economic union in the world but also the main source of aid for developing countries. Thus, the criticism that Europe is too preoccupied with itself is both shallow and unfair. On the contrary, Europeans are busy creating a model that is internationally relevant, especially for Asian countries and groupings. Some, such as ASEAN, are watching the European experiment very closely.

Europe’s commitment to human rights, the empowerment of women, combating child labor, civil rights, freedom of speech, and the protection of natural resources is not just a Western hobbyhorse. These are universal values derived from the ancient wisdom of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and Christians, and are based on the lessons from our own painful history. No sustainable economic order can disregard these basic values, and the citizens of Asia and Europe will demand them ever more clearly and ever more urgently.

By the way, what is the single Asian number Henry Kissinger would call?

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