Reply to Dalrymple

Dr. Dalrymple trenchantly identifies some of the pressing challenges facing Europe. But he ultimately errs by allowing hyperbole to triumph over analysis, leaving us with an essay that, albeit elegant, is essentially a Europhobic rant.

Darlymple informs us that “a pall of doom” and “a profound feeling of impotence” now overhang a Europe that is in the midst of losing its power, influence and importance.” The chief culprits are Europe’s “obsession with social security,” a pervasive political immobility, and a European Union that might enable the French to sustain “the illusion of power and importance, but does nothing to address “the real challenges facing the continent.” As a result of excessive state intervention and public expenditure, Europe is headed toward “economic disaster.” Muslim immigration is only making matters worse. Host nations lack the cultural confidence to make integration work and sluggish economies provide few opportunities for employment, saddling immigrants with a bitterness born of “economic uselessness” and “cultural separation.”

Quite an indictment. Indeed, if conditions are so dire, perhaps Europe should just throw in the towel, accept its global irrelevance, and quietly slip into oblivion.

To be sure, Europe does have its problems. Rigid labor markets and onerous welfare systems dampen economic growth. Europe’s citizens feel detached from governing elites in national capitals as well as in Brussels. Many Europeans still tend to equate nationhood with ethnicity, one of the factors that impedes the integration of immigrants into the social mainstream. And the process of political and economic integration has stumbled of late, with French and Dutch rejection of the Constitutional Treaty revealing widespread discontent with the prospect of a deeper and wider union.

But a more realistic–and less polemical–assessment of Europe reveals many strengths, not just weaknesses. Dalrymple portrays the EU as an economic basket case, but its aggregate wealth now rivals that of the United States. The EU represents a single market of over 450 million consumers, compared with a U.S. population of roughly 300 million. Due to a low fertility rate, Europe’s population is poised to shrink in the decades ahead, while America’s will continue to grow. Nonetheless, Europe’s population will be considerably larger than that of the United States for at least the next four decades.

As for economic output, the United States has of late enjoyed more robust rates of growth than Europe–about three percent per year in America compared with two percent in Europe. Dalrymple is right that Europe’s welfare state and its rigid labor markets constrain economic output.

Nonetheless, the health of the European economy is much less grave than he makes out. If one sets aside Germany, Europe’s economic growth has been roughly equivalent to America’s. That sleight of hand is of course unfair; it would be like evaluating the health of the U.S. economy while setting aside the performance of California. But withholding Germany from the picture does make clear that many EU countries are doing quite well. It is simply not the case that the continent is populated primarily by sclerotic, dysfunctional economies on their last gasp.

Moreover, Dalrymple exaggerates the structural constraints on growth. Much of the growth differential between the two sides of the Atlantic stems from two factors: Europe’s population has been stagnant while America’s has continued to grow; and Europeans tend to work fifteen percent fewer hours per year than their U.S. counterparts. If Europe had more warm bodies and they were willing to work longer hours, growth rates within the EU would pick up accordingly.

The deregulation and liberalization of continental economies would also help, releasing the potential for growth currently being constrained by the high costs of labor and structural rigidities. Dalrymple is right to point out that structural reform will not be easy; organized labor remains far stronger in Europe than in the United States, as made clear by the frequent work stoppages that paralyze Paris. But Europe’s left is in disarray, in part due to the pressures and dislocations of globalization. Germany’s new chancellor, Angela Merkel, may be hemmed in by her coalition with the Social Democrats, but she appears intent on bringing down the non-wage costs of labor which continue to fuel unemployment and dampen growth.

Dalrymple’s assessment of the project of European integration is similarly off the mark. The enterprise of economic and political union is not, as he would have it, little more than a therapeutic illusion that “helps Germans to forget that they are Germans,” and that “acts as a potential fortress against the winds of competition that are now blowing from all over the world.” Quite the contrary. The EU enables Germans to be comfortable with their nationhood even as they help construct a pan-European political project. And far from being a protective device intended to insulate Europeans from globalization, economic integration within Europe provides impetus for liberalization, ultimately enabling the EU to compete more effectively in the global market place. It may have been more political posturing than sincere critique, but French Socialists were not mistaken to portray the Constitutional Treaty as an “Anglo-Saxon” document that would help liberalize European markets.

Although most of Dalrymple’s essay vastly exaggerates Europe’s woes, in one respect it considerably underestimates them: the challenge of integrating Muslim immigrants into European society. The terrorist bombings in Madrid and London, the riots in France, the violence in the Netherlands, the ongoing turmoil stemming from the publication of cartoons offensive to Muslims, the strengthening of anti-immigrant parties across Europe–these all demonstrate the ill effects of a Europe that has embraced multiculturalism in fact, but not yet in spirit.

In light of Europe’s looming demographic crisis, the problem promises to get worse, not better. France, for example, has one of Europe’s highest fertility rates–about 1.9 children per woman–as compared with a rate of only 1.3 in Germany, Italy, and Spain. But since a fertility rate of 2.07 is needed to keep France’s population at a steady level, even the more amorous French are poised to watch their countrymen dwindle in the years ahead. In Germany, Italy and Spain, the problem will be even more severe. The decline of Europe’s population promises to starve its economy of badly needed workers and to bankrupt its pension systems. One recent study estimates that the ageing of its populace could cut Europe’s economic growth rate by as much as fifty percent by 2040.

Simply put, the EU needs immigrants to replenish its shrinking work force and keep its pensions solvent. With fertility rates in Central and Eastern Europe also lagging, many of these immigrants will of necessity come from Turkey and Muslim countries in North Africa and the Middle East–where a youth bulge coupled with high unemployment will provide an abundance of willing workers for decades to come.

If Europeans are to do a better job of integrating Muslim immigrants into their societies–which they must–they will need to embrace more fully a civic definition of nationhood, one that welcomes newcomers regardless of origin and religious persuasion. They must also provide language and vocational training; otherwise, immigrants will remain on a fast track to second-class citizenship. Muslim leaders in Europe have their own work to do, encouraging their communities to pursue integration rather than segregation and supporting a politics of moderation rather than confrontation.

Dalrymple concludes that Europe “is sleep-walking to further relative decline.” Perhaps it will end up there. But for now, the EU remains a vital center of economic power and its continuing enlargement to the east is extending markets, democracy, and its political sway to Eurasia’s strategic heartland. Not bad for a group of nations that only six decades ago were trying to destroy each other.

Also from this issue

Lead Essay

  • Old Europe may not be doomed, though it is “sleepwalking to further relative decline,” says Theodore Dalrymple. “The principle motor of Europe’s current decline is,” he argues, “its obsession with social security.” If Europe is to have a fighting chance, it must overcome a politics in which “personal and sectional interest has become all-powerful” and “the goal of everyone is to parasitize everyone else.”

Response Essays

  • According to historian Timothy Smith, author of France in Crisis, the main problem of Old Europe is that overregulated labor markets, alleged to “humanize” capitalism and promote “solidarity,” instead work to consolidate economic privileges for tenured labor unionists and state employees, and exclude broad swathes of the population, especially immigrants, from the work force. Smith is careful to distinguish the relative stagnation of France, Germany, and Italy from their more successful Scandanavian counterparts, and argues against Dalrymple that the U.K. is really in pretty good shape.

  • Disagreeing sharply with Theodore Dalrymple’s grim diagnosis, Georgetown University international affairs professor and Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Charles Kupchan maintains that “it is simply not the case that the continent is populated primarily by sclerotic, dysfunctional economies on their last gasp.” However, Kupchan argues that Dalrymple’s essay “considerably underestimates … the challenge of integrating Muslim immigrants into European society.” The Paris riots and the Danish cartoon imbroglio demonstrate that Europe has “embraced multiculturalism in fact, but not yet in spirit.”

  • In her reply to Dalyrmple’s lead essay, the Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum lists “three factors which could, over the next decade, help reverse Europe’s course.” Market-friendly leaders, “an acknowledgment of the possibilities presented by the new members of the European Union,” and ditching “their increasingly bizarre obsession with the evil United States,” would, Applebaum argues, go a long way to “help Europe escape its current economic and psychological slump.”