The power of plumbers

That poor, backward, traditional place called Europe has been a popular topic in the last couple of days, in the official media as well as in several blogs. Dan Drezner’s blog and Crooked Timber both have a post on this issue, mainly responding to Cato Unbound (Is Old Europe Doomed?) and Fareed Zakaria’s piece in the Washington Post (The Decline And Fall Of Europe). Friday, the International Herald Tribune contributed to the discussion, claiming that Europe’s economies are in the doldrums.

Of course I understand that bloggers and columnists need catchy titles. And I will not claim that Europe is going through its best phase ever, but titles as those above are lavishly exaggerating. Sure, events in Europe have proved that there are big problems in incorporating Muslims and other cultures into economic, political and social life. Sure, some countries have difficulties in adapting their welfare-state systems to a globalised economy. And sure, the aging population will present more problems in the future.

But are the Europeans doomed? Are we witnessing the fall of Europe? Crooked Timber’s post and its comments place many of the arguments that Zakaria presents in perspective (and knock down a few of them). I rather think of it as a transition phase than the ‘fall of Europe’. Aging populations after all are not just a European problem. Neither is the integration of other cultures.

What bothers me most however is the cherry-picking. Europe consists of very diverse nations, in terms of culture, political systems, etc. Even the so-called Old Europe is diverse and does not just exist of France, Italy or Germany. As I discussed earlier, newspapers and magazines can easily support their message by picking the country that fits their argument.

The International Herald Tribune discusses to measures that could revitalise Europe’s economies. One is about whether services should be traded as freely between EU countries as goods, and the other is over the freedom of citizens of the European Union’s 10 newcomer countries to live and work wherever they choose within the 25-nation Union. The IHT claims that:

In both cases, a clear majority of voters and national governments are set on limiting these freedoms. Their stance might be understandable, though regrettable, if there were an economic advantage to be gained. But in fact the opposite is true: denying free movement of people and services carries heavy cost penalties for Europe’s already sclerotic economy.

I think the IHT is right here. Both freedoms would benefit Europe as a whole. But then again, it’s hard to reach agreement on sensitive issues between 25 diverse countries. Especially when it concerns the dangers of Polish plumbers..

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