David Gergen, editor-at-large of U.S. News & World Report, engages John Newhouse, former writer for the New Yorker. Heís now a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution and author of Europe Adrift.
DAVID GERGEN: John, you open the final chapter of your book with a bold assertion, and let me just quote it: Europe today has broke with the past more completely than at any time since the end of the 30 yearsí war and the peace of Westphalia in 1648, 350 years, the biggest change since then. Tell us about it.
JOHN NEWHOUSE, Author, "Europe Adrift:" Well, I think thatís probably right. The peace of Westphalia introduced the system of nation states with the recurrent threat that one of them--Spain, France, Germany--might upset a balance and threaten its neighbors. I think the balance of power system is now behind us, at least so long as the United States remains a presence in Europeís affairs and the European Union continues to exist. But itís mainly, I think, the problem of the end of the Cold War. Europe really wasnít ready for the end of the Cold War. It conferred authority on national governments that they no longer have. At least, they donít have as much. That authority has been diminishing since the end of the Cold War. And political parties have also been weakened, so countries are not being governed as strongly from the center as they used to, and Europe is becoming kind of a hodgepodge of national governments and institutions in Brussels, super-national institutions, but also regional and urban entities. I think more power is drifting down from national capitals and is drifting upward to Brussels.
DAVID GERGEN: I was very struck by that because it was a major emphasis in your book, and we read in this country about news from London, news from Paris, the national capitals, or we read about news from Brussels, but you really focus on the super regions that are emerging that are becoming the focus of both economic and cultural life.
JOHN NEWHOUSE: I think a big part of Europeís industrial and financial heartland consists of provinces that are getting together. They ignore national boundaries, and they are cooperating. Theyíre plugging into the global economy without going through their capitals. Theyíre using the information highway, access to capital on a very large scale, high speed transport, and they think they can control their own affairs better than bureaucrats in some capital, whether itís the national capital or Brussels. But what theyíre saying to themselves is that national governments are too small to run international affairs and too big for everyday lives, so weíre going to manage things ourselves.
DAVID GERGEN: You have two super regions that you sketch out shaped like bananas.
JOHN NEWHOUSE: Yes. A lot of bankers and businessmen refer to these configurations consisting of various departments and provinces as bananas. Theyíre crescent-shaped configurations, and one of them and perhaps the most important for now starts in Southeastern Britain, runs up through Northern France, the Benelux countries and down the Rhine Valley into Switzerland. Another one goes from the Beneto in Eastern Italy through--
DAVID GERGEN: Around Venice.
JOHN NEWHOUSE: Around Venice--through the Piedmont and Lombardy into France--the alp area around Lyon--then across the Mediterranean coast of France and the Hinterland into Catalonia--and its capital city, Barcelona. That people are beginning to think of as Europeís sun belt, and the analogy with the American sun belt that took off commercially and economically so many years ago.
DAVID GERGEN: And so people then say that Barcelona, instead of looking to Madrid, the capital of the country, for their affinity actually look more to people in Southern France and over across, into Northern Italy; that they feel more connected to them in some ways.
JOHN NEWHOUSE: Yes, they do, and indeed, in a sense they always have. But now theyíre able to do it because of these advances in technology and the fact that the fashion now is to ignore borders and the constraints of national government to do your own thing. Barcelona thinks of itself or Catalonia as the South of the North.
DAVID GERGEN: Now you go on to say--there was an interesting quote about what does unify Europe anymore, and you say that the only unifying force in Europe is unemployment.
JOHN NEWHOUSE: I think thatís right. Europe is certainly unaccustomed to unemployment on the scale we have it now. Germany has more unemployment now than it had--it has had since the early days of the Third Reich. France has got even higher unemployment than Germany, and itís got white collar unemployment. There used to be a certain amount of blue collar unemployment, but white collar unemployment is something new. And itís very disturbing, and I think this is one of the things thatís weakened national governments, because European societies after World War II began to modernize and develop some growth, and with that growth came the highest living standards in the world. And then the economic growth tailed off and governments, in order to protect themselves, began expanding the social safety net, even though demographics were driving up the cost of pensions and medical insurance and all of that. So thatís--so the inability to keep up with the social compact to provide jobs and security is also a real challenge to governments, a challenge that theyíre having progressively greater difficulty in meeting, and as another source of their increasing weakness, I think.
DAVID GERGEN: You write about Helmut Kohl as the strong man of your--the man who is trying to build the European Union, as well as unite Germany. You call him I think Bismarck in a baggy sweater.
JOHN NEWHOUSE: A lot of people have referred to him--
DAVID GERGEN: What happens to Germany after Kohl? Heís in his fourth term.
JOHN NEWHOUSE: Itís a big question. People have tended before elections usually to write off Helmut Kohl or minimize him and they donít like his chances. Well, I think heíll probably win the next election. There isnít much in the way of serious opposition to him. It does seem to be that his main political opposition, the Social Democratic Party, has a kind of loser syndrome that it has difficulty getting away from, but I do think we are in the twilight of the Kohl era, or maybe even the post-Kohl era, even if he wins, because the European consensus in Germany, as Thomas Mann, who once asked the question, "a Germanized Europe, or a Europeanized Germany," well, I think Kohlís vision of a Europeanized Germany, which is Adenauerís vision as well, I think that thatís not going to come about.
I think Germans are going to begin to pursue national interests not in a bad way--I donít think weíre going to have any whiff of the past, a recurrence of any past problems, but Germany, like other countries, will pursue national interests. I think their larger interest now, as they see it, is by competing in the global economy. They like the European Union. Itís done a lot for them. The single market is good stuff. On the other hand, they feel as if theyíve done as much to build a European Union as anybody, and some of their partners havenít done nearly as much as they, so why make sacrifices in the name of Europe?
DAVID GERGEN: All right. Does the strength of Tony Blair change the European prospect at all?
JOHN NEWHOUSE: I think it does. I think itís the best news because finally now we have a major European nation with a strong government that has an exceptionally strong mandate, and is also, I think, moderate, well-intentioned, sensible, realizes that a large part of its interest and its future lies in Europe, unlike its predecessors, which in a sense rejected Europe and became what everyone called Euro skeptic, but Blair knows that thatís nonsense, and Britain is part of Europe, and must exercise leadership in Europe. So I think a natural partnership between Britain and Germany should develop and very well may develop so that the strongest government in Europe, which is the Blair government, will be in the--with the strongest and richest country in Europe and biggest--Germany.
DAVID GERGEN: A final question. Where would you expect Europe to be five to ten years from now, still adrift?
JOHN NEWHOUSE: I think probably within five years from now Europe will continue to be adrift because I think the resources, the political base that will enable governments to regain strength and be willing to take some initiatives, which most European governments have been unwilling to take in recent years, I think itís going to take a while for them to recapture that. I think for a while Europe is going to remain adrift.
DAVID GERGEN: John Newhouse, thank you very much.
JOHN NEWHOUSE: Thank you.