WASHINGTON--European elites were lamenting America's insufficient respect for Europe and for multinational undertakings when Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, which Europe's elites hope foreshadows a European superstate, said: ``Stupid.'' That was his description of the European Union's budget rules.
It has been said that housing developments are named for what is destroyed by development--Rolling Acres, Forest View, Green Meadows. The EU's budget rules are named for what they impede: they are named the Stability and Growth Pact. It ostensibly obligates EU members, regardless of their particular economic conditions, to have budgets generally balanced, and stipulates stern financial penalties for deficits exceeding 3 percent of GDP.
However, these rules have the strength of cobwebs. Nations violate them, often masking noncompliance with creative bookkeeping. Europe's nations still have different notions of their needs and interests, and act accordingly.
So ``Europe'' remains a merely geographical, not political, denotation. Which brings us to President George W. Bush's excessively patient attempt to coax the United Nations to take its Iraq-related resolutions seriously.
An earnest American minority craves U.N. approval of U.S. military action against Iraq. This minority had no such craving when military action was against Serbia. Then NATO's approval was considered an adequate proxy for the U.N.'s. Americans eager for U.N. approbation are really concerned not with all the 190 other U.N. members, but with the European ones. And primarily those Western European nations that these earnest Americans visited using their Eurail passes when they were graduate students. Such as France.
Its great-power pretenses have been increasingly unconvincing since the Franco-Prussian war. Today it tries to use its anachronistic seat as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council as a substitute for real geopolitical weight. But this is increasingly preposterous.
A few years ago, at a meeting in Europe of NATO defense ministers, the French participant behaved, well, very French, haughtily stressing his nation's disagreements with, and independence from, America. But shortly after the U.S. secretary of defense returned from Europe, his French counterpart called to request U.S. C-130s to airlift French troops to an emergency. France's minimal airlift capacity was in disrepair.
As Gulf War combat approached, France loaded one of its (BEG ITAL)two aircraft carriers with aircraft, many of them Korean War vintage, and dispatched it toward the Gulf. Then France had second thoughts, and the carrier turned back.
France illustrates Europe's feckless desire to have geopolitical weight without paying the price, particularly in military muscle, for such weight. Even if Europe were ever to summon the will to wield real power, its fading economic vigor would preclude doing so.
Europe's welfare and labor laws (during France's recent fling with a mandatory 35-hour workweek, government enforcers patrolled companies' parking lots to detect people working illegally hard) are suffocating the continent's creative energies. And demographic trends guarantee stagnation.
Nine of the world's 10 oldest populations are in European nations. By 2050 most European nations' populations will be smaller than they are today--Italy's, 25 percent smaller--and only 57 percent of Europe's population will be of working age. There will be just three Italian workers for every two retirees. Aging populations, declining birthrates and intolerance of invigorating immigration make for long-term economic anemia.
The French, like other Europeans eager to compensate for their chosen, self-inflicted weakness, want the United States to take the U.N., hence them, seriously. They should be careful what they wish for.
European elites say European unity--meaning the EU's bureaucratic superstructure piled atop the nations' bureaucracies--will give Europe the weight of one great nation to match America's weight. It will not, but Europe's pretense of oneness should be honored. The U.N. should be reformed. It should grant just one membership--it can be a permanent member of the Security Council--for ``Europe.'' There should be no separate U.N. membership for the member states of the EU, any more than there is for Ohio.
For now, America should put a sensible Iraq resolution to a U.N. vote, note with mild interest any French veto, and proceed with the pursuit of American interests. The French rooster crows during Europe's dusk.
A chronicle of the First Crusade was titled ``Gesta Die per Francos''--``The Deeds of God Through the French.'' Crowing comes naturally to a nation whose symbol is a rooster, but crowing does not resonate from a perch in the U.N., which does not take its own resolutions seriously, and can hardly be taken seriously as long as it incorporates the fiction that France is a significant power.