In an episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" - now consigned to inglorious immortality in reruns - Captain Picard admonishes his first officer for not knowing his 21st century history. Do you not recall the "European Hegemony," he asks, which dominated good ol' earth for so long?
It wouldn't surprise me if the collected leaders of the EU have stayed up until many a wee hour, Styrofoam cups of cold caf?u lait and platefuls of runny brie strewn across the table, straining their bleary eyes as they studied tapes of the entire "Trek" oeuvre for clues to how the Europeans managed to pull off this Trekian prophecy in such a short time.
Because from this corner of the space-time continuum, it looks like European survival, not hegemony, is a more reasonable goal. A few countries, most notably the Netherlands, are beginning to realize their problems. But on the whole the Europeans are determined to believe that America - and all it allegedly represents - is the only thing between it and its rightful place as world leader.
Recent polls across Europe - never mind the caterwauls from the editorialists and commentators - show that Europeans are still mopey about Bush's victory in November. At least 70 percent of French, Germans and Spaniards dislike George W. Bush, and majorities held an unfavorable view of Americans in general.
But, then, the Europeans can't even greet good news without blaming the United States. For a perfect example, consider the European - and particularly the European left's - reaction to the events in Ukraine. A pro-EU leader triumphs (at least so far) in his bid to thwart Russian authoritarianism in the EU's backyard, riding one of the most exhilarating demonstrations of peaceful democratic courage and conviction since Tiananmen Square, and the European leftist press bleats its disapproval at the whole spectacle because it imagines that the United States might have something to do with the whole thing. Indeed, conspiracy theories that the Orange Revolution is little more than a CIA plot, and therefore not all that good, are commonplace among European sophisticates.
Meanwhile, Europe has real problems much closer to home, which cannot be pinned on George W. Bush - unless he's the cause of continent-wide European impotence or some other mood-killing phenomenon that's preventing Europeans from making babies. Across Europe, birthrates are plunging, as children are seen as impediments to the good life rather than its reward. Not too long ago, the EUreaucrats predicted that they'd need 50 million more immigrants simply to maintain their lavish social welfare states.
American birthrates are poor, too, of course, but no matter how controversial (illegal) immigration may be in America, the United States has a very successful track record of absorbing immigrants. Europeans don't. Moreover, our main sources of cheap immigrant labor are already Christian and Western. Europe's immigrants tend to come from Islamic countries, mostly Turkey, but also various Arab and North African lands.
And, in case you haven't heard, Muslims in Europe aren't buying into the "European model" of peaceful assimilation, tolerance and another round of kumbaya. In 2000, EU President Romano Prodi declared that the world desperately needed to emulate the European Model: "We have a unique historic experience to offer. The experience of liberating people from poverty, war, oppression, and intolerance." Alas, it seems the European Model of multiculturalism seems better suited for breeding resentment of perceived oppression among its Muslim populations, which in turn translates into so much preaching for war and intolerance, which Europeans have a hard time denouncing, let alone combating, for fear of sounding too intolerant toward the very radicals bent on their destructions. The Dutch, at least, are coming to grips with this pathologically vicious cycle in the wake of Theo van Gogh's murder.
Europe's inability to deal straightforwardly with its problems at home mirrors its handling of things abroad. The French and Germans puffed their chests and fluffed their feathers in pride over their refusal to topple Saddam Hussein. But it wasn't just their reluctance to deprive themselves of Saddam's petrodollars, nor their more enlightened natures, that prevented them from lending military support to the effort. They simply didn't have much to offer.
The little-discussed secret of European "enlightenment" on military affairs is that the most potent weapon in their arsenals is hot air. Even if they wanted to, France and Germany combined couldn't send much more than 20,000 troops outside of Europe - and, not counting Britain, they're the military powerhouses in Europe. France had the choice of playing the conscientious objector in the war and hero to the "oppressed" peoples of the world (and, thereby, staying bought by Saddam) or of joining the United States and revealing itself as a third-rate military power. Who can be shocked that Jacques chose Curtain No. 2?
Meanwhile, some scholars predict that if current demographic trends continue, France could be a Muslim country in a few generations, with the rest of Europe not too far behind. So maybe that's what Star Trek's writers had in mind when they talked about the European Hegemony.