Jewish World Review May 17, 2001/ 24 Iyar 5761
Richard Z. Chesnoff
US is riding high
These days, our continental critics grouse about everything from the Bush administration's plan for a new missile defense system (which the Europeans secretly wish they had) to the expected execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (capital punishment is anathema to Europeans, who seem more used to mass murder).
Still, even the most devoted European critics can't deny that compared with political and social problems facing them of late, the old U.S. of A. seems downright utopian.
Take this week's Italian elections. The stunning victory by center-rightist Silvio Berlusconi has given Italy one of the few clear-cut majority governments it has known since Benito Mussolini was hanged by his heels.
But electing Berlusconi -- Italy's most powerful media magnate and wealthiest biz whiz -- is like sending a combination of Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates to the White House. He has yet to explain how he's going to juggle his private interests with those of Italy. And there's the eyebrow-raising question of his neofascist coalition partners.
There's also trouble in the paradise known as the European Union. The 15-nation organization is transforming most of the continent into a veritable United States of Europe. It has made enormous strides in melding diverse economies and has provided an increasingly common pan-European political, education and judicial system. And it's knocked down ancient frontiers -- literally so. These days, you can drive almost the entire way from Denmark to Italy without being stopped at a border for passport or customs control.
Trouble is, tourists aren't the only ones wandering freely. So are terrorists and drug smugglers. And with Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe bursting at the seams with people who'd prefer to be in the more prosperous European Union, there has been a flood of immigrants who make it into, say, Greece, then wend their way into Germany or England. If the union expands to include Poland and Hungary, that situation could grow worse.
People aren't the only things freely crossing borders. Many Europeans are convinced that it was the withering of border and customs controls that led to the outbreaks of mad cow and foot-and-mouth diseases that have decimated livestock in England, France, Germany and the Netherlands.
The European Union also is being judged suddenly by decidedly narrow national interests. France, for example, once championed the concept of an all-powerful union. But that was when Germany was still divided and France thought it could dominate.
Now that Germany is united and economically powerful, the game has changed. When German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder recently proposed strengthening some of the union's political structures, French President Jacques Chirac responded with as much enthusiasm as he would to rotten foie gras.
These and other problems will be on the agenda at next
month's European Summit in Stockholm. President Bush is
the guest of honor. It will be his first full-fledged
conference with his European colleagues. Maybe Dubya can
tell all those America-bashers how we solve problems at