After the Greek election of radical leftists and the European Central Bank's new liquidity, Europe is still where the rest of the world looks to understand themselves. History has so much to say.
PARIS — The European Central Bank is "firing up the printing press" to fight the risks of deflation. Greece, now with a radical left government, is rejecting austerity. Europe seems to be once again at a crossroads. For some, this convergence of "a weak euro and strong radicalism" only confirms the inevitable decline of the Old Continent.
Many are joining the we-told-you-so crowd. People from the right to the left of the Anglo-Saxon political and intellectual sphere, from Martin Feldstein to Joseph Stiglitz, have disapproved of the euro for a long time.
But others believe that, on the contrary, the events of the last week demonstrate that Europe is entering a new chapter and conveying its capacity to overcome the toughest storms. Europe, once again, showed it could face its problems with resiliency and pragmatism, with courage and determination.
To describe this unique capacity, the English would use the term "muddling through," an expression that suggests things eventually work out. Some are even more optimistic, and are starting to talk about Europe as a "re-emerging" power.
Will historians describe tomorrow's Europe as they did yesterday's China — a "returning" power that finds the keys of its recovery in the roots of its past? How do things really stand? Should Europe really be compared to an elderly and haggard grandmother, as Pope Francis recently did, or to a phoenix rising once again from its ashes? There's no impartial answer to this question. But we can find in the perspectives of others useful insights and ideas about ourselves.
As seen by ...
How does the world see Europe in early 2015? What is the main impression: fear, hope, resentment or, more profoundly, indifference towards a continent that now only represents about 7% of the global population? In reality, it's all a question of geography, if not history. It's almost possible to say, admittedly narcissistically, "Tell me what you think of Europe, and I'll tell you who you are."
Seen from China, Europe is simultaneously a good opportunity, a complicated model to follow, a historical and political warning, the scar of a painful humiliation and, on the other extreme, a museum of the art of living. Is investing in Europe, especially since the recent spectacular fall of the euro, not always tempting for the Chinese, or investors from the rest of the world? The risk-taking is less important than in countries such as Venezuela or even in continents like Africa.
Of course, Europe isn't the peaceful haven it seemed to be yesterday. Putin's real or feigned irrationality, the fanaticism of a few thousand lost young people who plan to give meaning to their lives through a culture of death, the rise of populism — all this means it's no longer possible to ignore the geopolitical risk that Europe has become again. But are these risks not secondary compared to those in numerous areas across the globe? Europe is not only a good deal. It is also still, despite itself and its recent vicissitudes, a model when it comes to social and health protection.
Beyond the vision of what Europe is today, has the reminder of what it was yesterday not also been the most profitable warning for Asia? After last year, which was particularly rich in historical commemorations, tension has calmed in the South China Sea between the Japanese and Chinese. Everything is happening as if Asia refused to commit the same mistakes as Europe, even though a reconciliation based on the French-German model is not on the agenda. If Putin's Russia seems ever more Asian in its way of working in the eyes of Europe, Moscow envisions Europe as always more decadent and "morally corrupt" (but not financially corrupt, of course) compared to the purity of the "Russian civilization."
Concerning America, it's a completely different perspective. Europe is no longer a warning, but a historical reminder, like a sped-up film passing before its eyes. The perspective, for historical and cultural reasons, is a lot closer. Details are emerging as if they were coming under a magnifying glass. And its national components, instead of Europe itself, are dominating: Berlin facing its responsibilities, Paris facing terrorism, Athens facing populism, Moscow facing its demons.
Seen from the South, Europe is the West's weak link for Salafists, whereas for Africans risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean, it's still seen as a hopeful refuge. As important as it may be, the perspective of others will not be enough for Europe to find itself. It would be a shame if ECB President Mario Draghi"s audacity was used as an alibi for the absence of real reforms.