"Present At The Creation" In Europe

Europe is hot. Until recently, few would have suggested anything of the kind. The Old World seemed mired in unemployment, failed economic policies, and politicians who played fast and loose with the ethical rules of the game. And with the Balkans in flames, Europe has been traumatized by its worst bloodletting since Adolf Hitler.

But hot it is. It's not just the sheer size of euro-denominated dealmaking, such as the late-May $46 billion takeover of Britain's Orange by France Telecom. It's the fact that Europeans from Scandinavia to Spain are now starting to feel "present at the creation," as former Secretary of State Dean Acheson described the birth of the postwar world order half a century ago. Then, as now, something utterly new was being born. Then, as now, the way ahead was uncertain.

As Germany's plainspoken Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer suggested in a groundbreaking speech in early May, Europe is at a crossroads. Will it join and shape the New Economy of the Internet? Will Britain end up joining the European core, or will it be forced outside? Can France, Germany, and other countries rethink the concept of the nation-state to make a more united Europe work better?

There is one good reason to be hopeful about Europe's future. Once it was Europe's farsighted leaders who created things like the euro and the European Commission. Now, the real pioneers are a new generation of bankers, industrialists, entrepreneurs, inventors, and thinkers. Europe, finally, is starting to happen on the ground as never before. It could be the world's most interesting economic and political laboratory in the years to come.

Nothing reflects this more than the revolution currently taking place among the young. In France, for example, graduates of the elite grandes ecoles are no longer heading straight into plum government jobs but are beginning to start their own companies. Being an entrepreneur has cachet for the first time on the Continent and especially in France. This is due, in part, to the large French high-tech diaspora in California's Silicon Valley and New York's Silicon Alley. Many return, determined to repeat their success in America back home. If they can make it in the U.S., why not France itself? Why not, indeed.

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