A profound shift is under way in European politics. It is the passing of the "post-postwar generation," the leaders who came of age in the shadow of World War II. In politics, these men include French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. But a similar change is also under way in business as well. A new generation of smart, results-oriented executives is making sure that, despite the bursting of the tech bubble, there is no letup in entrepreneurial activity in Europe. This new generation of Europeans will no doubt take full advantage of the remarkable May 1 enlargement of the European Union, which added 10 new members from Eastern Europe. While it may still be true that the euro zone lags the U.S. and Asia in growth -- expected to be 2.5% this year, compared with 4% or more in America and 8% or more in China -- there is clearly a new dynamism in major sectors of the European economy, thanks to a rising class of younger business people.
Those taking advantage of the new opportunities of the larger EU include Wolfgang Ruttenstorfer, CEO of Austrian energy group OMV, who is expanding into the greater Danube Valley. Sweden's Pelle Tornberg has turned his Metro International into one of the world's most innovative and expansive media groups. Andrea Pininfarina, CEO of family-controlled Pininfarina Group, is proving that an Italian design boutique can become a tech powerhouse, serving the auto industry worldwide. And young, post-oligarch entrepreneurs in Russia, such as Roustam Tariko, are showing the world that Europe's creative spirit is spreading beyond the political frontiers of the EU.
Europe's transition to a younger, more dynamic generation of corporate leaders is a promising sign. With Japan back, China charging hard, and the U.S. moving fast forward, Europe must get back into the game of economic growth.