The European Oasis

PARIS – Are non-Europeans much less pessimistic about Europe than Europeans themselves? Could distance be a prerequisite for a more balanced view of the continent’s predicament?

In an interview a few months ago, Wang Hongzhang, the chairman of China Construction Bank, indirectly expressed his subdued enthusiasm for Europe. Quoting the Chinese proverb, “A starved camel is still bigger than a horse,” he went on to say that Europe’s economies are much stronger than many people believe. And, without saying so explicitly, he suggested that the time was right to go on a European buying spree at the right price.

Of course, not everyone would share this optimistic vision. Across the English Channel, British Euroskeptics rejoice that they have kept their distance from a “sinking ship.” But, while The Economist recently described France as being “in denial,” the same could be said of the United Kingdom. True, the French had neither the Olympic Games nor a royal celebration this year; but, when it comes to the state of their economies, the two countries are largely in the same boat.

If one travels to America or Asia, as I did this autumn, Europe’s image becomes selectively brighter: while it continues to be perceived as a positive model, it is no longer considered a global actor. Seen from the United States, Europe may no longer be a problem, but it is not considered a part of any solution to the world’s problems, either – with the possible exception of those that concern Europe directly (and, even then, doubts linger).