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America, Wake Up to the European Dream

The American Dream depends on assimilation, but the European Dream is based on nations' preserving their cultural identity and coming together in a multicultural universe. The EU's inhabitants break down into 100 or more different languages and dialects, making the region one of the most culturally diverse in the world.

The American Dream is wedded to love of country and patriotism; the European Dream is more cosmopolitan and outward-reaching. Europeans now provide 47 percent of all the humanitarian assistance in the world. (The United States contributes 36 percent.) While Americans are willing to use military force to protect our self-interests, Europeans favor diplomacy and economic aid to avert conflict.

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Of course, Europe hasn't suddenly become Shangri-La. For all their talk of preserving cultural identity, Europeans have become increasingly hostile toward newly arrived immigrants and asylum seekers from other parts of the world -- even as their continent becomes more attractive to these very people. Anti-Semitism is on the rise again, as is discrimination against Muslims and other religious minorities.

For the European Union itself, many difficulties remain, including integrating the 10 new Central, Eastern and Southern European member states, whose economies lag far behind the wealthier Western and Northern members. The EU's governing machinery in Brussels is a maze of bureaucratic red tape, and its officials are often accused of being aloof and unresponsive to the needs of the European citizens they supposedly serve.

But the point is not whether the Europeans are living up to their dream. We Americans have never fully lived up to our own. What's important is that Europe has articulated a new vision for the future that differs from ours in fundamental ways. Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission, has admitted that the EU's goal is to establish "a superpower on the European continent that stands equal to the United States." When I asked him to explain what he meant, he spoke of the European vision as one of a new type of power, based not on military strength but on economic cooperation and the construction of communities of conscience, a new kind of superpower based on waging peace.

Utopian as it sounds, remember that 200 years ago, America's founders created a new dream for humanity that transformed the world. Today, a new generation of Europeans is creating a radical, and worthy, new dream.

Author's e-mail: jrifkin@foet.org

Jeremy Rifkin, president of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, is the author of "The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream" (Tarcher/Penguin).


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