It's often easy to view Europe as an aging continent in terminal decline. Pundits and politicians lament that the European Union is weak, riven by conflict, and unable to translate its size and wealth into hard power. Or, as British Foreign Minister David Miliband put it last week, "the European whole is less than the sum of its parts."
Yet such charges of drift and decline miss a stark reality. As the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall arrives next week, Europe finds itself more united, prosperous, and secure than at any time in history. EU members have become some of the planet's most adroit globalizers, opening themselves to the world while keeping in place their extensive social services—Germany alone exports as much as China. The continent has also fared better than expected in the downturn. Europe's unemployment rate now bests America's, and France and Germany managed to escape the recession faster than the United States.