The Europe that entered the 21st century found itself in a much different position than the one that had entered the 20th.  The continent was no longer home to the preeminent power players on the planet; decades earlier, it had surrendered its geopolitical stewardship to the United States.  It no longer had the most feared military, the most prolific economy or the most cloned culture.  Again, those titles went to the US.

            But to signal Europe’s demise would be a bit premature.  Though it might not be number one anymore, it hasn’t exactly fallen off the charts.  When it comes to military spending, Europe still holds spots four, five and nine (United Kingdom, France and Germany respectively).  When it comes to GDP, Europe still pops up fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth (Germany, France, United Kingdom and Italy).  As for culture, the whole world might no longer clamor for everything European, but the world still has a hard time not following the goals of Europe’s footballers, the cuisine of Europe’s top chefs and the tunes turned out by Europe’s musicians.  And when the world travels, where do they end up?  Overwhelmingly, Europe – ranking first, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth (France, Spain, Italy, Turkey, United Kingdom and Germany).  And when organizations like Forbes or the Economist rank the best places in the world to live (based on criteria like material well-being, gender equality, life expectancy and government performance), Europe overwhelmingly earns almost all the top spots.

            Not too shabby considering Europe is home to only about 10% of the world’s population and 6.9% of the world’s land. 

            But like the rest of the world, Europe’s status is precarious, its future prosperity anything but guaranteed.  It suffers from many of the same demographic dangers facing developed regions on other continents.  Its economic progress has been inconsistent, its regional stability is shaky and its governments have not exactly instilled total confidence that they’ll be able to have the answers when their societies inevitably deteriorate.

            One of the most noticeable changes in Europe over the last few decades has been the formation of the European Union.  The EU is a system of political and economic partnerships that have steadily expanded since the early 1950s.  The EU emerged as a possible solution to the centuries of violence, competition and nationalistic movements that continually made it impossible for European nations to consistently prosper in peace.  Since the time of Napoleon, it seemed like political, economic and military leaders all saw European development as a zero sum game – one nation’s success was another nation’s failure.  This rivalry inevitably led to...