Herman van Rompuy: Far from being in terminal decline, Europe's best days lie ahead

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The Independent Online

Let's look at the way the world is changing. Shakespeare encapsulated it in this beautiful phrase: "There is a tide in the affairs of men". We live in the midst of historical currents. On the geopolitical ocean, one must know the tides in order to steer a course, to change direction, to bring one's ship safely back to port. In the ports of Bruges and Zeebrugge, this ancient wisdom of the seafarers still holds true. Now what is happening to the tides?

The last few weeks and months, certain signs of long-term changes came to the surface. The results and dealings of the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen last December constituted one such sign. Europe was waiting in the corridor, while the US and China struck a deal. At least that was the perception.

A second such sign were the recent forecasts for economic growth of China, India, the US and Europe in 2010.

A third sign was the announcement of President Obama, in late January, that he would stop the Nasa programme to go to the moon. These signs are adding up to a bleak mood in some circles. Some talk of a "decline of the West". They compare it to the "rise of the rest", comprising of China, India, Brazil and the rest. It is sunset versus sunrise. Others think that it is only Europe facing trouble. They warn of a "G2" taking power at the global level, meaning the US and China, thus leaving Europe and other actors out.

Let me say straight away that I consider these conclusions very exaggerated. Both statements are wrong. There is no "G2". And since the fall of communism, Europe has been the most stable region in the world. Recently we proved that we are able to cope with the unprecedented financial crisis. We have avoided a repetition of the errors of the 1930s. Within a year, and in striking contrast to 70 years ago, we are back on the track to positive economic growth.

Our relationship with the United States is very strong. The transatlantic link remains by far the strongest relationship in world affairs, both economically and politically. In my view the "declinist" mood reflects the (somewhat belated) public perception that a new game is taking place. We witness the end of one phase of globalisation and the beginning of a new one.

Taken from a speech by the President of the European Council to the Collège d'Europe in Bruges last week