Since the financial collapse of 2008, Americans of all political persuasions have been frustrated both by the tepid recovery and by the political dysfunction that seems to get in the way every time the economy looks ready to turn itself around. But there’s another region where recovery has been even weaker and political dysfunction arguably even worse. Europe has faced its first major economic crisis since its post–Cold War integration and its subsequent adoption of a common currency. The continent — long admired by American liberals as the home of a more just social order — has embraced fiscal austerity to a far greater degree than has the United States, with drastic budget cuts for poorer member nations such as Greece and Portugal.
For observers in the United States, Europe’s struggles raise many questions. Can a united Europe survive — and should it? Does European integration represent the transcendence of the continent’s bloody twentieth century, or its continuation by other means? Has a project begun in a spirit of liberty, equality, and fraternity turned authoritarian, hierarchical, and antagonistic? If the union is as bad as its critics claim, why does it remain so popular in many member nations? And how will the future of Europe affect that of the United States?