In the cold climes of the north, millions of old and aging people, many of them retired at 55 or 60 years, look forward to a future, perhaps, decades of life, without the discipline of work.
They are the pensioners of the wealthy European countries whose demographic composition is in deep crisis. All but four of the 15 original members of the European Union are facing a population decline. At least three — Germany, Italy, and Spain — may even disappear as nations before the end of the century. By most conservative estimates, the EU needs at least 1.2 million new immigrants each year to preserve its demographic balance.
And, yet, the union has adopted, and is trying to enforce, a string of rigid anti-immigration laws, during the past few years.
The picture to the south of Europe, across the Mediterranean, is quite different. There, millions of young people are queuing at European consulates in the hope of getting the visas they seldom secure. They, too, face a bleak future because, unless things change, they are unlikely to get the education and job opportunities without which they will not access modern living standards.
So, what is the solution?
Put simply, the solution is to revive the Roman Empire! Of course, not as an empire with an emperor and all that, but as a space within which many different nation states can work together without frontiers.
For over 1,000 years, Europe, North Africa, and part of the Middle East were components of a natural geographical entity with no internal frontiers. Peoples and goods freely traveled within that vast area, contributing to economic prosperity and cultural enrichment. All religions were allowed because the state had no religion of its own. No one would be jailed for his political opinions. As long as an individual obeyed the law, the state didn’t care about his race, ethnic background, sex, religion, or economic status.
The Roman world did have its ugly side, however. It tolerated slavery and, in its final phases, was sinking in a morass of moral turpitude.
It is strange that almost 2,000 years later, that natural geographic and historic entity is divided across religious, cultural, and ethnic lines. The EU has just admitted as new members a string of countries like Poland and three Baltic republics that were never part of the Roman Empire. At the same time, it has rejected Turkey that, for a thousand years, was the center of Roman power.
The EU doors are also shut to Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Morocco that were part of Rome before it extended its rule to present-day France and Britain. What is now Turkey, Egypt, and North Africa produced numerous leaders for the empire, including at least six emperors.
The logic of globalization dictates that state frontiers, which began to solidify as a result of World War I, be lifted to create larger economic, social, and cultural spaces.
North Africa, which has the most beautiful beaches of the Mediterranean, could become a kind of Florida for the old-age pensioners of western and northern Europe. In exchange, millions of young people could move north from the south to provide the labor force needed to keep the modern European economies going. Turkey, for its part, could become an important reservoir of manpower, agricultural production, and purchasing power for an expanded Europe.
A judicious mix of wealth and technology from the north and manpower from the south could turn the Euro-Mediterranean region into the biggest and most prosperous economy the world has ever seen.
A purely continental Europe, however, will be heading for what population experts describe as “the gray explosion”. At the same time, the southern and eastern regions of the Mediterranean will remain poor with a demographic time bomb ticking in their midst.
Against that background it is interesting to see some Europeans cling to old prejudices to promote a “little Europe” ideology. France’s former President Valery Giscard d’Estaing claims that Turkey’s entry into the EU could mean “the end of Europe.”
Giscard answers with one word: Islam.
Germany’s former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, despite the fact that his own son has married a Turkish Muslim lady, takes a similar position.
What Giscard and Kohl ignore is the fact that Islam already forms the second-largest, and the fastest growing, religious community in the European Union. Giscard and Kohl are yesterday’s men, with a vision oriented toward the past rather than the future.
What would happen if the entire European continent, including all those that have refused to join the EU, enter the club alongside with Turkey, Egypt and the four North African countries? This new and expanded version of the old Roman Empire will have a total population of around 800 million of which some 250 million would be Muslims.
Giscard’s claim that Muslims could “swamp Europe out of existence” is pure fantasy.
The Europeans, especially the French, pride themselves in having secular political systems. Thus there is no logic in treating the European Union as if it were an exclusively Christian club. It makes no sense for the European Union to court Georgia and Armenia as future members, simply because they are Christians, but slam the door in the face of Turkey and Morocco which are closer to Europe by geography and history.
One crucial lesson of history is that civilizations that close themselves end up weakened and ultimately perish.
Rome’s own history is an illustration. As long as it was an open society, accepting people of all faiths and ideas, it remained a dynamic maker of civilization. Once it had frozen into an instrument for a single dogmatic brand of Christianity, it began to decline and was ultimately defeated by its traditional enemies.
Prosperity is like the flame of a candle. If applied to the wick of unlit candles it can produce a feast of light. If left to burn alone it will eventually die out.
— Amir Taheri is author of The Cauldron: The Middle East behind the headlines. Taheri is reachable through www.benadorassociates.com.