Niall Ferguson: The European FarceRoundup: Historians' Take
Niall Ferguson is a professor of history at Harvard University. He is also a senior research fellow at Jesus College, Oxford University, and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His Latest book, Civilization: The West and the Rest, has just been published by Penguin Press.
With the sap rising and the governments falling, all the European powers are merrily acting in national character.
In the midst of a severe financial crisis, the French have just elected a champagne socialist on promises of a 75 percent top tax rate and a lower retirement age. The Greeks also had an election in which the established parties lost to a ragbag of splinter groups. The outcome of the election was that they need to have another election. (Cue Zorba the Greek theme music.) Meanwhile, the wailing gloom of the flamenco emanates from Spain, where youth unemployment is now around 50 percent.
Within a few hours of arriving in London, I hear the following announcement on the train: "We apologize for the late departure of this service. This was due to the late arrival of essential personnel. [Translation: the driver overslept.] However, we are happy to inform customers that the London Underground is running a nearly normal service." It’s that "nearly" that is so quintessentially English.
Three days later, in Berlin, I finally reach the Europe that works. Well, sort of. As usual, I find myself marveling at the sheer idleness of the richest and most successful country in the European Union. Lunchtime in the leafy garden of the Café Einstein on the Kurfürstenstrasse shows no sign of ending even at 3 p.m. It’s Thursday. Did you know that the average German now works 1,000 hours a year less than the average South Korean? That’s why when you go on holiday the Germans are already there—and when you go home, they stay on...
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