When a nation joins the European Union, it's either a “net contributor” or a “net receiver.” While there's lots of wrangling in Brussels about just who gives and gets what, Europeans know their economic union is only as strong as its weakest link. Therefore, wealthy countries give more than they get — willingly, if not always enthusiastically. That money bolsters the poorer countries until they develop to the point where, rather than weak links, they become net contributors as well.
Europe (led by France and Germany) is investing hundreds of billions of euros to build a transportation and communication infrastructure for the future. Travelers not only see this, they benefit from it.
A bullet train now zips under the English Channel, taking people from Paris to London in two and a half hours. Denmark and Sweden built a mammoth bridge connecting Copenhagen and Malmö, creating Scandinavia's largest metropolitan area. And cities throughout Europe seem to be forever dug up because they are constantly improving and expanding their underground transit systems.
Non-EU nations are investing, too. Norway, with fewer than five million people, is drilling some of the longest tunnels in the world to lace together isolated communities in the fjords. Istanbul has scraped together the money to build a massive train tunnel under the Bosphorus to connect Asia and Europe and grease its economic engine. And there's an effort underway to dig a tunnel connecting Spain and Morocco under the Strait of Gibraltar.
Savvy nations understand that infrastructure is the foundation for prosperity (and power). Hitler knew he couldn't take on Europe without a good highway system, so he built the autobahn. The United States undertook the massive investment in our interstate highway system in the 1950s, which helped our country truck itself into greater economic power. And in our generation, Europe is investing money it could be spending on its military on its infrastructure instead.
Exploring a continent with a level of affluence similar to the US's gives us a chance to see firsthand the result of allocating limited resources with different priorities. People everywhere hear the excuse “there's not enough money.” In actuality, there is enough money…just different priorities. New stadium, healthcare for all, faster trains, extravagant cathedral, subsidized education, tax cuts, next-generation bomber…each society makes different choices according to its priorities.
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You are reading "Europe’s Internal Marshall Plan", an entry posted on 31 July 2009 by Rick Steves.