DATE November 2, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: T.R. Reid discusses his new book, "The United States of
Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
We're going to talk about something that will help determine America's future,
but Americans will not have a vote on it: the European Union. The
unification of Europe is affecting America's economy and politics in ways you
may not be aware of. Europe may be developing into a second superpower that
could stand on equal footing with the US.
That's the subject of the new book "The United States of Europe: The New
Superpower and the End of American Supremacy." My guest is the author, T.R.
Reid, who you may know from his writing in The Washington Post or his
commentaries on NPR's "Morning Edition." He was The Post Tokyo bureau chief
from 1990 to '95, then became its London bureau chief. He's now The Post's
Rocky Mountain bureau chief.
For Americans who haven't been following the development of the European Union
that closely, can you just give us, like, a basic sketch of what the structure
of it is, what it means?
T.R. REID (Author, "The United States of Europe"; The Washington Post; NPR
Commentator): The European Union is sort of a supernational pan-European
government. It's 25 nations that have come together, and they've taken a lot
of the governing powers and rights that individual countries have and handed
them over to this central government in Brussels so that, in many ways, they
act like a single country. Europe has a parliament; it has a president; it
has a flag; it has a national anthem; it has a standardized passport, no more
border controls, a single currency, a single central bank for most of the
countries. It's acting like a single nation even though it's still made up of
25 separate nations. This unification came about as a way to prevent war, and
I think the most striking thing about the EU is that it's worked.
In the 70 years up to 1945, Europe had three brutal international wars on the
continent. In the 60 years since, none. And there's not going to be a war
between European countries; it's just not going to happen.
GROSS: It may seem odd on Election Day to be talking about Europe, but you're
really confident that Europe is going to have a very big effect on our future.
Do you think, as your subtitle implies, that Europe will be eclipsing our
stature as a superpower?
REID: That's certainly what the Europeans hope. And when I first started
following this four, five years ago, I laughed at them. I was bored at EU
summits. They stood up and said, `We're building a new superpower. Look out,
America.' But, Terry, let's look at the numbers. They have more people; they
have more money; they have vastly more trade than we do. They have more votes
than the United States on every international organization. They don't have
more military power; they don't want it. They're spending that money on this
lavish welfare state of theirs. And they really want to stand up to America
to rank as a superpower next to us; they're driving for this.
If you look at recent polls, 78, 80 percent of the European people say they
want Europe to be a superpower equal to America. And 70 percent say they're
going to get there pretty quickly or they've gotten there already, some think.
GROSS: What kind of answer to the United States' power would Europe want to
be? Like, in what kinds of issues does it want to either balance us or veto
REID: Well, for example, Europe wants to make--it wants to be the center of
global antitrust law, international trade and antitrust law. They don't want
to follow Washington's lead, and this is why they have stuck it to big
American companies like Microsoft and General Electric by imposing their
rules. And, you know, American companies don't particularly like it when the
antitrust czar of Europe tells them--they told Microsoft to rewrite Windows.
They don't like it but they don't--they can't say no, because it's the biggest
market in the world now. The European Union, with 25 nations and about 500
million people, is a bigger market than the United States; it's a bigger
market than Japan. American companies can't say no anymore.
GROSS: Let's look at the European Union and the invasion of Iraq. England
was with the United States on that; most of the European countries were not or
at least--even those who were didn't seem to be that strongly behind the US.
Excuse me for speaking in big generalizations, here, but how did the fact that
Europe is now united in the European Union affect, if at all, how different
countries took their positions on Iraq?
REID: A key factor is that Europe gives away a lot more foreign aid that the
United Sates does, the EU and the European countries. They give it to more
countries. And so at any given time, if you take the European members of the
UN Security Council and the countries that happen to be on the Security
Council that are receiving most of their aid from the EU, this gives them a
lot of clout in the United Nations. And this is the reason that President
Bush couldn't pass his second resolution in the Security Council to go to war
We blamed the French and the Russians but, as a matter of fact, we couldn't
get anywhere near the nine votes needed to pass something out of the Security
Council because, except for Britain, the EU members were strongly opposed and
the countries receiving aid and dependent on the EU were, therefore, opposed.
That amounts to power. If you look at the World Trade Organization, if you
look at the Kyoto accord organization, the vote on the International Criminal
Court, the EU, although it acts as one country in many ways, it keeps its 25
separate votes in all those organizations. Plus, it gives aid around the
world to countries that it can then lobby for. So the EU and its power to
stand up to the United States in these international organizations is making
it harder for us to achieve things.
You know, this--I'll give you an example, this--the last big bill that came
out of Congress, this massive tax bill, the way they gave away bennies to lots
of American corporations. Remember that?
REID: That vote was forced on us by the World Trade Organization. We had
this basically tax subsidy for American exporters that had been in place for
25 years. The Japanese and the Chinese wrote political diplomatic letters
saying, `Come on, please stop.' The EU went to the World Trade Organization,
where they control most votes, and got the World Trade Organization to issue
sanctions against the United States, hundreds of millions of dollars a year
in tariffs, if we didn't change this law. And the EU was very blunt about it.
The EU trade commissioner said, `What we're trying to do here is repeal a US
Does the European Union have the right to repeal US laws? Well, I'll tell you
what the speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, said. I love this. He said,
`My gut feeling is we fought a revolution 230 years ago to stop Europeans from
telling us what we tax in this country, but the fact is, we have to pass this
bill. The EU has a sword over our head. We don't like it, but we have to do
what the Europeans are telling us to do.'
What I'm arguing in this book is that's a kind of global power. It's not
military power, but it's power that forced the United States to do something
we didn't want to do at great expense. That's power, isn't it?
GROSS: You say in your book that anybody who doesn't get how powerful the
European Union is should learn the lesson that Jack Welch, the former head of
GE, learned when he tried to buy Honeywell. And this was a deal that was
approved in the United States, it passed muster in terms of antitrust stuff in
the US Justice Department, but it didn't pass the standards of the European
Union. Why not?
REID: That's exactly right. It was the biggest industrial merger in history,
a $45 billion deal. And he--Jack Welch came up with this idea just at the
beginning of the Bush administration. This is a Republican administration,
you know, favorable towards business. And that deal just sailed through our
antitrust department. But Europe has one single antitrust czar for 25
countries, and he held it up. He has--as I said earlier, he doesn't want to
follow American antitrust rules. The fact that our Justice Department
approved it didn't matter to him. And I don't think--I think it's very clear
that Jack Welch and GE never saw this coming. In fact, Jack Welch said, `It
never occurred to me that the European Union might say no.'
There's this great moment when Jack Welch finally goes over to Europe to see
Mario Monti, the antitrust czar, decides to go to lunch with him because, you
know, Welch is absolutely charming; nobody can resist him. Goes into the
restaurant and sticks out his hand and says, `Mario, Jack.' And this Monti
says, `Mr. Welch, we have a regulatory proceeding under way. I believe you
should refer to me as Senor Monti.' And I think at that point, Welch knew he
had a big problem. Europe shot it down; Welch had to come home to his board
of directors and say, `We can't do this $45 billion merger 'cause Europe said
no.' The US Treasury secretary said, `Wait a minute, Europe has no right to
tell two American countries.' And, you know, Jack Welch is a realist; he
said, `Yeah, they have the right because they're a bigger market than Japan or
the United States. We have to sell product there, so we have to follow their
Now here's the point. If you look at what Jack Welch spent on that merger, he
spent about $50 million on antitrust lawyers and another 25 or 30 million on
investment bankers, $75 million to learn this lesson about the power of the
EU. This is my big argument: For 24.95, you can learn the same argument from
GROSS: (Laughs) That's funny.
REID: We're talking bargain here.
GROSS: So, I mean, I guess what you're saying is, like, what's the point of a
merger like this if you can't sell to the European Union? I mean, that's a
huge market; no one can afford to miss it.
REID: That's exactly right. They now have the market power. As a matter of
fact, the EU sets most of the commercial rules that govern international
trade. I don't know if you ever buy bourbon. I buy Kentucky bourbon, and
I'm so old, I can remember when you bought it as a fifth; you bought it as a
quart or a fifth of a gallon. Today you buy a bottle of Kentucky bourbon and
it's 70 centiliters. You think Americans stormed the liquor stores demanding
to buy their bourbon in centiliters? No, I don't think so. It's because the
EU told them to do it and American companies have to follow these rules 'cause
it's such a massive market.
GROSS: Why is it that, in an era when America is becoming more deregulated,
that Europe is becoming more regulated?
REID: They believe in regulation. They like government better than we do. I
don't think there's any doubt about that. And when you ask them about it,
they have their success stories. I'll give you a good example. In the late
1980s, early '90s, when cell phones were starting to catch on in Europe and
the United States, the United States was in a deregulatory mode and we had
several different standards. Nobody was going to impose a standard on the
industry; they could set up their own standards. Europe was in this unifying
mind-set, this EU mind-set, and they set a single standard for all of Europe.
As it turned out, Americans were not happy with the fact that the cell phone
you bought in Arizona wouldn't work in Massachusetts, whereas in Europe the
same cell phone, you could buy it in Estonia and use it in Portugal; you could
use it anywhere.
Finally, eventually the European standard moved all over the world and--Guess
what?--a couple of European companies using this standard grabbed on and took
hold of the cell phone industry. Nokia passed Motorola to become the
number-one cell phone company in the world. A network called Vodafone, which
now owns Verizon, is the biggest cell phone network operator in the world, a
European company. And the Europeans will tell you that's because they
standardized; it's because they have this union that sets single rules. So
they just like regulation; they like rules better than we do.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is T.R. Reid, and he's the Rocky
Mountain bureau chief for The Washington Post, the former Tokyo and London
bureau chief for The Washington Post. While he was the London bureau chief,
he chronicled the rise of the European Union, and that's the subject of his
new book, which is called "The United States of Europe: The New Superpower
and the End of American Supremacy."
Let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more about the EU.
This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is T.R. Reid, and he's the former Tokyo bureau chief and
former London bureau chief of The Washington Post. He is now the Rocky
Mountain bureau chief. His new book is called "The United States of Europe,"
and it's about the European Union. It's subtitled "The New Superpower and the
End of American Supremacy."
There's a lot of companies that we may think of as being American-owned
companies that are really owned by European companies. And would you do the
roll call for us?
REID: Yeah. I talk in my book about this typical American couple who decide
to go for a weekend vacation. They don't have enough cash, so they go down to
Household Finance in the local mall and borrow the money. They get in
their Jeep. They gas up at an Amoco station. They stop at Dunkin' Donuts for
breakfast. They put a Dave Matthews CD in the stereo. They're both watching
their weight, so they have a super SlimFast for lunch, spend the night at a
Holiday Inn, give their dog some Alpo and have a Miller Light and smoke some
Lucky Strikes, read a new book from The Literary Guild and pop some pay per
view in the TV and call somebody on their Verizon phone. Classic American
And every company I've just named is owned by Europeans. You know, the Jeep
is owned by DaimlerChrysler. Amoco, the American Oil Company, is now owned
by British Petroleum. Lucky Strikes is British American Tobacco; that's a
British company. You just go down the list. You know, Dove soap, Vaseline,
Pennzoil. Quaker State motor oil--Doesn't that sound American to you?
GROSS: You know...
REID: Is owned by a Dutch company. Birdseye, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the
Chicago Sun-Times, Brooks Brothers, Sunglass Hut. Even Mott's apple
pie--that's about as American as you can get--is owned by a British company.
The American Heritage Dictionary is published by Vivendi, a French firm. The
US Shoe Corporation belongs to the Italians.
GROSS: When the...
GROSS: When the Japanese bought a lot of American companies and American real
estate in the '80s, including Sony and Rockefeller Center, there was a lot of
concern. You know, are the Japanese buying up America? What will this mean
for our future? Do you think we hear the same concerns expressed about
European companies that have bought American companies?
REID: Yeah, a great question. No, we don't. I don't think most Americans
know if they stay at a Holiday Inn, they're staying in a European company's
hotel. I don't think they know that. And I don't think they care, I think,
for a couple of reasons. In the first place, I think a lot of Americans
understand it's a good thing if the Europeans want to take their money and
invest it in our economy. It creates jobs; it's good. You know, build
factories; build hotels here. We like that.
The other thing is--and certainly the Japanese and the Chinese will tell you
this--they argue that Americans don't seem to mind if blue-eyed Germans or
Dutchmen buy our buildings and our factories, and they did mind when Japanese
bought them. There was something wrong there. They say it's racism. I don't
know that that's true, but certainly in Japan they've noticed this difference.
Whenever I'm over there, people talk about it.
The downside of it is that, you know, when these European companies get a huge
interest in our economy, in our industry, millions and millions of Americans
work for European companies now. In America, you can lay people off. We
allow that. In most European companies, it's against the law to downsize.
You can't lay people off. And I'll give you a good example. Diageo, the
British company that owned Burger King, they were losing money; they had to do
something about their stock price. So you know what did? They laid off 8,000
Burger King workers in America. They didn't lay anybody off at their European
subsidiaries 'cause they weren't allowed to.
So there is--it's a good thing that Europeans want to invest in our economy;
it's desirable in many ways. But there is a kick to it, too, because when the
downside comes, they're going to do it on their American subsidiary, not at
GROSS: Now you've said that, you know, the EU isn't really interested in
becoming a military superpower and they don't really have the troops or the
arms to do that. So certainly that will be something that it does not
challenge the United States on, at least not in the near future.
GROSS: But you also said it doesn't seem to want to have that military
superpower kind overall. What is its philosophy of what kind of military it
wants or needs?
REID: I think its military is pretty much a defense of the homeland, defense
of Europe kind of military. If you look, Terry, at, you know, the base, the
reason there's an EU in the first place, it's pretty noble. It started after
World War II. They had had three wars going back to the Franco-Prussian War
in about 70 years that killed about 100 million Europeans. And they said, `My
God, we're going to keep doing this; there's going to be another war on the
continent unless we change.' And the whole mind-set in Europe that's driving
the European Union is a sense that we've got to work together. We're going to
be multinational. We're gonna cede sovereignty to a central governing unit
that we all share and therefore are not going to fight each other.
The whole mind-set of the continent is moving away from military solutions,
not only at home but around the world. That's why they didn't want to go to
war in Iraq. And therefore, if you're in that mind-set, military is kind of a
costly anachronism. Why pour money into it? They'd much rather pour money
into their free health care or their free college education or the money they
pay young mothers to stay at home with the children. They'd much prefer to
spend the money on the welfare state, and fortunately for them, there's a
sugar daddy in the world that's willing to defend them militarily; that's the
United States. As long as we keep doing this, they don't need a big military
and they can afford to pour that money into the welfare state instead.
GROSS: Now how has funding anti-terrorism tactics affected Europe's sense of
its own security and its military needs?
REID: Europe's very scared about terrorism. They, I'd say, were more--they
had terrorism, you know, domestic terrorism before 9/11/2001, and they were
terrified by what happened to our country and they'd been worried about it.
If you look at the response, the Europeans are the only place--European
countries are the only place where members of al-Qaeda have been convicted and
sent to jail. They've been quite serious about it, and they are spending
money and police work on it. But I don't think they--and they did take a
pretty big part in Afghanistan, I have to say; half the casualties and half
the cost in Afghanistan has been borne by the Europeans because they saw that
as the threat to themselves.
But basically the notion that you're going to go around the world sending
troops in to fight terrorism wherever it may be is not a European notion.
They're going to fight it at home; they're going to try to do it through
police work and through better security at home. And they just don't accept
the military solution to this problem, because I think the mind-set in Europe,
as I said, is not to look for military solutions to global problems.
GROSS: T.R. Reid is the author of the new book "The United States of Europe."
He's worked as The Washington Post's bureau chief in London and Tokyo and is
now the paper's Rocky Mountain bureau chief. He'll be back in the second half
of our show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, the beloved welfare state; why Europeans are willing to pay
steep taxes for a comfortable safety net that includes free or relatively
inexpensive health care. We continue our conversation with T.R. Reid, author
of "The United States of Europe." And Ken Tucker reviews new albums by Green
Day and Black Keys.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with T.R. Reid, author of a
new book about the European Union and its impact on the US. It's called "The
United States of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American
Supremacy." Reid chronicled the rise of the EU while he served as The
Washington Post London bureau chief. He's now The Post's Rocky Mountain
bureau chief and a commentator on NPR's "Morning Edition." When we left off,
we were talking about why European countries' investment in the military is
relatively small compared to the US.
Since the European Union is not spending that much money on the military and
they are spending it on certain, you know, social and economic needs, their
model of what the government is supposed to be doing for its people is
becoming, I think, pretty different from the American model? Because in
America, we're at a time of, you know, cutbacks in social services, an
increasing amount of money toward military, such as the war in Iraq. Could
you compare the two different philosophies now about, you know, the social
services vs. military?
REID: Yeah. I think the key way to wrap this up is the term `welfare state.'
In the United States, `welfare state' is kind of an epithet; it's a nasty
phrase that politicians throw at some other politicians trying to waste money
on the poor. In all over Europe, welfare state is a term of pride. They love
their welfare state, and they constantly say that they're welfare
states--this rich pension system, free medical system, free college tuition,
the payments they make to mothers to stay home with their babies. You know,
if you have a baby in Norway, the government hires you at your old
salary--whatever you were earning on the job--to stay home and raise your baby
for a year and they pay you the same pay, and then they guarantee you your job
back when you want to go back to work. That kind of thing is what they call
the welfare state and they're very proud of it.
I remember I went to a demonstration at Oxford University when Tony Blair had
this shocking notion--are you ready for this? He had this idea that people
should pay for college education. You know, you can get a degree at Oxford
now--he's actually raised the price of a degree at Oxford to about $5,000 a
year. You'd pay 40 at Harvard. This is pretty much of a bargain. But I went
to a demo there and the kids were all screaming and ranting and raving--you
know, bed sheets flying from the windows. And the students said education must
be free. `Free education is a crucial part of our beloved welfare state.'
And I wrote in The Washington Post, `I think that phrase "our beloved welfare
state" really captures it.' They believe that government should be there to
make things comfortable for you. And to me that's a fundamental difference in
world view between our country and theirs.
Of course, as I say, it's easier for them because they're not paying all this
money for this huge military, and therefore, they have the money left over to
let kids go to college for free.
GROSS: And they also have a different taxing system. Talk about the
value-added tax that you paid when you were based in London.
REID: Yeah, I was so stunned by that. I don't know. I'm sure many of your
listeners have been to London. If you've been to London or lived in Britain,
it's out--everything is outrageously expensive--two or three times what you
would pay here, and then on top of this huge price, they throw a 17 1/2
percent sales tax on everything--17 1/2 percent. You know, that's way over
double what I'm paying here in Colorado. I thought it was outrageous. And we
were so--my wife and I kept saying, `Why do they put up with this? Why do
they stand for this?' And then I'll tell you what happened. About a week
after we arrived in London, one of my daughters woke up and her ear was about
the size of a golf ball--bright red--just full of pain. We had no idea what
to do. We'd been there five days. We had no doctor or anything. We jumped
out and got in a cab; the guy took us to an emergency room--kind of a grody
old hospital. You know, the paint was chipping and everything, but the
emergency room was fine. The nurse took us in. A few minutes later a doctor
saw my daughter. He gave her a lecture about cleaning her pierced
earrings--you know, got the pus out of there. She felt great. Everybody was
happy. I pulled out my checkbook to pay the bill; it's an emergency ward,
right? They cost money. And the nurse says, `You may put away your checks.
We don't pay for medical care in this country.' And my wife turned to me and
said, `There's why we're paying the 17 1/2 percent.'
GROSS: Why is their main taxing system this value-added tax, this 17 1/2
percent sales tax in England and a similar tax in most of the other European
countries? Why the emphasis on that as opposed to income tax, a state tax,
REID: Yeah. They do have all that range of progressive taxes that we
do--income, property taxes, corporate taxes--and they do, frankly, soak the
rich; particularly the estate tax rates in Europe are pretty high. But for
the universally available services like the payment to new parents or the
pensions or the unemployment rates and particularly health care, everybody
gets those. There's nobody in any European country who's not covered; they're
all covered. And they think everybody should pay for them, and that's why
they have these high sales tax rates because everybody pays sales taxes.
There's a notion of equity there. Everybody's going to benefit from our
health-care system so everybody ought to pay for it, even if you don't have
enough income to pay tax, pay for it when you buy things. That's the
GROSS: T.R. Reid is my guest. He's The Washington Post Rocky Mountain bureau
chief, the former London bureau chief, and while he was based in London he
followed the rise of the European Union, and that's the subject of his new
book "The United States of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American
I'm interested in religion in the new Europe. In the United States, like the
evangelical vote has become so important. You know, religion was such a big
issue, particularly in the Bush campaign. And, you know, faith-based
initiatives--there's so much in the United States that seems to be revolving
in one way or another around faith. Is there any similar phenomenon in
REID: No. The opposite. I gave a lot of attention to this in my book
because it's so striking. And if you look at Europe, it's the home of just
about every major Christian denomination. It's a key center of Jewish life
and culture; huge Muslim population. And yet Europeans and particularly
Generation E, the younger people I mentioned, have basically put religion out
of their life. I went to a beautiful church in Stockholm--beautiful
church--seated--beautiful old cathedral, fantastic organ, 900 seats--and there
were maybe eight or nine people in there for Sunday Mass. And I said to the
priest, `What's going on?' And he said, `Yeah, nine, 10, that's about what we
get.' He said people have so much forgotten what going to church means that
they call him up and say, `Hey, Father, what day is Mass?' And he says,
`Sunday morning.' And they say, `Do I need a reservation?' I mean, they just
In Holland, the Church of Holland is selling its old churches for apartment
buildings. Religion is just not an important part of European life, and if
you're sitting with a bunch of particularly college-educated Europeans
watching an American president on TV, you know, the American president, no
matter who he is, always says, `God bless America' at the end. And they all
kind of titter. They give this kind of superior laugh--`Oh, my God, they're
so backwards in that country' kind of thing, you know.
GROSS: In the United States, religion is often tied to certain moral
arguments--for instance, against abortion, against homosexuality, against gay
marriage. So is there a counterpart in Europe?
REID: Yeah, there are definitely moral movements in Europe. They're not so
much religiously driven, but for example, no country in the European Union, no
country in Europe, can have the death penalty. They consider it barbaric.
You can't be a member of the European Union if you have the death penalty, and
it's one of their big complaints against Americans that we do this. In fact,
they think we're executing thousands of people a year because every time we
do--we execute 85 to a hundred people a year in this country. Every time we
do it, it makes huge headlines in the European papers--in all of them--so they
think it happens all the time here.
Another place where the morality shows up interestingly is in their attitudes
towards drug use. Almost all the European countries have decriminalized drug
use. They don't think it should be treated as a crime; it should be treated
as a health problem, as a social problem, and that's how they treat it. And
they make this argument on moral grounds: If you send these people to prison,
they're going to use more drugs; we're failing them. So as a moral--we have a
moral obligation to cure them, not to treat them as criminals. That too, even
though they don't have the religious basis, they definitely have political
movements driven by moral imperatives.
GROSS: You write in your book that in Belgium and the Netherlands there's
full legal recognition of gay marriage and most other European countries have
authorized civil ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples. But in the United
States, President Bush has been supporting a constitutional amendment that
would outlaw gay marriage. It's a really big cultural difference. Do you
have a sense of what they make in England of the political anti-gay rights
movement in the United States?
REID: As I said, I think they're quite cynical about the notion of bringing
perceived religious beliefs into the political world. It's just not thinkable
that Tony Blair would ever stand up at the end of a speech and say, `God bless
Britain.' It just couldn't happen; they'd laugh him off the stage if he did.
And so they--I think they generally see this as a political ploy, not so much
as some kind of morally-driven imperative on the president's part. They see
this as an appeal to the Christian right. I think they're very pleased that
they no longer have religiously oriented political parties. As I say,
religion doesn't matter much in European countries.
An interesting sidelight of people not going to churches--they don't get
married anymore either. I don't know if you know this. But if you look at
the European rates of unmarried motherhood, they're the highest in the world.
This is not because they have single mothers; it's that the mom and dad are
living there with the kids. They just never bothered to get married, because
in many European countries, people don't get married anymore. Most of them
now have some kind of legal civil union system. It wasn't created to
accommodate gay marriages; it was, you know, created for ordinary heterosexual
couples, but gay couples can take advantage of the same law.
GROSS: My guest is T.R. Reid of The Washington Post. His new book is called
"The United States of Europe."
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is T.R. Reid and he's currently the Rocky Mountain bureau
chief of The Washington Post. He's the former London bureau chief, and his
new book is about the European Union. It's called "The United States of
Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy."
After France opposed the US at the UN right before we went into Iraq, this
whole movement started in the United States of just like mocking the
French--so you didn't call them french fries; if you felt this way you called
them freedom fries. And you know, people were boycotting French cheeses and
French wines, and if you call somebody French or say that they have, like,
French blood, that was in some circles like a terrible insult.
REID: Yeah, you remember `John Kerry looks like a Frenchman.' You remember
that terrible slur, yeah.
GROSS: Precisely. Precisely. So what do--I don't know when the last time
you were in France was, but do you have any sense of what the people in France
are making of all of this?
REID: There are two things about this. In the first, place, they're mad
about us for dumping on France. You know, a lot of the world opposed the Iraq
War; they don't think it's fair for us to stick it just to France. And the
other thing, I don't think it's an insult to them to stop calling french fries
french fries, because they think the greasy big fat potato that's sold in
America is nothing they would ever touch anyway. I don't know if you've ever
had frites from a friterie on the street in Paris, but they're really good;
they're crisp and fresh and they're nothing like American french fries. So
it's almost an insult to the French to call what we call a french fry a french
fry as far as they're concerned.
I'll tell you the most interesting thing was the columnist from Le Monde, Marc
Roche, a very smart guy, good friend of mine. I asked him, `Does it bother
you that Americans won't buy French wine anymore?' And here's what he said.
He said, `If Americans are stupid enough to give up wonderful wines and
delicious cheese, that's their problem. In France, we know that such delights
make life worth living.' But I think what they understand is, particularly in
Britain, it was very politically useful for Tony Blair to blame the French
because you can always get the Brits fired up about the frogs.
GROSS: How do you think the American presidential race is being seen across
REID: Oh, let's be totally frank about it. The vast majority of Europeans
despise George W. Bush. I think he's probably the least popular American
president in Europe in the last 50, 60, 70 years. Europeans liked Reagan;
they found him charming and likable just like we did. They liked Clinton; he
paid attention to Europe; they liked him. They liked his--George Bush Sr.
because he was an internationalist who cared about Europe. Boy, they really
despise Bush. You know, they kind of look at you and say `How did you elect
this guy?' kind of thing. So I would say that even in the countries that are
supporting us in the Iraq War--Spain, Poland and Britain, for example--vast
majorities of the population there are against the war and against Bush.
I have a lot in my book about this kind of national/international European
pastime of America-bashing, but the fact is a lot of it is Bush-bashing. They
really like our country and they like our culture, but they really get off on
trashing George W. Bush. He's extremely unpopular there. So if they could
vote, John Kerry would win in a walk.
GROSS: What makes Bush so unpopular besides the Iraq War?
REID: The death penalty is a key factor. When he became president, I talked
to the justice minister of France, and I said, `What do you know about our new
president?' I mean, this is a guy--he'd been a fighter pilot, he'd been an
oil man, he'd owned--you know, run a big company. He was governor of a state
that's bigger than many European countries. And I said to the justice
minister, `What do you know about our new president?' and he said, `I know he
signed a hundred fifty-three death warrants when he was governor,' and that's
all they knew. So they don't like that. They don't like the swagger and the
cowboy boots, and they particularly don't like `If you're not with us, you're
against us.' They particularly don't like voting against the Kyoto accords or
the International Criminal Court on the grounds that it's bad for America.
That's not supposed to be the measure to them. The measure is whether it's
better for the whole world. That's the test they should have used. And Bush
was just too blunt. He wasn't diplomatic enough.
There's another mistake that President Bush and his administration made
repeatedly, and that is they tried to intrude on EU decisions, and, boy, the
European Union is not going to stand for that. President Bush, when he was
trying to convince the Turks to join us in Iraq--You remember that?
REID: To kind of win favor with Turkey, he called leaders of the EU and said,
`Why don't you let Turkey into the EU?' And this absolutely backfired because
the one thing the EU is not going to let Washington tell them is who can be
members of their club. That's for them to decide. And I don't think the Bush
people ever quite figured out that that kind of pressure, which they tried to
bring all the time, was counterproductive.
GROSS: What were some of the differences for you, traveling and making
purchases in the new European Union as opposed to when you were in Europe and
it was different countries without the EU?
REID: Well, for me, as a guy who traveled around a lot, it's a lot better.
I'll tell you. Every time I ever went to Portugal, I came home with just a
suitcase full of junk, and the reason was I'd get back to the airport with all
these escudos in my pocket. I'm never going to use them again until I come
back to Portugal, so I'd buy junk at the airport. I had junk from every
country in Europe in my home. Now when I go to Portugal, I'm spending euros.
When I cross the border to Spain or go over to Germany, I'm going to use the
same money. Vastly better. Travel is much easier. As I said, I drove from
the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean. I went through eight countries; never
saw a border guard; never changed money. Travel is much simpler.
And interestingly, in Europe today, although I don't think many Americans
realize this, there is emerging a single language.
GROSS: What is it?
REID: English. Everybody in Europe learns English, and the people who call
themselves Generation E--these are Europeans from about age 18 to 40 or
so--these are people who are, you know, they're born in Prague, they're
educated in Paris, they land a job in Edinburgh and then they take a new job
in Rome, and they feel it is their birthright to live and work and vote,
frankly, travel anywhere they want in Europe. These people are Europeans.
They may be from Toledo or Oslo, but they're Europeans from Oslo; they're not
Norwegians so much anymore. They're Europeans who live in Norway or were born
in Norway. I think that's a really striking change, and these people
particularly talk to each other in English. In fact, most pan-European
countries now have enforced English as the standard corporate language. Even
in France--you know they hate that.
GROSS: You know, the place where you lived mostly in Europe--London--isn't
using the euro. They're still using the pound. So, you know...
REID: That's right.
GROSS: ...there's things that England has resisted...
REID: Yes. Yeah.
GROSS: ...the European Union on, so is England still kind of set apart and
are there drawbacks to that?
REID: Yeah, the Brits have this love/hate relationship with the EU. They
can't quite figure it out. Tony Blair says Britain should be at the very
heart of Europe, but the Brits still haven't joined the euro. They hold back
quite a bit. It's funny because one of the visionaries--probably the leading
visionary who formed the United States of Europe was Winston Churchill, the
British leader, and the Brits have played an important role all the way
through. But today in Britain, man, they're just not sure. Some people want
to be the 51st state of the United States. Some want to be a key player in
Europe, and they're really split on this. It's a schizoid country on this
GROSS: Well, T.R. Reid, thanks so much for talking with us.
REID: Delighted. I love your show, hon. Delighted to be on it.
GROSS: T.R. Reid is the author of "The United States of Europe." He's The
Washington Post former London bureau chief and is now the paper's Rocky
Mountain bureau chief.
Coming up, rock critic Ken Tucker reviews new CDs by Green Day and the Black
This is FRESH AIR.
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Review: New punk rock opera by Green Day and new album by Black
TERRY GROSS, host:
Since 1991, Green Day has been releasing albums of smart aleck pop punk. The
Berkeley, California, trio has just put out their first bid for maturity with
a punk rock opera called "American Idiot." Meanwhile, out of Akron, Ohio, the
two-man group the Black Keys has released "Rubber Factory," whose grungy hard
rock seems inspired by its decaying factory tone roots. Rock critic Ken
Tucker reviews both albums, starting with Green Day and their title song.
(Soundbite of "American Idiot")
GREEN DAY: (Singing) Don't want to be an American idiot, one nation
controlled by the new media. Information age of hysteria, it's going out to
idiot America. Welcome to a new kind of tension, all across the idiot nation.
Everything isn't meant to be OK. Television dreams of tomorrow. We're not
the ones who're meant to follow. For that's enough to argue.
KEN TUCKER reporting:
Now in their 30s, the Green Day men are wise enough to have proper contempt
for the TV show "American Idol," a phenomenon "American Idiot" sneers at,
along with so many other more significant things wrong with the country and
their characters' emotional lives. Billie Joe Armstrong yells, `Welcome to a
new kind of tension all across the alien nation.' That is, the country he and
his bandmates feel so alienated from.
It's not a new complaint from rock 'n' rollers to be sure, but as Green Day
has proven so often over 13 years, the band manages to make strikingly funny,
belligerent music out of the most unpromising of premises.
(Soundbite of "Jesus of Suburbia")
GREEN DAY: (Singing) At the center of the Earth in the parking lot of the
7-Eleven where I was taught, the motto was just a lie. It says home is where
your heart is but what a shame 'cause everyone's heart doesn't beat the same.
It's beating out of time. City of the dead at the end of another lost
highway, signs misleading to nowhere. City of the damned, lost children with
dirty faces today, no one really seems to care. I read the graffiti in the
TUCKER: Billie Joe Armstrong still possesses enough of an adenoidal whine to
take convincingly the role of a tragic young character named Jesus of
Suburbia. I know, this is offensive on both artistic and religious levels.
Early reviews have said that Green Day is overreaching here. Imagine these
wise guys presuming to revive the rock opera. But if you listen to the album
without looking at how the songs are clustered into thematic movements, the
tunes stand up individually as mostly first or at least solid second rate.
The last thing they are is pretentious. On the contrary, it sounds like Green
Day has solved the problem of making good snarly music while aging with an
admirable lack of gracefulness.
Meanwhile, in Akron, Ohio, two 20-somethings, singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach
and drummer Patrick Carney, are hammering out their own points about lives
lived under a psychological siege mentality.
(Soundbite of song)
BLACK KEYS: (Singing) Don't it hurt so bad, when you're standing in the sun,
in the bottom of your heart you don't love no one. ...(Unintelligible) I just
can't see ...(unintelligible) know what the sun's all about when the lights go
TUCKER: Two non-slackers who paid their bills working with lawn mowers and
weed whackers, Auerbach and Carney recorded this third Black Keys album in an
abandoned rubber factory, hence the album's title. Unlike other great Akron
acts like the avant punk's Tearugle(ph) or The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde, the
Black Keys filter punk's power and brevity through the mainstream, the '70s
mainstream that is; the catchiest, crunchiest riffs of bands like Lynyrd
Skynyrd and Bad Company.
(Soundbite of song)
BLACK KEYS: (Singing) What about the night? Make the change. Yeah. Oh,
from Sweden to the ...(unintelligible). Proven wrong ...(unintelligible).
TUCKER: Because they are a duo and because their melodies contain strains of
blues rock, the Black Keys get compared to the White Stripes, yet another band
with a color in their name. But I think the Black Keys share at least a
philosophical kinship to Green Day, in singing about desperate young men who
don't know how or even want to focus their anger over the dead-endings of
their hometowns and their hopes. They spray out this rage with hoarse yells
and raw guitar chords, blaming everyone, even or maybe especially themselves.
It's a mature way back to the immature, simplistic music that they love to
make. And this is what keeps both Green Day and the Black Keys from being
anachronistic or pathetic. Instead, these yowlers sound suspiciously like
GROSS: Ken Tucker is film critic for New York magazine.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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