Even in 2002, notes Paris intellectual Dominique Moisi, there was a "quasi-religious feeling" among students about creating solidarity with Czechs, Slovaks, Poles. Europe seemed a dazzling model of social cohesion – wealthy, sustainable, green, and mostly postnational. The ghosts of Auschwitz were fading. "Never again!" still echoed prominently in the streets when Germany reunified.
Democratic values were ascendant, borders were falling, and old animosities were evaporating. Indeed, Europe was a cause, and with its enlightened youth, was preparing to lead the way.
The Bosnian war was an early reality check on how prepared Europe was to sacrifice in the name of its values. But the 1999 Kosovo intervention to halt ethnic cleansing and nationalism on Europe's doorstep, and a commitment by Brussels to keep the peace and integrate the Balkans (with the United States), helped restore the narrative. A war crimes tribunal at The Hague, the first since Nuremberg, prosecuted hundreds of officers and soldiers from those wars.
Yet the European dream is suddenly in question. Under-30s have more doubt than optimism. It is the first generation since the 1950s that feels few thrills about a Europe project. The 17-nation eurozone is debt-ridden. Ugly splits are manifest between northern- and southern-tier states. The cohesion brought by a Franco-German relationship bent on keeping Europe whole and vibrant has frayed or become exhausted.