Europe - catching the future
In the soft light of early spring, Paris seems contented with its war. The face of the enemy hogs the billboards. Libya's "mad dog", looking stern and distracted, is on the magazine covers and revolves in the tabac windows.
There is a warm tinge of righteousness.
Some admiringly speak of Sarkozy's "blitzkrieg diplomacy". It has led others to point up the failings of multilateralism: the indecisiveness, the dithering, the inconclusive summits, the inability to act. Even in a continent that witnessed the barbarism of Srebrenica, international bodies allowed Gaddafi's forces to get to the gates of Benghazi.
So history turns. Back in 2008, I remember how Barack Obama's election was saluted as the return to multilateralism and nodding in agreement in the front row was the European elite.
Whilst in Paris I was reminded that catching the zeitgeist is often a fool's game. The Eiffel Tower is a symbol to it. Its muscular pig-iron girders caught the imagination of the futurists.
"We exclaim the whole brilliant style of modern times," declared one of their manifestos. "Cars, airplanes, railways, grandiose steamships". The Eiffel Tower was their great totem. For Severini, Boccioni, Delaunay and others it pointed the way to the future. The machine age would change humanity. Within years, the machines they admired so much would be turning in the service of war.
Many years later, Francis Fukuyama eyed the closing of the Cold War as the "end of history". Within a few years we were living with radical Islam. And yet with the revolutions unfolding in the Middle East his view that the Western Liberal democracy may prove to be "the final form of human government" may still have its time.
I mention all this because in the corridors of Brussels there is often a certain swagger about the future. Last year the President of the Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso said that "the EU's decades of experience in transnational cooperation makes it an obvious laboratory for globalisation, a champion of global governance".
Certainly among the alumni of the College of Europe - that finishing school for the European political elite - there is a belief that they have caught the wave of the future; that the nation state is withering, that increasingly we live in an inter-dependent world. It is a belief that runs through the work of the EU's founding fathers: De Gasperi, Monnet, Schuman, Spaak, Delors and Spinelli.
Self-evidently there is an extent to which this is true. The environment, nuclear safety, the inter-dependence of economies and markets (to name but a few) demand international co-operation.
And yet at this moment there is reason to pause, to wet the fingers and detect which way the wind blows.
The biggest challenge facing Europe is growth. It is the holy grail. Without it so much else fails. Last week David Cameron described the EU as a "low-growth area". European officials have toiled away coming up with a new plan for growth. A 2020 strategy has evolved out of the Lisbon Strategy and will be lucky to escape the same fate. The earlier document was canned.
There is a wide consensus that the single market needs expanding and of course it needs to be policed but - in the face of global competition - outsiders are urging a bonfire of regulations.
And this takes us to the spirit of the times. Time Magazine's man of the year was Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. He was a shoo-in; he changed the planet. In an allied essay Richard Stengel said of the Facebook phenomenon: "There is an erosion of trust in authority, a decentralizing of power."
However obscure the motives of Julian Assange, Wikileaks appeals to a similar desire for openness and transparency.
There are two questions for Europe. One is obvious and easy - where are the Zuckerbergs? The second is more fundamental. Is Europe still too tied to regulation?
Last week the EU unveiled Euro Plus Pact; a plan to more closely integrate European economies in the eurozone. Other nations are lining up to join. Barroso is optimistic "the economic and monetary union will finally walk on its two legs instead of limping along".
That, too, raises questions. Does centralising control of tax and spending belong in the future or to the past? Critics say it smacks of the dead-hand of central planning.
It is too early to discern the message of the Middle East uprisings. The motives are mixed: freedom, democracy, work, anger at corruption, the desire to live a normal life. Certainly the rise of populist parties in Europe testifies to the resentment with elites.
So much of this is like looking through a glass darkly. Yet for Europe the challenge remains - how to catch the future? Is it on the side of the vast multi-national organisations or does it lie with regulation-lite administrations where power is handed back to individuals and communities?