National Geographic : 2002 Jan
minute you encounter Romano Prodi, you just know he's Italian. A charming man with a square face, a colossal smile, and a bushy crew cut, he talks as much with his arms as with his voice, flailing them about for emphasis and waving his glasses in the air when he wants to make a point. The first time I ever met him, Signor Prodi came charging out of his office to find me in the hall and greeted me with a hug as if I were his long-lost brother. Accordingly, I wasn't surprised at all when the president explained the 21st-century role of the European Union by steering the conver sation back to 16th-century Italy. "At the end of the Renaissance," he told me, arms flying, "the Italian states were the leaders of the world in science, arts, weaponry, economics. Leaders of the world! But-but, they did not merge. And they lost their voice in the world. That is the lesson for us today. In the fields where we speak with one voice, Europe shall lead." For at least six decades-that is, the entire life of most Americans living today-the United States has been the richest place on the planet. But the statistics Signor Prodi spun off for me suggest that a genuinely united Europe would challenge American dominance. Today's 15-member EU has a total population of with, not something you fight about."