Europe was failing. Its economy was in tatters, its currency a wreck, its debts mountainous, its borders permeable, its leaders flaccid and unco-operative, its countries pitted against one another, its streets filled with tens of millions of unemployed whose bitterness and lack of a future was fuelling a mass rejection of the European Union experiment and a return to nationalism.
The apparent end of Europe was empowering Putins and Trumps and their lesser local imitators. If the 70-year experiment in international co-operation and free movement and pluralism was failing and leading to misery, then why not try its prewar opposite?
And just in the nick of time, Europe has returned. Not subtly or partly, but explosively: For the 500 million citizens of one of the world's largest economies, 2017 is proving to be the year the European "lost decade" ended, and the Old World got a new life.
First, Europe is experiencing a major economic renaissance.
Buoyed by strong recoveries in France, Germany, Spain and Ireland, the continent's unemployment rates have plummeted to single-digit levels, falling especially sharply in Spain and Greece and among younger Europeans. Job creation has soared, setting a nine-year record this year, and unprecedented numbers of people are employed.
Economic growth in the euro area is projected to be a healthy 1.7 per cent this year and 1.8 per cent in 2018 – a 0.6 per cent jump from last year's forecast. The EU's economy is now growing twice as fast as that of the United States.
Fiscal problems have all but vanished: In 2011, most of the EU countries had deficits that exceeded the EU's membership limits; today only four do, and outside Greece, debt is not a problem.
And Brexit is no longer an economic threat: Even if Britain fully leaves the EU and the common market in a "hard Brexit," a new German government report shows that German output would fall by only 0.2 per cent and the output for all 27 remaining EU countries by 0.3 per cent. (Britain, by comparison, would suffer a painful 1.7 per cent drop.)
Second, Europeans have found a new faith and confidence in their continental project.
A survey of 10,000 European citizens living in the 10 largest countries by the Pew Research Center in April found that public opinions about the EU have improved dramatically: In France, favourable attitudes toward the EU rose from only 38 per cent last year (leading observers then to talk of a "Frexit") to 56 per cent today; in Germany, from 50 to 68 per cent, and even in Britain, those supporting the EU rose from 44 per cent last year to 54 per cent now, suggesting that Brexit has lost its backing.
This suggests that Europeans, who once almost unanimously supported unification as an answer to the horrors of the war decades, are responding similarly to the rise of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, the menace of Mr. Putin and his backers on the European right, and the post-referendum decline of Britain.
Europeans remain concerned about trans-Mediterranean migration and about the euro, as they should – those issues have been stabilized and are no longer very visible problems, but are not fixed in any permanent way.
But that does not mean they want less unification – quite the contrary: Another recent survey of 10,000 Europeans, by Chatham House and Kantar Public, found that half of citizens want the EU to become a "redistributive union," in which weaker states receive financial support along the lines of Canada's equalization payments. Only 18 per cent disagreed with the idea.
Which leads to the third change: Europe's politics have shifted quickly from insular confrontation to expansion-minded co-operation.
This is not just about the new mood of Franco-German solidarity created after the very unification-minded Emmanuel Macron became President of France, although that helps.
There is new support across most member countries for a stronger fiscal union; Mr. Macron and Angela Merkel are expected to propose, shortly before Germany's September elections, that Europe develop its own fiscal body and finance minister – something that will be necessary if everyone insists on keeping the euro.
There are no longer any significant anti-Europe forces in politics outside Britain. While both Poland and Hungary are governed by frightening parties on the isolationist right, they don't dare challenge EU membership (which their citizens still strongly favour). Parties of the anti-Europe, pro-Putin far right have fizzled in the Netherlands, France, and apparently in Germany. The Pew survey found that only 18 per cent of Europeans now want their countries to leave the bloc.
This year, says Kersti Kaljulaid, the Estonian head of state who is about to take over the rotating EU presidency, will be remembered as "the period when the ice started to melt." And that thaw leaves the world with a rare pool of stability.