It began as a war of Europe against Europe, the war of the "old" Europe against the "new" Europe, of the "war" camp versus the "peace" camp, of the "vassals of the U.S." against the "ungrateful rebels," of those raising the banner of nationalism versus advocates of a federal Europe.
The leaders of the European Union, who met on Friday in Brussels, complained of nausea following dinner, but it was clear to all that this was merely a symptom of feelings stirred by the serious dispute over the appointment of a new European Commission president.
The Brussels summit demonstrated that Europe after the Iraq war and after the enlargement of the EU on May 1 is a different Europe. It's a more heterogeneous Europe - or some might say even a splintered one. In this different Europe, the Paris-Berlin axis cannot easily muster broad support for its Euro-centric line and Britain is able to mobilize new allies to its side. It is, therefore, a Europe that finds it difficult to arrive at a consensus candidate to head its executive body.
Nonetheless, this dispute - the likes of which Europe has experienced in the past - is dwarfed in the shadow of the main headline of this summit: the approval of a document referred to as a "constitution" - the first in the history of the continent. The constitution fulfills the three essential conditions the EU set for itself on the eve of the expansion.
It fortifies the organization's democratic legitimacy by involving the national parliaments in the legislative process and, in particular, by strengthening the European Parliament's authorities.
It makes the decision-making process more efficient by modifying and expanding the qualified majority mechanism, by changing the structure of the Commission.
It strengthens the EU's status in the world by creating two new positions: The "president of Europe" will replace the institution of a rotating presidency and a foreign minister, whose powers will be derived from both the Council (representing the nation states) and the Commission, basedon a new European diplomatic service.
Tony Blair declared Friday that the federalists had been defeated in the battle over the constitution: "The idea of a super-national Europe is dead," the British prime minister said. Britain succeeded in deleting the term "federalism" from the constitution - a term called "the f word" in Britain. Blair was especially proud of preserving his "red lines" and ensuring that decisions on foreign policy and defense, social issues and taxation, will continue to require unanimous consensus. British diplomats at the summit noted with prickly satisfaction that the constitution was passed on the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, in which Napoleon's army was defeated.
The British apparently prefer to forget that the real victors on June 18, 1815, were the Prussians, whose intervention saved Wellington's army from a rout. Napoleon or Wellington, Chirac or Blair - the overall outcome of the Brussels summit does not constitute an unequivocal victory (or defeat) for either side. Despite the successes of the Euro-skeptics, the federalist camp also chalked up important achievements, including the strengthening of the European Parliament and the European Commission - the two institutions representing the EU vis-a-vis the nation states, the establishment of a Foreign Ministry (hinting toward the creation of the first supranational government), the weakening of the veto power of individual countries, the EU's new legal status that will allow it for the first time to sign international agreements on behalf of its member states, and the article that allows countries to pursue joint defense policies on a limited basis.
The framers of the constitution had a harder time than the framers of the U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia at the end of the 18th century. The Europeans had to maneuver between 25 states representing nearly half a billion people with differing historical, cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds. The drafters of the new European constitution had to bridge the ideological gaps between the federalists and nationalists, between representative of the populist Right and representatives of former Communist governments, between small and large countries, between the newcomers and the long-time EU members.
Despite some frustration expressed Saturday by some "sworn" Europeans over changes made to the original draft of the constitution, the fact that about 80 percent of the articles in this original draft were ultimately adopted on Friday represents an impressive breakthrough.
European leaders stated last year that the constitution was an expression of their aspiration to create a real political community. The road to that end is long and convoluted. Blair's decision to put the constitution to a referendum in Europhobic Great Britain and the fact that seven other nations are following suit makes it seem almost impossible.
EU leaders preferred to ignore this fact when they added June 18 to the list of Europe's milestones. Now EU leaders must convince their peoples to rise above their national egos and to see that the constitution distances them from the Europe of Waterloo, Verdun and Stalingrad, and brings it closer to the lofty vision of Philadelphia and Brussels.
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