That Boring Niceness

It seems that Israel, too, will soon have to reprogram itself and realize that the United States is not the only one who counts.

Like a peacock on Peacock Day, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, sporting a brilliant Irish green necktie, strutted around Brussels. "This is a great day for Ireland and for all of Europe," he and other leaders of the European Union chanted in unison after the citizens of Eire voted "Yes" in the country's second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty - which defines the EU's constitutional makeup. And indeed, if everything goes according to plan, the treaty will go into effect next January.

President Vaclav Klaus of the Czech Republic, who refused during his term as EU president to fly the flag of Europe over his Prague palace, is still holding out - but as one man versus half a billion EU citizens and versus the union's big guns, Sarkozy, Merkel, Barroso and others. It seems likely that this extreme Euro-skeptic will eventually have to swallow his pride as well and sign the treaty.

The treaty's primary purpose is to enable the EU, which expanded eastward in 2004, nearly doubling in size, to function more efficiently; but more than anything else, its adoption will signify a victory of federalism over nationalism, a victory of the founding fathers of the EU over rebellious sons, like Klaus, who will probably prove unable to put a spoke in the wheels of European history.

The historian Timothy Garton Ash recently wrote in The Guardian that 70 years after the outbreak of World War II, Europe has become "nice, boring and irrelevant." The elections in Afghanistan, for example, drew more of the world's attention than those that took place last week in Germany, the most important country in Europe. Not surprising, as the extreme right didn't pass the electoral threshold, not even in its biggest strongholds. Today's Nazis are in Waziristan, as Ash wrote.

Ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, however, is liable to bring an end to the "nice and boring" syndrome. It will bolster the democratic legitimacy of the EU by giving national parliaments a share in legislative processes and by strengthening the powers of the European Parliament; it will streamline the decision-making process by limiting the national veto right; and mainly it will shore up the EU's standing in the world, by the creation of two new positions: a president of the European Union who will serve for two and a half years (replacing the current half-year rotating presidency), and a more powerful foreign policy chief.

The fact that Tony Blair has the greatest chance of becoming the first EU president in the new system holds the promise that things in Brussels won't be so boring anymore. In a world controlled by one superpower, and with rising forces like China and India to contend with, Europe is trying to stake its claim. This ambition could not have been realized in the Bush era, when the world was divided between the Axis of Evil and the Sons of Light, between "those who are with us" and "those who are against us," between the "old" Europe and "new" Europe.

When the original European constitution failed to be ratified in the earlier stages, in June 2005, there was the sense of spiteful satisfaction on the part of the Americans. In Israel too, the prevalent perception then was that "a weak Europe is better for the Jews." As a senior official in Jerusalem put it, "Without a constitution, Europe will show more humility and [EU foreign policy chief Javier] Solana won't come around anymore to mess with us." U.S. President Barack Obama, however, sees a strong Europe as an essential element in advancing his own agenda for the world. He needs its diplomacy in the face of the Iranian threat, its military capability in the Balkans and stabilizing missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he also needs it to realize his vision of peace in Middle East.

It seems that Israel, too, will soon have to reprogram itself and realize that the United States is not the only one who counts.