When Europe Quacks

If all goes as planned, the new EU treaty will come into force by the beginning of 2009. It will bring Europe closer than ever to the fulfillment of its political union.

If it walks, quacks and looks like duck, it must be a duck. At the end of last week, Europe presented an updated version of that well-worn American saying. The document that the continent's leaders composed at their summit in Brussels was depicted as a "mini-treaty," but it looks like a constitution, its provisions "quack" constitution and the entire thing cannot be perceived but as a constitution.

For two years, the continent has been sunk in a profound crisis that began after citizens of France and the Netherlands rejected the draft for the European constitution in referenda. The constitution was primarily aimed at enabling the European Union, which has expanded eastward and has nearly doubled its membership, to continue to run efficiently and advance its federalist aims. Many perceived the constitution's adoption as a matter of to be or not to be.

Thus this time, when they came to renew this essential initiative, the leaders chose a new tactic. They adopted a different terminology, hid the problematic symbols and ran a game of "let's pretend:" They transformed the constitution into a "treaty," as noted, they replaced the term "European foreign minister" that had been proposed in the original draft with "high representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy" and they excised the symbols of continental sovereignty (the anthem, flag and single currency) from the new document.

The terminology has changed, the essence has not - say the commentators who have not bought the display of "Europe's New Clothes." As the Daily Telegraph has observed: "The European constitution is dead. Long live the new European constitution."

And indeed, the proposed treaty - just like the draft constitution that was presented two years ago - fulfills all of the aims that the EU set for itself on the eve of its enlargement: It strengthens the organization's democratic legitimacy - by bringing national parliaments into the legislative process and, above all, by strengthening the authority of the European Parliament; it streamlines the decision-making process by significantly narrowing the national right to veto and by changing the structure of the European Commission (the executive body of the EU); and it strengthens the EU's standing in the world by creating two new positions: the EU president, which will replace the institution of the half-yearly presidential rotation, and the high representative, whose authority will be identical to that of the original foreign minister.

Like every successful compromise document, the proposed treaty enables each of the sides that is partner to its formulation - the side that is fighting to deepen the EU and the side that is acting to halt the advance of its supra-national ideas - to claim victory. However, the balance is tipped toward the first camp: More than anything else, the federalist spirit of the founding fathers of the EU pervades the document.

In the end - as the latest public opinion surveys show - most Europeans want more "Europe." It seems they can rely on the continent's new "energizer," France's brand new leader, President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was the dominant factor at the summit. The full and sophisticated cooperation between him and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has once again revealed the power of the Franco-German motor and its importance to Europe as a whole.

The road to European integration is strewn with obstacles and even severe crises. However, everyone who thought during the past two years that the process of the unification of Europe was dead has now been proven wrong.

If all goes as planned, the new treaty will come into force by the beginning of 2009. Its addition to the European flag, anthem, court, central bank and single currency will bring Europe closer than ever to the fulfillment of its political union. If this happens, it will be even harder to ignore it in the international arena and, it goes without saying, in its immediate backyard: the Middle East.