Continental power

The history of the European Union is one of antithesis and synthesis, of crisis and overcoming. It could hardly have been otherwise, given the unprecedented and pioneering nature of the unification experiment. The old continent had been for centuries a place of bloody conflict but, at the same time, it was the homeland of the nation and the nation state. All past attempts by European leaders to bring all states together through the use of force were ultimately a failure. Perhaps it is this accumulated historical experience which provides a solid foundation for the slow but steady process of European integration. Europe no doubt still has a long way to go before it can reach a point of undertaking an international role that befits its size and leverage. The recent division over Iraq was a clear sign of this reality. The Athens EU summit, however, indicated the other side of the coin. Although barely agreeing on a common denominator on the Iraq issue, all leaders, in one way or another, stressed the need for further political integration. Of course, they do not all perceive this need in the same way, nor is there consensus over the necessary political direction – not even on institutional matters. Despite the various disagreements, a common identity, a perception of a common perspective has been developing on the continent. It is precisely that which brings stability into the unification experiment, despite the occasional ups and downs. By its nature, the EU can only continue its integration on a consensual basis. Effectively, this means relatively tedious procedures and successive attempts at compromise. The expanded Europe of 25 members is bound to be faced with new challenges, given that the new states will need time to remedy their shortcomings and adapt to the acquis communautaire. As a result, the integration process is most likely to take place on more than one level. The cash value of this is the emergence of a multispeed Europe. The war in Iraq meant that Greece’s EU presidency had to carry out its task during a very unfavorable conjuncture. It has done very well so far – and we are not merely referring to the excellent organization of the EU accession treaty ceremony. At the political level, the flexibility of the Greek presidency helped it avoid a further deepening of the crisis and promote the areas of compromise. Athens’s contribution has been more significant than a first glance might suggest.