The fresh initiative by Germany, France and Britain to exploit the volatile global environment in order to set up an informal, tripartite directorate responsible for mapping out Europe’s foreign and defense policy caused consternation in most of the EU’s member states. The tendency of the big three European states to distance themselves from the other union members threatens to derail European integration through the formation of alliances between groups of different weight. The fierce reactions of the 12 excluded member countries, also voiced by Commission President Romano Prodi, to the provocative mini-summit of the big three ahead of the EU summit in Ghent, proved to be in vain. British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Sunday invited some select guests to London for talks. It was originally to have involved only Blair, French President Jacques Chirac and Germany’s Gerhard Schroeder. This triggered stormy reactions, forcing Blair to broaden the lineup of participants amid vexation on the part of the Italian and Spanish leaders and a furious Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt of Belgium, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU. Eventually he was invited as well, while his Dutch counterpart Wim Kok showed up without an invitation. The ridiculousness of the event should not lead us to underestimate the importance of the situation. The failure of the Nice summit last year to reach a long-term solution to the problem of determining the principles of an enlarged Union has led to an unexpected postponement of discussions over the future of European integration. The problem, however, remains. The formation of a directorate does indeed comprise a solution which may be viable from a technocratic perspective but is, politically speaking, unacceptable. Further European integration entails that states surrender an increasing part of their sovereign rights in exchange for their equal participation in institutions for joint decision making. The existence of democratic European procedures has not been able to avert crises. Solutions, however, have always been found in the end, as the formal equality between member states has forced them to search for compromise and to set aside pure national self-interest. If this principle becomes undone then the foundations of European integration will change, undermining Europe’s internal cohesion. This would be a tragedy at a time when introduction of the single currency and global disorder require maximum European solidarity.

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