OPINION

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The setting (the pine green Halkidiki peninsula bathed in the golden light of early summer) and the protagonists (the leaders of the European Union and their delegations) were of minor importance last weekend. As the leaders headed back to their domestic problems and the security umbrella disappeared like a puff of smoke and police clashed with anti-globalization rioters in Thessaloniki, what remained was the understanding that the nations of Europe took another step forward on the long road toward a stronger union. Valery Giscard d’Estaing, basking in his role as Europe’s founding father by default, presented Europe’s leaders, and its people, with their first draft Constitution for closer union. Also, the EU’s foreign policy and defense chief Javier Solana put forward his proposal for the Union’s security strategy, which, although short on specifics, went about as far as any such document could in stressing that the EU had to not only be a superpower but also to walk and talk like one. «As a union of 25 states with over 450 million people, producing a quarter of the world’s gross national product, the European Union is, like it or not, a global actor; it should be ready to share in the responsibility for global security,» Solana said. In a lopsided world dominated overwhelmingly by the United States, states are, by definition, defined by how they stand with regard to the United States. For the European Union this is even more so, because it is both so similar to the United States in the power it could wield and so different in not uniting its states into one powerful federation that could indeed have such power. Cynics might scoff at all the talk of a closer political and military union, as they both seem a long way off now. But cynics scoffed at the idea of an economic and monetary union and that did not stop it from happening. Those seemingly interminable debates in Brussels and at summits spread all over the Union led inexorably toward the adoption of the euro by a range of European countries, from the powerhouses Germany and France, right down to Greece. Time ran out and the talk resulted in union. These institutions have a way of getting things done once the ball starts rolling. The euro, of course, came about because Germany took a leap of faith and handed over the wheel to the European Central Bank (something that Britain has not had the courage – or the faith – to emulate, showing just how difficult a decision this is). In the same way, now that the first steps have been taken, it will take a conscious decision by the European nations whether they will hand over a serious chunk of their jealously guarded national sovereignty when the time comes. Their choice will be between being part of a union that speaks with one voice and has the strength to back this up, or remaining separate, picking and choosing their way across the international arena. When seen in this light, it seems as if there shouldn’t be much agonizing over which route to follow. But, after nearly two centuries of being independent, national states (when not subjugated to greater powers), it will be very difficult for almost all countries to give up their veto on issues of security and foreign policy. The EU may be a union of the willing, defined perhaps most strongly by the universal desire to join it, but this is a marriage in which it seems partners would still like to keep their options open for when some seductive alternative course of action comes sashaying their way. Perhaps the best way out of the deadlock that would result if each of the 25 or more EU members had a veto over policy would be to allow countries to opt out of actions, and have a veto insofar as preventing the direct consequences of an action affecting them. This could be pretty much covered by the draft Constitution’s «enhanced cooperation» concept, in which at least one-third of member states could agree to a course of action as a last resort. This would leave individual nations the option of staying out of certain courses of action. But, as these grand steps toward a Constitution and a security strategy were being presented in Halkidiki, in Thessaloniki (the original site of the EU summit before security concerns led to it being moved out of town), a small but significant effort was being made to determine what the content of the Union is – in other words, who is this homo europaensis at the start of the 21st century? In an inspired initiative, the Greek Foreign Ministry brought together over 50 Europeans from 24 countries on the basis of their being leading figures in their field of endeavor while also living outside their country of origin. About 8 million EU citizens live as expatriates in another EU country and it is estimated that about 35 million expatriates who are first, second and third generation live inside Europe or elsewhere. «The Summit of European Diasporas» was aimed at drawing on the experience of people who have succeeded outside their countries of origin. They were nominated for the event by their country’s foreign ministry. The idea was that these people could offer unique insights into what it means to be a «European,» and that, using their experience as migrants, they could express opinions as to how Europe can deal with the issue of immigration, now that instead of sending their own citizens abroad in search of a better life many EU states have become recipient countries. The «Europeans of the diaspora» is a strange new concept which in itself suggests a closer European identity among nations that have for so long made their way in the world on their own. Some European nations – through historical necessity or temperament – have sent their people out into the world to seek a better life more than others have. The Greeks and the Italians, for example, have created strong links with expatriate communities across the world. A stronger, more unified European Union could draw on such experiences, not only simplifying life for EU citizens living in another member state but also perhaps strengthening links with EU citizens outside of Europe in a single, institutionalized way. And the musicians, academics, executives, entrepreneurs, religious leaders, politicians, singers and athletes who gathered in Thessaloniki had plenty to say about the world in which they live. They spoke of the need for tolerance and acceptance of migrants, of the need for immigration policies that are fair and firm, giving immigrants a chance to succeed while also not allowing local citizens to feel threatened – in other words, not allowing the extremists to distort the debate on immigration. Opinions ranged from that of the very cosmopolitan global citizen to that of the person whose people are caught in a struggle for survival. Composer, trombone player and professor Vinko Globokar (who was born of Slovenian parents in France and now lives in Berlin), warned of the dangers of nationalism, such as those that tore the Yugoslav federation apart. «I never drank a glass in a bar with a nation,» he said. «I have no sense of belonging to something. My sense of belonging is to individuals.» Father Carlos Gabriel, a Roman Catholic priest from South Africa, called for the European Union to take an active interest in its people abroad in order to give them a stronger voice, both in the country in which they stay and in their country of origin. «Europe would be a better place if it connected with Europeans outside its borders,» he said. And he, a European who has worked as a missionary in Africa as well as as a pastor for expatriate Portuguese, declared, «Tolerance is what makes Europe be.» This was one of the overriding messages of the discussions in Thessaloniki. Given the fact that some 2.3 to 2.4 percent of the world’s population, or about 150 million people, is on the move in a wave of migration, tolerance and good, enlightened policies are perhaps the best ways to feel our way into the future, a future in which the European Union is coalescing in many new ways and where migrants can help strengthen all that is good in European society but also threaten disruption if their integration is mishandled. Overall, perhaps the greatest contribution of the Thessaloniki gathering of successful European emigrants is that it is the best argument for successful immigration and the best weapon against extremist sentiments. The participants also showed the strength that Europe can draw on when it listens to its citizens. It is most poignant that the preamble to the draft Constitution begins with a quote from Pericles’ funeral oration, as written down by Thucydides. «Our Constitution… is called a democracy because power is in the hands not of a minority but of the greatest number,» it says. Thucydides then went on to record how the disunited Greek city states tore themselves apart. Today the states of Europe are moving closer in slow but determined steps. And it is clear that every citizen, both inside and outside the Union, has a role to play, if he or she is given an opportunity to do so.