Moving forward

Demands made by Britain and Poland cast a shadow over the EU’s Brussels summit. The German presidency is trying hard to resurrect the rejected European constitutional treaty, but there is now a broader problem. The real reason behind the lingering paralysis is an internal contradiction at the heart of the European project. Things have worsened following the latest expansion waves. It’s not just the practical difficulty of coordinating the wills of 27 national governments. Britain is no longer on its own, but rather is leading the group of Eastern European states – meaning it has more power to influence things. The conditions set by Blair in effect neutralize efforts to deepen the union. Donald Rumsfeld’s notorious jibe about old and new Europe may have been overly schematic, but the fact is that the union is balanced on a dividing line which, although it may shift and change, refuses to go away. On the one hand are those who wish to see the EU grow into an independent power. On the other are the so-called Atlanticists who want a Europe tied to the US. Poland’s allegiances clearly lie with the eastern states. These governments are keen to express views or objections inside the EU framework but avoid constructive negotiation. Of course, they still have to adapt to the Community spirit. But their inflexibility is mostly because they are Washington’s darlings. European integration can only be achieved through consensus and a step-by-step process. But that does not mean the tone should be set by the most reluctant member. The EU can either waste time on tactics and small steps that usually lead nowhere, or it can try to move forward. Those who are willing and able can invoke «reinforced cooperation» in specific EU policy domains, creating a new precedent and injecting fresh momentum into the integration project.

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