As the European Union prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome later this month, the EU is widely perceived to be on its knees. European integration, is felt to have, somehow met its Waterloo in 2005, when Dutch and French referendums unexpectedly torpedoed the draft EU constitution.
Media stories have focused on the paralysis that is said to have gripped EU decision-making, but the reality is different. Far from suffering an irreversible decline in its fortunes, the EU has been has been conducting business as usual, quietly getting on with the job of constructing new policies and projects.
Take a look at some recent headlines. The EU is putting together an energy and environment strategy that aims to end the self-defeating competition within Europe for oil and gas, while also establishing Europe as global leader in the effort to halt climate change. The Union’s common foreign and security policy may not yet mean that Europe speaks to the world with one voice, but it is taking shape and has already healed some of the wounds inflicted by disagreements over the war in Iraq. Of equal importance, Europe’s economic integration continues to move ahead, with the euro buoyant and a single marketplace for financial services now coming into sight.
The starting point for the EU’s unhappy bid to create a shared constitution had been fears that its decision-making mechanisms were being overloaded by the accession of so many new members, first in May 2004 and again at the beginning of this year. The constitutional treaty was originally designed to streamline the system, and it was only later that it was over-enthusiastically expanded into the lengthy and pompous document that is now a dead letter.