Europe by Degrees

ROME -- A year ago, few people would have bet that the European Union, still reeling from the trauma of the Constitutional Treaty’s rejection in 2005, would be poised to ratify the new Reform Treaty, adopted in Lisbon last December. For some, the fact that the United Kingdom might ratify it even earlier than traditionally “pro-European” countries like Italy merely underscores the Treaty’s lack of new and bold initiatives to accelerate European unification. But they are wrong.

To be sure, impatient dissatisfaction has been a driving force behind European integration since its initial years. But, as Robert Schuman wrote in his Declaration in 1950, Europe could not be built all at once. Likewise, Altiero Spinelli, another of the EU’s founding fathers, wrote late in life that without visionary Europeans there would be no Europe, but without pragmatic statesmen, the visionaries would have gotten nowhere.

The Reform Treaty’s shortcomings are obvious. Abandoning the name “Constitution” was probably necessary to bring all member states on board. But not equally necessary is the enduring uncertainty about the common political platform upon which Europe’s voice in foreign policy will have to rely. Moreover, the Area of Freedom, Security, and Justice still requires unanimity for essential decisions in the fight against crime and terrorism and therefore, implying excruciating slowness. Nor does the Treaty do enough to strengthen coordination of Europe’s economic and budgetary policies.

But it is equally obvious that, as the European Parliament’s Resolution of February 20 puts it, “the Treaty of Lisbon is a substantial improvement on the existing Treaties, which will bring more democratic accountability to the Union and enhance its decision making.” The adoption of EU legislation will be subject to a level of parliamentary scrutiny (both at the European and national levels) that exists in no other supranational or international structure.