The Battle for Europe

The European summit in Brussels this weekend was intended to equip the European Union with a constitution that would enable it to handle the challenges posed by the admission of ten new member states next spring. Instead, the summit's breakdown may be an advance warning that this enlargement could prove to be so disruptive as to lead, not to a benign transformation of the EU, but to its radical dislocation.

On past precedent, the odds ought to be against any dramatic disaster. The EU has confronted many political crises in the past, some much more severe than this one. On every previous occasion, member states preferred compromise to rupture.

Chances are they will do so again. Indeed, downplaying the gravity of the latest crisis is easy: one can argue that the immediate cause of the breakdown, when examined closely, is not really all that serious.

The crux of the problem is that the draft Constitution would give the EU a new and much simpler method of taking majority votes in the Council of Ministers. Under the method adopted three years ago at the EU's Nice summit, each member state has a certain number of votes, weighted according to population, but small countries are protected by having proportionally more votes than big countries.