Europe was the world´s most powerful, prosperous and technologically advanced continent. It came to a definitive end with the second world war. But now is prosperous as never before. In post-war Europe, achieving peace and re-establishing prosperity seemed like urgent and difficult tasks that required political sacrifices. Now, though, long years of peace and prosperity makefurther European integration seem much les urgent. A continent that was divided by the iron curtain until 1989 now enjoys free movement of people and common political institutions.
The people who run the European Commission in Brussels like to believe that this golden age of peace and prosperity is directly linked to the rise of the EU. Many European Union´s most ardent supporters still see the EU asa crucial bulwark against the return of war to Europe the case for monetary union, that the launch of a single European currency could cause political tensions and it was ultimately a question of war and peace in Europe. But for now the EU is riding high, with more and more countries seeking to join it. The countries saw joining the EU as a way of consolidating democratic gains and spurringeconomic and political modernisation. For this countries entry has indeed triggered rapid economic growth. On January 1st 2002, 12 EU countries ditched their single currency, the euro; withdrawing 12 national currencies simultaneously and replacing them with a new single currency was fraught with logistical and political risks. The transitions to the euro went like clock-work. Watched over by itsguardian, the European Central Bank (ECB), the new currency swiftly established itself with consumers and the international money markets. It has become the single most powerful symbol of European unity. When an individual country runs into a financial problems, it may be faced with high interest rates, a threat of inflation and a run on its currency. But when a number of independent countries share acurrency, the risks are spread, if they fail to tackle their own fiscal problems, they may escape the full consequences of their lack of action. EU stability and growth pact which required all euro countries to keep their budget deficits below 3% of GDP at all times, on pain of huge fines for repeat offenders. Unfortunately the pact proved unworkable. The stability and growth pact is now inabeyance.
And in June 2004, the 25 EU governments agreed on the Union´s first ever written constitution. The new constitution represents another effort to preserve and deepen European unity, but it too could backfire. For the constitution to come into force, it must be approved bye all 25 EU countries. The expansion of the EU into foreign policy has broadened the scope for disagreements and bitterfeelings, as demonstrated over Iraq. The new European constitution also gives the EU a role in what may now be the most fraught political issue in Europe: immigration. The constitution includes a detailed charter of fundamental rights, which could mean that the European Court of Justice will play an increasing role in defining social, political and economic rights across Europe. If only one or twocountries reject the constitution, they might simply be asked to leave the Union. But, if a large number of countries said “NO”, the EU could evolve into two blocks, with an integrated “political union” at its core and a looser economic union around it. The “core” countries would push on with integrationist projects that the British have traditionally rejected, such as the introductions of direct EUtaxes and the establishment of an independent EU military. The most difficult scenario to predict is the aftermath of a putative French “no”. The French have always been so crucial to the EU that this would kill the constitution.
A new impetus for European unity can be a new superpower, a global force that can equal the United States. Support for the idea of Europe as a super power does not...