Nice Try in Europe

Europe has watched with furrowed brow as the United States slogs its way through a divisive presidential election, trying to keep its union together court by court and chad by chad.

Now, after a four-day European Union summit, it's the Americans' turn to pass judgment on an event meant to make the EU both a union and Europe-wide (it's neither now).

A big summit of 15 leaders, held in the French city of Nice, ended on Monday with more dimples than punch-throughs in its final decisions.

It was originally designed to endorse a constitution, a charter of rights, a 60,000-member EU army, and, most of all, major changes in the EU power structure that would more easily accommodate new members from Eastern Europe.

Alas, national interests and historical rivalries took big bites out of the hopes that this summit would make major reforms in the EU's unwieldy decisionmaking structure.

Without a grand continental unifier such as former German leader Helmut Kohl, the current national leaders ended up mainly defending their turfs. The reality of a European superstate that even begins to resemble US-style federalism seems years away.

Still, like a bicycle that must keep moving to stay up, the EU nations did make enough decisions to keep up the momentum toward greater unity.

The leaders formally pledged troops for an EU peacekeeping army, despite misgivings over how it would coordinate its planning with NATO (read Washington).

And it made modest adjustments in reducing the veto power of each nation so that the EU can make decisions without all members approving. But, with vetoing power based on population size, the tough decisions on power arrangement were put off.

The 12 hypothetical new members from the east took heart that the leaders "hope" to include some of them, such as Poland, at their next summit in 2004. But digesting these poorer, ex-Communist nations and their farmers is not seen as the grand idea that it was after the cold war.

Seeing the whole in the pieces of Europe takes courage and long-term thinking. This summit was just a whisper of what was needed.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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