Europe's Slow Triumph; Extremist Electioneering, Diplomatic Haggling, Disputes over the Name of God-These Make for Great Headlines, but in Fact Are Soon Forgotten

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Byline: Andrew Moravcsik, Moravcsik is director of the European Union Program at Harvard University.

Europeans seem to agree on nothing these days, except their dislike of the European Union. Begin with the European Constitution, likely to be adopted at the Dublin summit this week. For the longest time it looked to be DOA--dead on arrival. That it's gotten this far is no small miracle of Europoliticking, but will it survive the next round of amendments and popular referendums? Compromises have been struck throughout. British diplomats skulk in Brussels, drawing red lines around EU policies on taxes, social welfare, foreign affairs and transnational crime fighting. Small and large countries quibble endlessly over voting weights, prelude to decades of coming budget battles. Some Europeans insist that God--a Roman Catholic God--be written into the preamble.

Then there were last week's European Parliament elections--desultory, as always, with low turnout and unedifying debate. But they were also marked by disturbingly strong showings from Euro-skeptic right-wingers inveighing against foreigners, Eurocrats, Turks and the perks Euro-parliamentarians get. Even in sober Britain, the UK Independence Party, devoted to withdrawal from the EU, looked set to outpoll more established rivals.

What next? With May 1 enlargement behind them, EU leaders will now dance around the political powder keg of Turkish membership. Can 100 million Muslims be integrated into Europe? Even proponents doubt that full membership is possible at all--and, if so, only in 15 to 20 years. Fewer still dream of that holy grail of European unity, a common foreign policy. Aspired to since de Gaulle, that too seems DOA.

Or is it? Let's have some historical perspective. Extremist electioneering by media personalities, diplomatic haggling over agricultural subsidies, disputes over the name of God--these make for great headlines but in fact are soon forgotten. Even this week's constitutional treaty is of relatively little import. It is a piece of paper that consolidates a process already well underway. Slowly and quietly, the EU goes from success to success, transforming Europe and the globe.

Remember: the EU is a distinctive creation, the first wholly new political structure to emerge and prosper since the rise of the social-democratic welfare state a century ago. The EU as a vehicle for sharing power between national governments and an international institution has evolved into a complex but effective system of checks and balances. Policy can be made only by painstaking consensus. …