A Potent Symbol of Peace and Unity ; LEADING ARTICLE ++ EUROPEAN UNION

Article excerpt

The European Union will celebrate its 50th anniversary this weekend with an all-night party in a rejuvenated Berlin. It is a joyous coincidence that the anniversary should fall in the middle of the German presidency.

What more conclusive evidence could there be of what the European Union has achieved than around-the-clock festivities beneath the Brandenburg Gate? The symbol of Europe's post-war division has now become the most potent symbol of Europe's unity.

Of course, the EU as it has evolved from the six-member European Economic Community is far from flawless. From the remoteness of its institutions, through its clumsy administrative structures, to its labyrinthine bureaucracy, the EU can appear all too often as a cobbled-together machine of Heath-Robinson complexity. Nor are perennial complaints about the "democratic deficit" without foundation. There are good arguments for streamlining EU structures and trying to bring all parties to this pioneering enterprise closer than they currently feel they are.

But none of this should be allowed, as it all too often is in Britain, to eclipse the truly remarkable success of the European project. A treaty that originated in the desire of far-sighted politicians to banish war from the continent has brought results beyond anything they could have imagined. The EEC of 50 years ago has become today's 27-strong European Union, and each nation has a voice at the top table.

EU citizens can travel across the continent without visas. We can live and - with some temporary exceptions - work where we please. Common border security arrangements unite 15 of these countries; 13 now share a common currency. In the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights all 27 have signed up to some of the highest ethical standards that bind any group of nations. Abolition of the death penalty is a requirement, as is acceptance of verdicts handed down by the European Court of Justice. …