THE GREAT DEPRESSION
After French and Dutch voters rejected the draft treaty establishing a constitution for Europe last spring, there was no doubt that a crisis of unprecedented seriousness confronted the European Union. The shock was so severe that the ratification process was extended for an indefinite "period of reflection," to allow some EU members (such as the United Kingdom) to suspend further votes that might deal the treaty additional blows. Soon, however, the effects of the French and Dutch no votes were compounded by the European Council's failure to agree on the EU budget for 2007-13 thanks to a Franco-British showdown over the financial rebate to the United Kingdom and the Common Agricultural Policy. This double fiasco triggered concern that even the past achievements of European economic integration once held to be irreversible, such as the single market and the euro, might come undone. Europe has been in a state of depression in the months since.
There are good reasons to be alarmed, but one should not misdiagnose the problem and mistake the symptoms of the EU's crisis for its causes. Disagreement over the constitution did not precipitate the EU's current troubles; rather, it was a growing malaise over the EU's operation and prospects that precipitated the constitutional debacle. The constitution's rejection by founding members of the EU does not in itself spell the end of the union, but it both reflects and deepens a profound crisis in the process of European unification -- one that has no obvious solution and carries significant implications for the United States.
A FRENCH EXCEPTION?
To outside observers, the present stalemate may appear to be just another in the long series of crises that have paved the way toward European unification. This pattern is evident in the EU's repeated deadlocks over its finances: negotiating the seven-year budget always involves tough posturing, extensive bargaining, and temporary breakdowns. The latest exercise was further complicated by increased financial burdens resulting from last year's eastward enlargement and the
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