Europe Reborn

How to Save the European Union From Irrelevance

Curtain call: hanging the EU flag in Barcelona, May 2008 Albert Gea / Courtesy Reuters

In 1982, The Economist marked the 25th anniversary of the European Economic Community, the precursor to the European Union, by featuring a tombstone dedicated to the organization on its cover. “Born March 25, 1957. Moribund March 25, 1982,” it read. Then came an epitaph courtesy of the ancient Roman historian Tacitus: Capax imperii nisi imperasset, “It seemed capable of being a power, until it tried to be one.” Inside, the magazine pilloried the community for its institutional weakness, bemoaned its citizens’ growing disenchantment with European integration, and warned of a possible British exit.

Yet those dark hours marked the dawn of the European project, not its dusk. Just three years later, Jacques Delors, the former French finance minister, became the European Commission’s eighth president and immediately injected a dose of vitality into the sluggish organization. His campaign to create a single market in Europe—an initiative that enjoyed enthusiastic support from British Prime Minister

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