Now we are 27. From County Kerry to the eastern Carpathians, from Lapland to the Canary Islands, nearly 500 million people enjoying a level of peace and of social and economic progress unknown in modern history.
And yet, the question we have been asking ourselves for more than a decade - since the signing of the Maastricht Treaty - is what Europe we want. Apparently it is not an easy question. For a long time we have tried to answer it but with the wrong subject in the sentence: because this is not about determining what kind of Europe we, the politicians want, rather what kind of Europe "we", the citizens want.
Once European politicians realised that the European Union had no future unless it had the firm support of the people, they launched a process of reflection which led to the adoption of the treaty establishing a constitution for Europe, signed by EU member state governments in Rome on 29 October 2004.
The text of this treaty is certainly not perfect. Neither is the democracy we enjoy as a form of government, but it is the best one we know. Politics is the art of what is possible today; spiced with the healthy ambition to achieve tomorrow what was impossible before.
The Constitutional Treaty tries to offer solutions or, at least, to indicate a way forward so that the Union and its member states can confront the immense challenges it faces both within and beyond our borders. The goal is to respond to citizens' expectations on issues such as the environment, energy, immigration, development and aid, and both internal and external security.
In one specific area - EU foreign policy - the Constitutional Treaty represents a clear step ahead. When the work leading to the adoption of this new treaty began, it was crystal clear that in two key areas European citizens expected a lot from the European Union. One was the construction of an area of freedom, security and justice within the EU. The other was foreign policy.
The new text begins by setting a number of ambitious objectives, reflecting the wish of men and women of Europe to feel truly proud of Europe as an actor, and not just a mere subject of international relations, but also, a European Union capable of promoting and defending its values.
Those values are clearly embedded in the Constitutional Treaty which from the outset states that the EU is based on respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law and, above all, respect for human rights.
These principles, however, would amount to little more than a list of good intentions if the EU did not have at its disposal the necessary tools to act effectively. That is why the constitution allows for longer presidencies of the European Council, the creation of an EU Foreign Minister supported by an EU Foreign Service. And why special emphasis is given to the need to streamline and speed up decision-making, and to finance mechanisms to strengthen our defence and security policy, based on voluntary participation.
Such innovations will allow the EU to confront humanitarian crises such as the tsunami in Southeast Asia in December 2004, or the violent clashes in Lebanon last spring, better. They will better empower us to participate in missions to support the recent elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo or peace-keeping in Kosovo. They will enable a more effective EU presence in the Middle East.
We need an EU able to raise its voice firmly but without arrogance on critical international issues such as global warming, the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the reform of international trade. Europe cannot afford to be absent. And "we", the citizens, should not let this happen.
The Constitutional Treaty will still not be enough to guarantee an effective common foreign and security policy. To do better, a clear political decision by EU governments is still needed. The constitution is, however, a requirement to reach this goal.
These considerations have led the governments of Luxembourg and Spain to convene a meeting in Madrid on the 26 January of those EU member states (18 so far) which have already ratified the constitution. The aim is to debate what we can do now to preserve the undeniable progress this text represents.
Europe's challenge at the beginning of the 21st century is firmly to anchor the European integration project in a rapidly changing and complex world. To embark upon this journey we will need both to revive the spirit of the founding fathers, men such as Schuman and Monet, and to arm ourselves with the necessary means. The Constitutional Treaty is without a doubt, the best tool in our bag. If it did not already exist, we would have to invent it.
Miguel Angel Moratinos is the Spanish Foreign Minister; Jean Asselborn is Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of LuxembourgReuse content