The lack of leadership

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The Independent Online

If people in Europe regard the EU as irrelevant and out of touch, then their leaders have done their very best at the summit in Brussels to confirm them in their views. Over two days of intensive discussions at perhaps the EU's most critical moment since its founding nearly half a century ago, all that Europe's premiers could manage was a bitter dispute over money and a waffling fudge as to the future of the constitution.

If people in Europe regard the EU as irrelevant and out of touch, then their leaders have done their very best at the summit in Brussels to confirm them in their views. Over two days of intensive discussions at perhaps the EU's most critical moment since its founding nearly half a century ago, all that Europe's premiers could manage was a bitter dispute over money and a waffling fudge as to the future of the constitution.

There are no doubt perfectly good reasons why agreement was so difficult to effect. With 10 of the 25 countries in the EU having ratified the constitution, including Spain, which put it to a referendum, the Union was hardly in the position to tear up the treaty without a nod to their feelings. Nor, as anyone knows, does money ever bring amicable accord. It was all very well for Tony Blair to talk of a radical rethink of the Common Agricultural Policy, but it was only two years ago that he and the rest of the Union had put their signatures to an extension of the CAP until 2013. It would have taken a conversion of Pauline proportions for the French to have given this up.

But then, in pushing so hard on the issue of the British rebate, President Chirac was quite knowingly playing to his own gallery back home, where his defeat in the referendum has left him badly wounded, just as Blair was playing to the Eastern European audience when he allowed it to be known that he might consider releasing the new entrants from contributing to the British rebate.

The French and the Dutch No votes have put a spoke into the wheel of the European enterprise. This should have been the occasion for a sober reflection by Europe's leaders, accepting the gravity of the situation but showing renewed solidarity on the basic principles of European unity. Instead, they chose to use it as an occasion for scoring points off each other and playing politics back home. No wonder voters feel a sense of dismay and alienation from the European project. They have been let down - again - by this gaggle of self-absorbed politicians who have demonstrated only their lack of leadership.

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