There is no mention of the word "federal" in the 224 pages of the European Union's draft constitution that will be presented to the Continent's heads of state at the June 20-21 summit in northern Greece. But make no mistake: The 28 countries represented in the 16-month-long constitutional convention presided over by former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing have taken a big step toward a United States of Europe. True, nation-states are still recognized as playing vital roles in the new constitution. But the sense that real power is shifting away from individual countries and toward institutions such as the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Council of the European Union permeates almost every article of the draft document.
That is good and fine. In the more than 40 years since a core of European nations pledged themselves to "ever closer union," European political integration has been steadily advancing. The fact that Europeans have been able to compromise on a constitutional draft on the heels of the divisive Iraq crisis that split the Continent between "old" and "new" is testament to that.
There are two big problems, though, which European states need to sort out if they want their union to be strong and vibrant and able to hold its own on the world stage. First, it badly needs to focus on cutting red tape in a Continent already burdened with too much of it. Although the constitutional convention had instructions to make an enlarged European Union a more simple and democratic entity, "there was never any real effort to streamline the EU, reform its bureaucracy, or cut the 97,000 pages of accumulated laws and regulations," said David Heathcoat-Amory, a convention representative from Britain's Conservative Party.
Second, Europeans need to heal the rift with the U.S. Within Europe there are huge differences in how relations with the American superpower are viewed, ranging from British Atlanticism to France's neo-Gaullist inclination to set up a united Europe as a counterweight to the U.S. Until those tensions are resolved, Europeans will lack a vision of their place in the world. They will be unable to construct a common, viable security policy and will continue to be a political featherweight in world affairs.