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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Must Face Future With Greater Vision

As it marks its 40th birthday this week, the European Union is in an introspective, almost self-critical mood. Despite its record as one of the world's great success stories of the post-1945 era, the EU seems uncertain of its future, perhaps even a little afraid.


One reason is that the European Union is about to launch the two most ambitious projects of its lifetime -- the single European currency, and the Union's expansion to include former Communist countries in central and eastern Europe. But with the deadline for starting monetary union only 21 months away, and much uncertainty over which countries will fulfill the Maastricht criteria, it is still unclear whether the project will actually begin on time.


As for EU enlargement, there is a widespread feeling among member states that this could prove a lot more difficult and expensive than anyone is presently prepared to admit. While everyone pays lip service to the goal of incorporating the central and eastern Europeans, the EU's corridors of power echo with the whispers of those who complain that a European Union of 20, 25 or even more nation-states would banish the prospect of a genuine political union.


There are other, more profound reasons for the European Union's doubts. Peace and prosperity are the great benefits that the EU is supposed to have conferred upon Western Europe after the Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957, yet in recent years the EU has looked less capable of delivering these blessings.


Its worst performance came during the 1991 to 1995 wars in Croatia and Bosnia. As crisis followed crisis, it became painfully clear to all that the European Union had neither the political will nor the institutional capacity to operate a coherent foreign and security policy.


The same point has become apparent this year in connection with the turmoil in Albania, which collapsed so rapidly into anarchy that there should never have been any argument about sending a force to restore order. Britain and Germany would have none of that, however. All the EU did was to authorize the dispatch of a small team of diplomatic advisers. This step achieved the worst of both worlds: It gave the impression that the European Union neither cared about Albania, nor could do anything even if it did care.


If the EU cannot ensure peace in Europe, there are also mounting doubts about its ability to ensure prosperity. More than 18 million people are out of work in the 15 EU states, and the Union's record of job creation is miserable.


Some businessmen and economists say the answer lies in sharpening European competitiveness by deregulating job markets and overhauling the EU's generous social benefit systems.


But for many European politicians, such measures would represent too radical a break with the ideas of the EU's founding fathers. The price of affluence need not be the abandonment of social conscience, they argue.


If an air of gloom is hanging over the European Union, it may be explained by the sheer scale of the foreign policy and economic challenges facing it. They are greater now than at any time since 1957. But one of the European Union's strengths has been its ability to adapt to circumstances. As it prepares for its next 40 years, it could use some of the confidence and vision that inspired it at its creation.