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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Berlin Fudge

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The European Union's 27 national leaders listened with what looked like great intensity as the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra performed Beethoven's Fifth Symphony on Saturday evening in a musical tribute to the EU's 50th anniversary. The great composer himself considered his four-note opening motif highly symbolic. "Thus Fate knocks at the door," he is reported to have said. During World War II, the BBC adopted the bars as its call sign, as they correspond to the Morse code symbol for "V," as in victory.

Europe's fate, the carefully selected classical program seemed to suggest, is victory. In an organization marked by aversion to any sort of military adventure abroad, this can only mean Europe's victory over itself. With Sunday's "Berlin Declaration," the bloc was supposed to have overcome what Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi called the period of "mourning and reflection" after the Dutch and French rejected the European Constitution in 2005. But fate is a fickle friend.

The trouble began with German Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to draft the declaration in a style akin to classic 19th-century secret diplomacy. The Czech government complained that by Thursday it had seen just 40 percent of the text. Berlin's covert operation contradicted the stated goal of producing a "people's document," one that would be short and clear and express Europe's common principles, values and challenges. Merkel eventually had to show her cards and it led to the usual compromises and obfuscations. What made it -- and didn't make it -- into the final text is the stuff of controversy within the Brussels Beltway.

The word "constitution" is prominently missing, despite Merkel's efforts to sneak it in. When French and Dutch voters nixed the indigestible text two years ago that should have been the end of it. But as Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the former French president and main drafter of the constitution, said last year, rejecting his chef d'oeuvre "was a mistake that will have to be corrected." In other words, Europeans are given a free vote as long as they vote for what the Brussels mandarins think is best for them.

In a newspaper interview last week, Merkel diagnosed a certain alienation between the EU and its citizens, the root cause of which she located in the people's alleged impatience with the slow pace of decision making in Brussels. "To change that we need an EU constitutional treaty," she said. Come again? The chancellor wants to fight the citizens' alienation by ignoring democratic votes that expressed that very alienation?

The Dutch government, for one, didn't think it was a good idea to defy its voters. And so the declaration was downgraded to say governments agreed to "placing the European Union on a renewed common basis before the European Parliament elections in 2009." So much for "short and clear." This is vague enough for both sides to claim victory. The constitution's supporters will interpret the language as a coded go-ahead to push through the text within the next two years. For the skeptics, it is simply a reference to making the institutional changes that a larger EU requires, such as streamlining voting procedures.

Absent, too, is any reference to further enlargement. The EU just expanded to 27 members and there is little appetite among some governments to let in more "foreigners." While Britain and Poland, for instance, would like to proceed, Germany and France are more wary, particularly of Turkey. The document's one hint to Europe's immediate neighbors is not very promising. "The European Union will continue to promote democracy, stability and prosperity beyond its borders." Enlargement has been the most successful tool of doing just that. But the Berlin Declaration sounds more like a call for the kind of "privileged partnership" Merkel is fond of offering to Turkey in lieu of full membership.

Just like the moribund constitution, the Berlin Declaration remains a godless document, literally. Proposals for an Invocation Dei, most loudly advocated by Poland, were rejected in secular Europe. Not even a reference to Europe's Judeo-Christian heritage was allowed, even though that wouldn't have been so much a call for God or religion as a simple statement of fact about the continent's cultural roots. Anyone doubting that should have checked out Saturday's "European Night of Beauty." As part of the EU celebrations for the hoi polloi, Berlin's state museum opened its doors at night where one could find -- shock and horror -- numerous works with religious themes. God may be banned from the declaration but not yet from the houses of art.

The topics that made it into the text were less controversial: the euro, the common market, social responsibility, human dignity, equal rights, resolving global conflicts peacefully and fighting poverty and climate change. Also, and unusual for such documents in Europe, "the people" made it into the declaration.

"We the citizens of the European Union have united for the better," the document pronounced in a rare nod to the voters (and, without acknowledging it, the U.S. Constitution). Even so, the leaders who speak for Europe's citizens technically weren't even speaking for themselves. The original plan was for all 27 leaders to sign the declaration. In the end, only the host, Merkel, and the heads of the European Parliament and Commission put their names under the text. It's not that there wasn't enough space for all the signatures on the dotted line. It has more to do with plausible deniability. Even after all the haggling and compromising, many governments were still uncomfortable with the text. Without the signatures, the nonbinding birthday card is even more nonbinding.

So despite all the pomp and circumstance of the EU's anniversary celebrations, its period of "mourning and reflection" is far from over. Victory will have to wait for another performance of Beethoven's Fifth.

Daniel Schwammenthal is an editor for The Wall Street Journal, where this comment appeared.