The past year in Europe, at least the portion west of Russia, focused on developments within the European Union, something of a change in the hitherto unbroken march toward closer political and economic integration of its now 25 members.
The EU and the institutions governing it were considered by some of its constituent governments to be in need of a tightening up. A proposed constitution had been developed, made up of many measures and hundreds of pages. It was in the process of being approved by the EU's member states, country by country. Most took the easy way out and provided for approval by the countries' legislatures.
France and the Netherlands were among those which decided to submit the constitution to referendums by their citizens. In both cases - important since they were founding members of the institution - their voters said no.
That situation will prevail until some government in Paris and The Hague has the guts to present the constitution, in its present or a modified state, to the voters again, or believes it has a mandate to forgo a referendum and approve the constitution through its parliament.
The EU will have a respite from expansion in 2006. Bulgaria and Romania are not scheduled for full membership until 2007. Negotiations with Turkey will proceed, but could take years.
Angela Merkel became Germany's first female leader and the first to be chosen from the former German Democratic Republic, the post-World War II Soviet satellite. She sits atop a shaky coalition, the long-term durability of which remains in question, making the rest of the EU, the Germans themselves, and the United States watchful and a little lonely.
In addition to the departure of Gerhard Schroeder and the transition to lame-duck status of British Prime Minister Tony Blair - the Bush Administration's best friend in Europe, who will also leave the EU presidency - there are questions about the health of French President Jacques Chirac.
He certainly does qualify as a Bush Administration friend, but there is also no thought that whoever would succeed him would be any more favorably disposed toward Washington's goals in Europe.
Better U.S.-European relations may have to wait either a change of administration in Washington in three years, or drastic unforeseen changes in the major European capitals.
In the meantime, each will go its own way, staying in touch, but not working together closely on political, economic, military, or intelligence matters.
(Another in an occasional series of regionally focused analyses of international affairs at the turn of the year.)
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