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Published: Wednesday, 12/19/2007

A more perfect union

HEADS of government from the 27 European Union countries met recently in Lisbon to sign a new treaty to make the organization function more efficiently.

The pact must be ratified by either parliaments or referendums in all of the member countries, but that process is expected to go smoothly this time. The last effort to reform EU functioning, a draft constitution, went down in votes in France and the Netherlands, both charter members of the organization.

It is a major tribute to the EU - and to the belief of European leaders in the benefits of greater coordination and cooperation - that its leaders picked themselves up after the 2005 setbacks and hit the line again with a new treaty.

The power of the EU has always been that, once a decision was made, it could put behind it the political power and economic weight of numerous European countries. The problem, which the new treaty should remedy to some degree, was that getting the member governments to agree on any policy was a slow, ponderous matter.

The treaty provides for a European president, as opposed to the current six-month rotating presidency. There also will be a European foreign minister, whose phone number should be logged into senior American officials' Blackberries.

The new European structure may make it harder, however, for the United States to skirt the EU as an organization and get its way through bilateral blandishments, such as it employed with Poland and the Czech Republic to rope them into the U.S. missile defense program.

The visible lack of comfort of the United Kingdom with the treaty reflects its desire to continue to play on its "special relationship" with the United States.

All in all, though, the Europeans should get credit for continuing to make their organization more efficient and effective. They scrap sometimes, but in general they play well with each other.

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