DUBLIN - The Irish have never needed a reason to party, but the expanded European Union (EU) on May 1 (including eight formerly communist countries) has given them a respectable one. And their pride is enhanced because their prime minister, Bertie Ahern, is the president of the European Council of the EU. Ahern presided at ceremonies last Saturday during which he welcomed the 10 new member states.
Europeans - or at least the member nations of the EU (more but not necessarily all to come) - have been warring with each other over land, politics, grievances and especially religion since before the Christ most no longer worship. Since the foundation of Rome in 753 B.C. there have been wars and rumors of war on the continent and with Britain.
What makes Europeans believe that this time they've got it right? The source for their optimism is recent events. Fifteen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the liberation of Eastern Europe, the European states believe their moment has arrived. Optimism has always driven people and states, even when the failure to deal adequately with humanity's lower nature brought pessimism. After much haggling, the EU has yet to produce a constitution. And Britain remains on the sidelines, so far refusing to join the club.
Fifty-eight years ago, Winston Churchill spoke of an Iron Curtain having descended "from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic." That curtain has now been raised. Would it be churlish to note that Europeans were largely unable, or unwilling, to free themselves from the twin menaces of fascism and communism in the last century and had to be liberated from these evils and from themselves by the United States? While some wonder if Iraq can stand on its own, we can also ask, can Europe?
The Times of London, while editorially celebrating a "Glad Bright Morning," is right to describe the EU as "an experiment in political organization." Yes, it is convenient to travel from country to country without changing currency (though not as fun). Yes, Europeans will be able to travel more freely within the EU and get jobs in other countries from which they were barred in the past. Yes, EU members enjoy quicker passage through airport immigration than the mere Americans who have made their present lot possible. But will union mean unity? That is yet to be demonstrated.