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Europe's unfinished house

Building European unity takes time. An Irish vote to halt it should not discourage.

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Board by board. Nail by nail. Building a wider and more united Europe is a laborious process that's been going on for nearly 60 years. Uniters mustn't get discouraged when construction is interrupted, as it was by Ireland last week.

Quite firmly, Irish voters rejected a proposed treaty that would have streamlined how a greatly expanded European Union works and arguably given it more clout on the world stage.

It's not easy to move 27 member countries in the same direction, and the treaty's smoother decision-making process, along with a new sitting presidency and foreign minister, would have helped do that.

The rejected "Lisbon Treaty" is the second attempt at major institutional reform of this weighty economic and political bloc. In 2005, French and Dutch voters said no to a new constitution that would have accomplished the same goals more ambitiously.

After that, negotiators crafted a slimmed-down version that this time needed only to be ratified by member governments. Eighteen have done so, and the rest were expected to, but Ireland's own Constitution required the treaty be put to a referendum. As in so many things EU, all must agree, so this follow-on attempt, too, has gone down to defeat.

That the Irish objected is ironic, considering how much they have benefited from EU membership. EU funds helped put the pounce in the "Celtic tiger" economy, as did Ireland's adoption of the euro currency and the opening of its doors to labor from some of the EU's newer eastern members, especially Poland.


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