The curtain rises this week on a new act in the European Union's continuing drama. The actors are returning to the stage after the interval - with new twists to the plot, and with new members of the cast.

On some of the leading themes, the story-line has changed dramatically.

A happy ending for the EU treaty - now needing approval in the 25 Member States - could come closer if new German plans are realised. The ruling coalition wants to amend the country's constitution so as to allow a referendum on ratification.

If the opposition parties co-operate, an early popular endorsement of the treaty in the EU's largest Member State might boost support in other Member States - particularly where enthusiasm for the treaty is not currently high.

But, as in all the best theatre, it could still go very wrong too: an early German rejection would sink the Treaty irretrievably. And Germans' support, currently high, cannot be guaranteed at a time when the Government's economic reform plans are provoking increased public resentment.

It is economic reform where the EU scenario is also under fundamental review.

An earlier scene - also starring Germany (and France) in a classic conflict between duty and individual will - was already triggered by the EU's attempts to drive structural reform and co-ordinate economic management.


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