Barroso's birthday present is a new game: building Europe on a dynamic consensus. The gift came from the 25 member states as they left Brussels after their summit on March 23 by coincidence, the day the President of the European Commission entered his fiftieth year.

"Dynamic consensus" is how Barroso repeatedly and approvingly described the outcome of this spring meeting of the European Council: agreement on reform of the stability pact, on re-launching the Lisbon Agenda, even on the fate of the draft Services Directive the uninvited guest at the summit. But because, in the age of dynamic consensus, agreement is not quite what it used to be, the summit conclusions are rather ambiguous.

Under the stability pact reform, member states that borrow too much can be excused if their excess is "close" to the limit, or "temporary" even though there is no clear definition of what constitutes "close" or "temporary" (a day, a year, a decade?). The consensus is so dynamic that it even appears to countenance euro membership for new member states still technically in breach of the pact's own borrowing limits.

The agreement on the re-launch of the Lisbon Strategy is similarly imprecise. Despite all the earlier talk of focusing on jobs and growth, the summit conclusions are now bulging with polite genuflections to cohesion, sustainability, and reconciling competitiveness with environmental and...

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