All of a sudden, the European Union finds it has to re-define its path. Even when the threat of rejections of the new treaty started to emerge some weeks ago, no-one imagined quite how serious the challenge would be to the EU's sense of self-esteem, self-confidence and sense of direction.

But the faces of the leaders of the EU's main institutions on Wednesday night made the seriousness of the situation quite clear to anyone who was still looking for signals. Nor, it must be said, did the performance of Barroso, Juncker and Borrell quite rise to the challenge. Their behaviour suggested defeat bordering on despair.

But despair is utterly premature.

The importance of the messages from France and the Netherlands should not be underestimated. But nor should it be misinterpreted. Insofar as the messages related to the EU itself, they spoke more of disenchantment with the manner of EU actions rather than rejection of the EU itself. And it is obvious that large parts of the messages were directed not at the EU at all, but at the two national governments.

It is no longer worth speculating on the political wisdom of submitting the treaty to popular vote in these two countries. But at least two clear lessons should be derived from the exercise.

One lesson is that if governments are going to opt for referendums on EU...

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