The timing for the ceremonial signature of the Constitutional Treaty this week could hardly have been worse, with the Commission in disarray and tempers across the European Union running high.

The Rome location for the ceremony compounds the embarrassment, since the host is so closely involved in the confusions that have led to the rupture in EU business. Silvio Berlusconi had expected to preside over a coronation, rather than an inquest into his choice of Commissioner.

But in the European Union's own curious way of doing business, the apparently unfortunate conjunction of time and place might prove to be a blessing in disguise.

For all its imperfections of tangled wording and complex compromises, and for all the shadows hanging over its ratification, the Treaty represents a huge European achievement. It is the product of long and arduous debates among political groups and countries with widely differing interests and objectives. More than once the project seemed moribund, but sufficient common political will was found to keep it alive and moving forward.

The Treaty's existence is therefore a powerful symbol of the EU's continued ability to snatch some sort of victory from the predicaments that the EU's own ambition repeatedly generates. It is an act of faith in the future...

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