"What a game of chance human life is!", Voltaire commented in the wake of the earthquake that shattered Lisbon 250 years ago.

It remains the case - as recent disasters have grimly demonstrated. But the intervening years have seen huge advances, both in man's ability to master circumstance, and in his will to do so.

Most of Europe's citizens today perhaps know Lisbon better as the eponym of the EU agenda for creating a prosperous and caring society in Europe. And the Lisbon Agenda is one more episode in a long sequence of efforts to improve those chances for human life.

It is not yet a successful effort. Its ambitious objectives of re-invigorating Europe's economy, assuring more equal opportunities and protecting the environment are proving tougher to attain than when the strategy was agreed in 2000. Repeated attempts at reconciling the Lisbon Agenda's conflicting components have led to more deferrals than agreements.

Last week's EU summit did little more than postpone the underlying questions that the Lisbon Strategy must answer. The same dilemma has led to inconclusive elections in the EU's oldest and newest member states, and to hesitations that continue this week in Germany and Poland over the formation and direction of new governments.

As a result, the Lisbon Agenda might not achieve the significance of the Lisbon earthquake as a major event that shifted Europe's world...

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