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The Year That Was
From The Wall Street Journal Europe, 2000-12-29

Many of the year’s plans - from the Millennium Dome to the Danish euro referendum - seemed to end up in the trash heap. Yet we find in these failures a humbling lesson for political leaders - and for the governed, a cause for cheer - as we ring in the New Year. They serve as a reminder that big-headed government inevitably runs into problems.

Nobody was hurt and the guilty parties will get away with a mere spanking, but the nearly 1 billion pound Millennium Dome is practically a monument to big-headed government.

The unfolding of the tragedy of the Kursk submarine...

Back in the European Union, (RE: syftar förstås på Back in the USSR, av Beatles

Back in the European Union, many of the headline-making events on which we dwelled this past year served as a reminder of how easily political agendas become driven by hubris rather than an enlightened sense of what best serves the governed.

When that happens, nature (or voters) have a way of serving notice to leaders who presume too much - as they did in the failed Danish referendum on the euro and, indirectly, at the EU summit in Nice.

Denmark’s government was certainly right to argue the case for the euro. But Danish voters took a hard look at the package deal and decided that the euro may just be the thin end of the wedge. They looked, notably, at the EU’s efforts to ostracize Austria after Joerg Haider’s Freedom Party won a role in the government there, and decided this was unwarranted intervention in the internal affairs of a member states. And by 53% to 47% they said they were unconvinced that the benefits of deeper involvement with the EU outweighed the risks.

Other Europeans no doubt feel similarly, which is one reason governments convening in Nice recently found it so hard to agree on an agenda for institutional reform. Ultimately, grandiose plans that would allow more rapid integration - including the harmonization of some fiscal powers - never made it.

Nice failed; long live Nice. The onus is now on EU leaders to convince increasingly skeptical electorates of the merits of each new integrating step they propose.

Of course, there are plenty of examples of zealous governance that have so far gone unchecked. Germany’s Joschka Fischer set out his vision of a European superstate and the French led their European partners into what has proved to be a reckless attempt to build a European defense identity on the shaky foundations of underresourced European militaries. The result has been the largest threat to the existence of NATO since Soviet nuclear warheads were trained on its major cities.

On a different policy plane, Britain’s Labour government allowed the cloning and killing of human embryos and the Dutch decided to legalize euthanasia.

Big-headed government is still around. But some of the sobering events of last year have provided better grounding in reality.

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