The European Commission has been hard at work in recent days. On 13 April, it presented its plan for the relaunch of the single market, one of the main pillars of the European project, and the creation of a European patent. On the same day, it announced details of a carbon tax, which, among other things, aims to reduce consumption by raising the prices of coal and diesel. On 14 April, it signed an agreement with the US on the fight against cybercrime. On 11 April, it unveiled new measures to improve the rights of air passengers. And on 13 April, it found time to impose a €315 million fine on washing powder producersfound guilty of operating a price-fixing cartel.

In the meantime, on 11 April, EU interior ministers meeting in Luxembourg aired their divergent views on what to do with the large numbers of mainly Tunisian migrants landing on Lampedusa — an island they see as a stopover on the way to other European destinations in France or the UK. At the end of the week, gathered in Berlin for a NATO meeting, member states that are part of the alliance continued to argue over the strategy for military operations in Libya. In Cairo for a conference on Libya on 14 April, Catherine Ashton was unable to present a common European position. Back in Europe, Germany is once again stricken by doubtsover plans to safeguard the Eurozone, and no one seems to know how to help Portugal, which is the final domino in the chain that may also topple Spain and Italy.

At the beginning of the century, the European Union, which was preparing to expand to include ten new members, was still hoping to establish its own constitution. During the final years before the crisis, it projected the dynamic image of an entity with the capacity to define international standards. This was the period when the software giant Microsoft was fined by Brussels for abusing its dominant market position. At the time, it seemed that social, environmental and commercial rules defined by Europe could be adopted all over the world.

This may still be the case. However, today the EU is divided and increasingly incapable of punching its weight in the global political, economic and commercial arena. Europe continues to produce regulations, plans and judgements, but without an underlying political dynamic, it runs the risk of becoming a powerhouse of standards and a wholly bureaucratic empire.