In an image which highlights a key moment in the history of Europe, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy walk side by side with their shoulders tensed and jaws set on edge, at a time when conflict over how to protect the Eurozone from the threat posed by Greece’s virtual bankruptcy very nearly brought the German Chancellor and the French President to the point of no return in their chaotic relationship. However, two days later, Europe’s finance ministers agreed to establish a bailout mechanism worth 750 million euros: and so it was that on the 9 May 2010, the European Union survived the most serious crisis in its history.

A year later, what is the happening in the Union? The euro is still there, but Portugal has now become the third country, in the wake of Greece and Ireland, to be forced to seek a bailout to the tune of several billion euros. No state has gone bankrupt, but austerity has become a common feature of all EU countries. Two governments, in Ireland and in Portugal, have been ousted by the crisis, and if elections were to be held today, power would certainly change hands in France, Spain and perhaps even in Germany. In the course of a year of uncertainty, Chancellor Merkel has become the dominant figure in the Union without whom nothing can be decided. And this has been one of the major consequences of the pressure on the euro: the emergence of a Nordic bloc, centred on Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, which has paved the way for a more austere EU, symbolised by the Euro-Plus Pact and its provisions for better economic governance.

Europe has been rescued, but it still remains in danger from multiple symptoms: and this is not solely a matter of the economy. As a consequence of the crisis, European populations are increasingly attracted by the protest politics of eurosceptic and populist movements. At the same time, national leaders have amplified and responded to this phenomenon by focusing on territorial concerns — a state of affairs that has been evident in the controversy over the application of the Schengen Agreement, arguments about the status of foreign workers in the EU and a decline in the level of collaboration between member states and European institutions.

The patient has shown surprising resilience: in the course of one year the EU has drawn on unexpected resources and demonstrated its mastery of the art of compromise in establishing bailout plans and the various stability mechanisms. Little by little, the threat posed by the weakness of the single currency has been allayed by the adoption of common procedures, and member states’ attachment to the European project, which has been sorely tested, has nonetheless been confirmed by the scale of the efforts that have been made.

European leaders, both in their member states and in Brussels will now have to contend with an even greater responsibility. Within Europe, they will have to present citizens with a political project that conserves a social dimension in its response to societal challenges, and gives greater meaning to an increasingly economic, monetary and legislative EU. In the wider world, they will have to contribute positively to the "Arab spring," take on the challenge of globalisation, and assume greater control of the destiny of 500 million people.