A spat between London and Luxembourg about the euro has highlighted the problems the German EU presidency faces in devising a celebratory declaration for the 50th anniversary of the bloc's founding treaty next month.
If only Germany could find the balance so well
The question of encapsulating the successes of the European Union in a few pages may not seem an overwhelming problem to euroskeptics, but is proving rather tricky for Berlin.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country assumed the rotating EU presidency last month, asked the 27 member states to send envoys for bilateral talks at which they put forward all their national suggestions. Those discussions are now over, and no more formal input from the member states is scheduled before a European summit in Brussels on March 8-9 where the EU leaders will discuss the final text over dinner.
Some points already have unanimous backing.
Everyone agrees that the Berlin declaration should be short -- two or three pages -- and an easy read, unburdened by the kind of euro-babble, jargon and diplomatic subtleties that make so much of the EU's output incomprehensible to the layperson.
On top of that, the EU nations have agreed that the declaration should celebrate the peace and prosperity which the Union has helped to construct since the dark days of World War II.
As ever, searching for a consensus
The devil, as ever, is in the details.
Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker stressed last week that he would like the euro currency to get a mention "as one of the great successes of European construction."
Juncker says Merkel should praise the euro
Those sentiments are unsurprising coming from the president of the Eurogroup, which brings together the finance ministers from the 13 nations which use the common currency.
Unsurprising and unsatisfactory, according to Britain, which still proudly retains the cherished pound sterling which, like the euro, is doing very nicely on the currency markets.
"What we want is a simple document which celebrates what has been achieved by all member states," a Downing Street spokesman told AFP. "If particular member states are going to be upset about some things, it's not very constructive... it's difficult to see how the euro would be relevant."
Germany faces the same problem if it is thinking of mentioning the Schengen visa-free travel zone within the EU, another project which London has not adopted.
"If we're speaking about the 'Europe of citizens,' what could be more concrete than the abolition of frontiers?" asked Juncker spokesman Guy Schueller.
Is there a European social model?
The other red line is the idea of championing a 'European social model' as prescribed by Europe's left wing, which wants to put a more human face on the bloc's free trade and globalization tendencies.
French and Dutch voters created a quandary for backers of the constitution
"The notion of a European social model appears unstoppable," notably in a bid to rally a section of the French voters who rejected the EU's proposed constitution at a 2005 referendum, said one European diplomat.
"But how do you formulate it? We're in the classic rift between the neo-liberals and the more social vein," he added.
Championing the move towards a more social Europe, the employment ministers of Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg and Spain last week signed an agreement in Luxembourg proclaiming the "indispensable balance between economic freedoms and social rights, so that the internal market can become an area also regulated by a social plan."
The EU's d ead letter
The idea begs the question, according to one European diplomat, "What is the European objective? A greater and greater integration ad infinitum?"
The divisions inherent in this question are nowhere better illustrated than in the search for agreement on an EU-wide constitution. The current version, signed by all member states and ratified by two-thirds of them, has been a dead letter since being rejected by Dutch and French voters in national referendums in 2005.
The EU celebrated new entrants Bulgaria and Romania in January
But Germany now has the constitutional bit firmly between its teeth and intends to revive the text -- with whatever modifications prove necessary -- and present a roadmap for its progression by the time Portugal takes over the EU baton in July.
However, many diplomatic sources agree that the Germans don't want to anticipate too much before the French presidential election in May.
That should at least give them more time to write the 50th birthday card.