Ever since the Anglo-American war on Iraq ended in rapid military victory for the coalition forces ­ a victory achieved at the cost of the social and administrative disintegration of Iraq, the collapse of its healthcare system and the destruction or loss of cultural heritage of inestimable value ­ Europe's governments have been jostling with one another in their eagerness to extend the hand of friendship to the United States, or at least to smooth over the differences that separate them from the US.

The most striking example of this behaviour has come from Poland, which looks likely to be entrusted with the task of administering one of the three areas into which Iraq is to be divided. But even the governments and political forces that were most vehemently opposed to military intervention in the run-up to the war are now showing signs of giving way. In Germany, as the government offers the American government token after token of friendship, loyalty towards the US continues to be the hobby-horse of the opposition. And even the French government has now adopted a softly-softly approach.

If one believes that military might, material wealth and technological excellence are the sole ingredients of power, then this turn of events has to be regarded as inevitable. The United States is the world's only remaining superpower. It has at its disposal the means both to reward its loyal vassals and to punish its enemies and those of its allies that fail to support its policies. As a result, a growing number of governments are induced, by their very weakness, to step up their efforts to demonstrate their loyalty to the hegemonic power, and to take its side even when previously they had distanced themselves from its policies. The American government is well aware that it enjoys a position of absolute supremacy; in a shocking display of arrogance, it has shown that it is quite prepared to "buy off" governments that are willing to sell themselves and to blackmail those that look like offering even the weakest resistance to its might.

But power is more than just military strength, wealth and economic development. Indeed, power, when it is made up solely of these factors, is unstable and short-lived. In the global equilibrium, power actually lies also, and above all, in the consensus of those who are subject to it, a consensus that is, in turn, founded on an idea. This idea, if it is to be transformed into power, must be realised through a project that unites, in the pursuit of a common objective, both the hegemonic power and those that come under its influence. One example of this was the Napoleonic empire, which spread the ideals of the French Revolution throughout Europe and beyond; one might also cite the British Empire of the nineteenth century, which exported to much of the world its ideals of political and commercial liberalism. Similarly, in the period following the end of the Second World War, the United States involved and helped other western democracies in the struggle against soviet totalitarianism, guaranteeing their survival and consolidating the values in which they all believed.

Today, conversely, the United States has no plan other than that of increasing its global supremacy at the expense of its enemies and allies, seeking to obtain from the latter the resources it needs for this endeavour. Some claim that the United States is striving to export a model of democracy, but this is a weak excuse that serves only to give a semblance of justification to its position of global domination. The United States' power is fragile, therefore, but the lack of an alternative ensures that it continues to prevail. And the alternative that is so desperately needed certainly cannot come from the United States itself, because a progressive international order, one that is capable of guaranteeing a high level of stability and conditions that will favour the real economic development of a considerable part of the world, must today inevitably be based on multipolarism, in other words on an end to the United States' monopoly on power. Neither can it come from a strengthening of Russia or China, both of which are still weak and totally unequipped to promote the values of peace, international justice and freedom in the world. There is, in fact, only one possible bearer of the kind of great progressive design that is so sorely needed. The alternative the world is looking for can come only from the birth of a European pole.

But pole implies power, and power, in turn, implies a state. Clearly then, a European federal state is the model that is so urgently needed. It is obvious that the work of the European Convention is not destined to give rise to a European state, and indeed all pretence that it might do has now been abandoned. The Convention, writes Jean-Claude Casanova in Le Monde, must guard against straying outside "the realm of that which is possible" and seek instead to present a project that "has a reasonable chance of being accepted by the national governments, or at least by a sufficient number of them to allow a decision to be enforced." This, of course, means that the Convention ­ as is already patently clear ­ will not be in a position to present anything more than an extremely low-profile proposal, which, while not appearing to change anything, will in fact, following the enlargement of the EU, constitute a serious backward step, given that all confederal-type institutional mechanisms, however they are packaged, work less efficiently the more states they embrace.

Thus, as the outlook for the world becomes increasingly bleak, we are left only with the hope that Europe's founder member states (with or without Italy) ­ following the example, feeble as it was, of those countries (France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg) that on April 27th staged an initial summit ­ might find it within themselves to take this decisive political step. It is a brave idea and an achievable one, since it is within the confines of Europe's founding nations that the last vestiges of the Old Continent's dignity and spirit of independence continue to survive. The only "realistic" alternative to this idea is supine acceptance of America's hegemony; in other words, acceptance of the irreversibility and deepening of the political, economic and technological divide that separates the United States from Europe, of Europe's definitive exit from the world stage, and of the demeaning reduction of its citizens to the status of subjects of an empire.