In one of his final newsletter essays as retiring Executive Director of the European Centre for Public Affairs, former MEP Tom Spencer made one of his characteristically perceptive throw-away observations which is, once you think about it, so blindingly obvious that I’d like to elaborate on it here briefly, as a sort-of New Year think piece. He wrote that: ‘This month’s (November’s) scrabblings about the Budget are small beer when compared with the huge fight which looms over the next ‘budget envelope’, which is due to run for seven years from 2013. That exercise is shaping up to be a major review of what the EU actually does, more fundamental in its own way than the prolonged haggling over the Treaty of Lisbon. This will be the first occasion that the overall shape of the budget is discussed with the East and Central European member states as full participants rather than applicants. It is this process which will define the ambitions of the European Union for a generation.’ I discussed this with a friend in a permanent representation who heartily agreed. ‘Imagine the potential divisions!’ he said; ‘North against South, East against West, old member states against new member states, small against large, net contributors against the rest, and so on. Things could get very interesting.’ If you add into this mix forthcoming discussions about the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (a major budgetary outgoing) and forthoming discussions about the future mechanism for adjusting European civil servants’ salaries (which risks becoming a proxy for a fight about the future of the European public service), then it looks indeed as though the European Union could live up to the ancient Chinese curse about living in interesting times! Two thoughts should console us. The first is that it is precisely because the European Union is an organic evolutionary process that it is able to live up to the challenges of such new environments. The second is Jean Monnet’s prediction that “Europe will be forged in crises, and will be the sum of the solutions adopted for those crises.” In the meantime, let us welcome the seventeenth member of the eurozone for, as from midnight last night, the Estonian kroon was no more.