A BRIEF HISTORY OF EUROPE AND THE WORLD
Ever since the end of the Renaissance and the beginning of truly modern Europe, those damn Europeans have gotten together every few decades and killed one another by the boatload in order to decide who was to be in charge of Western civilization. Now, all this war and killing actually did have a lot of benefit for society: modern bureaucracy within the nation-state system was established, governments were centralized (maybe too much, but that's certainly better than not enough), a banking and financial system were established, the rule of law became standard, the economy developed as technology improved, organizational systems big enough to manage a whole army and navy were developed--and all in order to create, or as a result of creating, effective armed forces.
Still, though, we generally assume today that war and killing are bad and to be avoided. This is not something they naturally assumed in the past. (Indeed, one hallmark of the modernization of society is its softening. In 1704 they would hang children for stealing a shilling. In 1804 they'd just deport them to Australia. In 1904 they'd put them in a reform school. In 2004 they'd give the kid a medal for stealing only a shilling.) Indeed, through Western history people have generally thought that war was a good thing if you could get what you wanted out of it.
So. In 1648 the big mutha of all European wars ended at the Peace of Westphalia, at which the Hapsburg countries, Spain and Austria, were supplanted as leaders of Europe by France and the Northern countries. 1683 was the last Islamic threat to the West, the Turkish defeat at the siege of Vienna. Then, in 1715, after the Wars of Louis Fourteenth, England denied France's bid for undisputed top spot. In 1815, after the Wars of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, France's ambitions were permanently crushed and England became undisputed number one, though the Bear grumbled.
England's World Championship lasted for a full century, and in a lot of ways was a very positive time. Most of what we recognize as modern society began in England during the Industrial Revolution and the Victorian era. For all their faults, the Victorians are recognizably the first people more or less like us, urban, with very specific jobs, nuclear family, leisure time, appreciation for both high and low culture, public education, mass literacy, the beginnings of material comfort for the masses, more softening--duels stop, most violence is punished, capital punishment reduced, welfare state begins. Most Americans can trace their genealogy back to the Victorian era, but no farther, because that's when records started being kept, just for example.
It couldn't last, though. France was almost squashed, but Russia was making noises and Germany came out of nowhere to put the triple whammy on France in 1871. Germany made a run at England's Number One spot in 1914, and it took until 1945 to make them stop. The United States (highly influenced by Britain, sort of Britain, Junior) then came into the picture and took over as Number One, but with England as Number One-A. Germany and France were reduced to American satellites. Russia took part in the squashing of German ambitions, but then failed in a long materialschlact against the United States and its allies/satellites. As of 2004 the United States is undisputed number one, with Russia still out of the picture, the various European former powers reasonably calm and stable, the growing Far East also fairly calm and stable, China unfriendly but fairly cooperative, and what's left of the Islamic threat, having been comparatively harmless since 1683, is the United States's only challenger. Thus the Terrorist War on America.
Now, the Europeans have just signed the Constitution of the European Union. So far this is just a declaration of general principles; it has not been ratified yet by any of the signers, and undoubtedly there are still a lot of adjustments to be made. I think this is an extremely positive thing, however. (Note: I am not British. If I were British I would advocate pulling out of the EU and joining some sort of Commonwealth-NAFTA project.) Look, these idiots on the Continent have been fighting each other over such stupid crap as whether the people of Bohemia want to be Hussites or not for the past several centuries. Under the British Century, people started to get used to the idea that war and fighting were really not a good thing (and that slavery ought to be banned, and that everybody had some sort of human rights), but it took the 1914-45 War to finally convince all those morons on the Continent of this fact. Remember, both World Wars effectively broke out when Britain decided Germany had pushed it too far, the first time probably wrongly but the second time absolutely correctly.
Since 1945 there has been peace on the Continent, with the exception of the comparatively minor wars of the ex-Yugoslavia, for the first time ever. This is largely because 1) the Europeans have actually learned how awful war is and certainly aren't going to have any more with one another 2) European governments have successfully bound themselves together in such organizations as the EU and NATO and so on, which provides stability 3) the Americans have been watching them and won't let anything get too out of control and 4) until about 1989 they were pooping their pants they were so scared of the Russians, so they had no time or inclination to get into it with one another anyway.
So let the Europeans get together and make the union more stable. That can only be good in the long run, unless you fear that a superpowerful Brussels dictatorship will crush all dissent. I don't think it will, for several reasons. 1) Each state will maintain its own elected government which will complain loudly at any unacceptable EU intrusion. 2) the EU was created by the very elected governments which will serve as watchdogs; it was founded democratically and is not likely to quickly fall into the hands of dictators. 3) the EU has basically demilitarized except for Britain and France. Nobody's really got the power or the desire to fight anyone about anything, and especially not to force the Belgians into slavery or whatever. This is why the EU depends on the United States to fight the West's battles. Which is not a bad thing. The obvious next goal, by the way, is to bring Russia into the EU, and that's what I'd be concentrating on right now if I were the powers that be at the EU, right after they get this constitution through.
Will they complain about the Americans? Sure, but hey, that's fairly healthy. We've got to understand that a lot of this anti-American guff is just blowing off steam about one's lack of strength, and isn't to be taken seriously. You can find a poll that says that 68% of Frenchmen think Yankees are the spawn of Satan, probably, but you will get 0% agreement if you ask, "Should France go to war with the United States?" They don't want to go anywhere near that far. Now, in 1904, probably 68% of Frenchmen were in favor of going to war with Germany at the slightest excuse. This is a major difference.