Opinion: Dog-and-Tony Show:

Forget the debacle that was Europe's constitution. The EU is finally getting back to what it does best: solving concrete problems. Proposals from homeland security to regulatory reform are grinding forward. Negotiations with Turkey are underway. Visionary leadership and grand projects are blessedly absent.

Yet one leader seems not to have gotten the message. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, despite his reputation as an archpragmatist, touted last week's EU summit as a referendum on globalization. Yes, Blair is surely correct that economic reform in the face of globalization is the issue facing Europe today. He may even be right in holding up Britain as an example of how to do it. But he misses the most important point: such reforms--of labor markets, social-welfare systems, pensions and small-business regulation--lie outside the EU's competence. To the contrary, they are the province of national governments, requiring national leadership. And no amount of haranguing from Blair will prod Continental leaders to bite that bullet before they are ready.

To be fair, Blair probably knows that. With 25 members, EU summits have become unwieldy, largely ceremonial events. The three-hour working lunch at Hampton Court, after all, gave each leader only about five minutes to speak, with no time left over to negotiate. Summits ratify agreements reached elsewhere, at most tying up the loose ends. And there were no deals in the pipeline. So why bother with them? Because, as Blair well knows, such gatherings serve another function. They legitimize the EU by focusing public attention and reminding citizens that, in the end, it's their national governments that are in charge, that their elected leaders are the only ones who can tackle Europe's real problems--and that those leaders can, in fact, get along and do the job.

So Blair made the best of it, grasping a quintessential British means to avoid meaningful conversation: pomp and circumstance. What better place to display the powers of the nation-state than Hampton Court, Henry VIII's grandiose 16th-century castle southwest of London? The grand debate about globalization was muted; pageantry took its place. "As Henry VIII said to his wives, 'I won't keep you long'," quipped Blair. True to his word, leaders posed for an obligatory photo op, lunched on salmon, venison and English toffee-cake--accompanied by a $1,000-a-bottle French red wine and a $30-a-bottle English white--and went home.

There's no record whether French President Jacques Chirac, a celebrated critic of British food, enjoyed the English wine. But he chivalrously declined to insult it publicly, nor did he dwell for long on such nettlesome topics as EU farm subsidies. The real issue was swept under the regal rug: money. Within the next year the EU must approve a budget, not to mention a viable position in the Doha trade negotiations. Both require that the British give back some of the "rebate" Margaret Thatcher won for them, the Germans pay more into the budget, and the French finally accept reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. A solution will eventually emerge--not from summitry but from hardheaded back-room compromises struck among the big three national governments. With the air now clear, it's time to start negotiating.