Courtesy Reuters

"We, the Peoples of Europe ..."


Political tremors are shaking the old continent. As the European Union's enlargement brings most of the continent under the same banner, Europeans, like their American cousins two centuries ago, are on the verge of treating themselves to a full-blown constitution. In June, after more than two years of heated debate, EU heads of state settled on the text of the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe. The treaty will not enter into force, however, until it is ratified by all 25 member states, through their national parliaments or popular referendums. And a single defection could spell the end of the entire exercise.

Was the June meeting Europe's Philadelphia? The text's drafters claim that it was. They argue that the constitution will give the EU a more effective government, better adapted to its greater size and ambitions, and make it a more democratic polity. The document's detractors, meanwhile, make one of two critiques. Some say the document is not bold enough, especially on the social front; others claim that it is a watershed but warn that it will blur the precious differences among the members' unique histories and identities, turning the EU into a monolithic "United States of Europe."

The EU's original sin may be that it was not built on a democratic foundation; its citizens were not asked to vet the union's creation. But that may also be the union's saving grace, as it allowed the war-torn continent to tackle integration more pragmatically. Eschewing grand visions of a regional democracy, the EU was founded on judicious power sharing. It put member states in the driver's seat by conducting most of its business through intense day-to-day diplomacy, while giving the European Commission, its law-initiating body, the task of balancing the interests of big states with a vision of the common good. An elected parliament was added only later for a bit of democratic flavor. As Jean Monnet, one of the EU's founders, rightly predicted, states then engaged in creative

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