The European Disunion

The grand vision: A new "United Europe," with its own constitution, speaking with one voice on foreign policy.

These ideals, being drafted in a European constitution this year, look out of reach as the Euro-gaggle splits - and spits - over war with Iraq.

But dismay and even chortling over European disunion might be quieted by remembering that the United States, too, experienced great turbulence at its founding.

Iraq has exposed fault lines between Europe's big and small countries, with the French president this week rudely lecturing Eastern Europeans to "keep quiet" over Iraq.

Power-sharing is at the heart of this dispute, and it was no less of a key issue when the US struggled into being. Virginia's "large-state" plan, which would have based representation in Congress essentially on population, played blatantly to its big-state self-interest. As for personal rivalries, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams nursed a bitter dispute for years, though they eventually reconciled.

It took a Civil War, and a century after that, to truly unite this country. Even now, it can only be described as a generational work in progress.

These parallels are imperfect, but valid. The long-term view on European unity must be that it may not be fully achieved this year, this decade, or - gasp - even this century.

Diplomats laboring over the European constitution might meet their June deadline.

But it will take the forging of political will to infuse their document with meaning. That willingness, as coping with Iraq shows, could take many years yet to develop.

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