Being Second-Class in Europe

A summit of European Union leaders failed last weekend to approve a power-sharing constitution even as the EU plans to expand from 15 to 25 members next year.

The political fissure may take a long time to bridge. But who said unifying a whole continent of rival nations would ever be easy?

The cause of the split was the proposed constitution's provision to give more voting weight to bigger countries such as France and Germany in order to streamline EU operations. Poland and Spain, in particular, wouldn't have it. They put their national status and pride ahead of European integration. Yet without a more efficient sharing of power, managing the larger EU with so many voices appears unwieldy.

In retaliation, France and Germany now speak of organizing a core group of countries moving ahead to implement many of the constitution's provisions. This wouldn't be the first EU fracture.

The club already has a core group of 12 nations using the euro as their currency, and another group of 15 in which internal border controls have been abolished. In addition, Germany and France each have violated a key part of the agreement on the euro by busting limits placed on their government spending.

The latest split was over the Iraq war, with the American defense chief Donald Rumsfeld referring to "old" and "new" Europe - the latter being those who backed the US - irritating Germany and France.

Germany, the big subsidizer of poor nations within the EU, hints it might retaliate against Poland and Spain by not contributing as much to the EU's development kitty during the next round of talks on contributions. That could hurt subsidized farmers in the poorer nations. Such threats reveal the underlying nationalist feelings that still exist on a continent that's been trying to remove nationalism as a cause of war for the past half-century.

The EU will still function despite these differences. In fact, the summit approved a new Europe-only defense group that will operate separately from NATO in certain circumstances.

Eventually, the EU hopes to have a governmental structure similar to that created in 1787 for the United States, with its own president and foreign minister. In fact, many EU leaders say this is the only way that Europe can hold its own in working with - or against - the US. Now European leaders must go back to the drawing board to design an inclusive power arrangement that will sustain the progress toward unity.

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