If Washington has been whittling away at the powers of the federal government, Europe these days is doing the opposite: For the last half a century, the continent has been building an increasingly powerful political center, anchored around a common currency. But today's hotly contested constitutional referendum in France could land the growing EU family in long-term therapy. A year after adopting 10 new siblings, politicians and voters are squabbling about whether a constitution is what they need to keep this dysfunctional family's bonds from fraying.
-- Allison Hoffman
Leaders in Germany, which has long viewed the European union as a kind of historical absolution, and the newly minted member countries of the old Eastern Bloc view constitutional ratification as a means of reaffirming their faith in the political worth of a united Europe. The German public's enthusiasm for Europe -- and for its pro-Europe leader, Gerhard Schroeder -- has cooled with the economy, but the national assembly approved the constitution this month in a vote timed partly to boost the French "yes" lobby.
Other uniters: Austria, Belgium, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain.
Concern about the effect of the new constitutional rules on smaller countries has dampened popular support in some unlikely quarters, particularly among EU-friendly new members such as Poland. The Polish economy has benefited from EU membership, and the constitution has wide popular support. But many Poles are concerned the new voting rules for the policy-setting European Council will reduce their country's influence, tilting power back to the larger countries to their west; others in the heavily Catholic country harbor lingering resentment that the constitution's preamble doesn't contain any explicit reference to the continent's Christian history. Other fretters: Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Malta, Portugal.