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Pitching Europe Forward

In 1788, the year the US Constitution was ratified, the majority of people in the fledgling United States probably opposed a federal system of government. Yet the opposition was poorly organized, lacking an Alexander Hamilton or James Madison, who argued so eloquently on behalf of the Constitution in the Federalist Papers.

Zoom forward to June 18, 2004, when Europe's leaders agreed on a proposed constitution for the 25-member European Union. Given more than two years of wrangling over such issues as how to weigh the votes of big and small countries, or whether God and Christian tradition had a place in the document, the moment was nothing short of historic.

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But like America's federalists, Europe's leaders face a skeptical public for ratification, especially in Britain, where opponents outweigh supporters by more than two to one. Record low turnout for the European parliamentary elections earlier this month, as well as a boost for the anti-Europe parties, indicate that Euro-unifiers have a difficult selling job to do.

The constitution maintains membercountry sovereignty, but it could be viewed as tipping the balance from nationalism to Europeanism. Even when the benefits of coming closer together seemed obvious, such as the 1995 elimination of internal border controls or the 1992 single currency, Europeans always needed convincing.

For the constitution to take effect, all 25 EU member states need to ratify it. Through referendum or parliament, people will vote on a document in which God did not make the final cut, but for the first time, Europe will have a full-time president, a foreign minister, and most importantly, a single foundation to replace the amalgam of treaties on which the EU is built.

To make their case, Europe's leaders will have to negate certain myths (in Britain, for instance, many believe the constitution means their country would no longer have a seat on the UN Security Council). But they will also have to argue for the constitution as the next logical step in unity. It's a largely intellectual sales pitch, and while Madison and Hamilton were just barely able to deliver their own states for the federalists, perhaps these leaders can be more successful.