The rejection over the last two weeks of the European Union constitution by French and Dutch voters is a setback for those European politicians who thought they were taking the quick route toward building a rival to the United States on the world stage. But it shouldn't have come as a surprise.
The biggest thing the constitution had going against it was its sheer bulk: The document contains 448 articles and fills 325 pages. By contrast, the U.S. Constitution contained just seven articles when it was adopted in 1787 and has been amended just 27 times, including the first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights, adopted in 1789.
The European constitution was designed to have something for everyone, and what it ended up having was something for everyone to fear or hate.
No easy task
But even if had the elegant simplicity of the U.S. Constitution, getting it ratified through votes of the populations of 25 nations would have been difficult.
The European Union's framers might have profited by studying a little U.S. history. Even our Constitution wasn't ratified by the necessary two-thirds of the states until 1788, and five states, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Vermont added their ratification over the next three years.
Imagine if each of our 50 states -- or just the continental 48 -- had evolved over hundreds of years with different cultures, languages and strong senses of nationalism. Imagine, too, that there was then a suggestion that those 50 states adopt a single constitution. Even our Constitution, as clear and as great as it is, would have a difficult time being ratified.
And while the European Union has only 25 nation states, the differences that exist are even greater than any between our states.
Western European nations such as France and the Netherlands fear the Eastern European nations, which have lower pay scales, lower economic expectations and higher productivity. It is not too much of a stretch to see a Frenchman worry about a Pole taking his job the way an American worries about his job being outsourced to Asia.
European nations are facing economic stagnation, immigration, increasing crime and national identity challenges that in many ways pale in comparison to the United States.
It falls to Tony
The defeat of the constitution by Dutch and French voters virtually dooms the bulky document to the dustbin of history. It will fall to a U.S. ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair to find a new direction toward European unity. He takes over the rotating EU presidency next month. Luckily for him, the recent rejections of the constitution will allow him to shelve a promised referendum in Britain, which would have likely resulted in an even stronger vote to reject than the constitution got in France or the Netherlands.
Blair might want to fall back on one thing he has that virtually every other European leaders lacks, a thorough understanding of and a considerable appreciation of how things work in the United States.