WASHINGTON -- The European Union, which has a flag no one salutes and an anthem no one knows, now seeks ratification of a constitution few have read. Surely only its authors have read its turgid earnestness without laughing, which is one reason why the European project is foundering. On Sunday in France, and Wednesday in Holland, Europe's elites -- political, commercial and media -- may learn the limits of their ability to impose their political fetishes on restive and rarely consulted publics.
The European project is the transformation of ``Europe'' from a geographic into a political denotation. This requires the steady drainage of sovereignty from national parliaments, and the ``harmonization'' of most economic and social policies. But if any of the EU's 25 member nations rejects the proposed constitution -- 11 have ratified it or are in the process of doing so -- it shall not come into effect. And if French voters in Sunday's referendum reject it, Dutch voters will be even more likely to do so in their nation's first referendum in 200 years.
France and Holland are a third of the original six members of the EU's precursor, the European Economic Community. The most important treaty in the transformation of a Europe of states into a state of Europe was signed in 1992 in the Dutch city after which it is named -- Maastricht. The proposed constitution, which is 10 times longer than the U.S. Constitution, was written by a convention led by a former French president, Valery Giscard d'Estaing.
So why are these two nations being balky? Partly because, unusually, they are allowed to be. The European project has come this far largely by bypassing democracy.
Many French voters will use Sunday's referendum to vent grievances against Jacques Chirac, who has been in power for 10 years, which would be excessive even if he were not overbearing. Some French factions, their normal obstreperousness leavened by paranoia, think the constitution is a conspiracy to use ``ultraliberalism'' -- free markets -- to destroy their ``social model.'' That is the suffocating web of labor laws and other statism that gives France double-digit unemployment -- a staggering 22 percent of those under age 25.