Byline: Andrew Borowiec, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
This is the crucial year during which the European Union will show whether it is able to overcome the national egotism of its member states and the many other contradictions it had failed to foresee.
On May 1, 10 countries, most of them freed by the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, will join the 15 existing members of the European club. Thus, at least in theory, the divisions and frontiers that have plagued the Continent for centuries will give way to the still fragile concept of unity.
But as the date approaches, divergences within the 25 nations are becoming more obvious and strident, while violations of the EU's massive volume of laws and decisions are blatantly apparent.
According to French specialists, the European Union of 15 countries has yet to find its identity - and the task will become even more difficult after the expansion.
The search for an EU constitution has been blocked, and many consider the proposed document, drafted under the supervision of former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, impracticable.
Said Richard North, who heads the European Parliament's research department, adopting the suggested constitution in its present form would mean that "the fantasy of the great European project could soon crumble into reality, destroyed by the contradictions it could never hope to resolve."
Not all share this pessimism. Indeed, the European Commission, the EU's executive body, is already looking beyond May 1 to the day when more candidates will be admitted.
The 10 countries joining this spring are Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovenia, Estonia, Cyprus and Malta - listed here in the order of most to least populous.
Future potential members are Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 and later, the fragmented Balkan Peninsula and Turkey.
The most controversial candidate, Turkey, in addition to being Muslim, claims its European ambition on the basis of the 5 percent of its territory on the European side of the Bosporus, the traditional divider between Europe and Asia.
In January, while visiting Turkey, Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, assured Turkish officials that "thanks to the efforts undertaken in recent years, Turkey is closer than ever to the Union."
Opinion polls and statements by various EU officials, including Mr. Giscard d'Estaing, indicate the concern - and even alarm - of Christian Europeans at the prospect of 66 million Turkish Muslims in their midst
Some Turkish media have accused the European Union of being a "Christian club," refusing to expand into the Islamic world, even though Turkey has been secular since 1923. European advocates of Turkey's candidacy believe the European Union should become a "geopolitical union," an elastic concept in which religious orientation would play no role.
The cohesion of the present 15-nation bloc was considerably shaken by the efforts of France and Germany to change the voting system in the European Parliament by stripping some countries of their initially allotted seat quotas.
The plan was seen by many as leading to stronger domination of the European Union by its larger countries and was strenuously opposed by Spain, an old member, and Poland, due to join May 1. They have accused Paris and Berlin of waiting to impose their "diktat" on the European Union and of maneuvering to limit the influence of Europe's smaller countries.
Poland's foreign minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz warned: "We are not just going to be silent." Its prime minister, Leszek Miller, went even farther.
In a recent statement, Mr. Miller cautioned against what he described as French efforts to muzzle new members and said he favors "an active Poland - not one standing in a corner, taking orders from someone else."
Poland with 39 million inhabitants the biggest among the new candidates, has been frustrated since it signed the accession treaty of 2,500 pages - only part of which was translated into Polish. …