EUROPE CHARTS ITS PATH; European Union's Drafters Tackle Old, Familiar questions.(PAGE ONE)(SPECIAL REPORT)

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Byline: David R. Sands, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

It's not Philadelphia 1787, and Valery Giscard d'Estaing may never be mistaken for George Washington, but the European Union's effort to write a constitution is bumping up against some of the same questions that bedeviled America's Founding Fathers.The power to tax and wage war, big states versus little states, the need for a bill of rights, centralization versus local government, the separation of powers, accommodating future members, democracy and efficiency - all are on the table as the 15-nation European Union strives to draft the alliance's first constitution.

Some argue that the grandly named "Convention on the Future of Europe" must succeed if the European Union's creaky governing structure in Brussels is to avoid seizing up, a victim of its own inefficiency and lack of popular support.

Mr. Giscard, 76, the former president of France, is leading the assembly charged with producing a preliminary report this summer and a final blueprint by June 2003 for European governments to consider.

The convention, which follows a series of contentious EU government summits that have failed to produce a long-term road map, has been given a mandate to chart the future of the European Union after 2004, when the alliance prepares to welcome as many as 10 new members from central and southeastern Europe.

The heart of the effort will be the drive to draft a constitution to safeguard individual rights, protect the prerogatives of the member states and forge a more concrete connection between the Brussels bureaucracy and the typical Spaniard, Finn and Scotsman on the street.

Conservative political activist Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation predicted hard times ahead for the EU drafters, based on his own extensive experience advising constitution-drafters in Eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia after the end of the Cold War.

"Every place where I worked you had a shared culture and a shared basic approach to what government should be," Mr. Weyrich said. "You don't have anything like that with the European Union.

"Not only do you have so many different languages and government systems, but just the understanding of what freedom means is very different in the Scandinavian countries from what it is in France or Spain," he added.

Ambassador Guenter Burghardt, head of the delegation of the European Commission to the United States, said the European Union plans to learn from the U.S. experience as it charts its future, noting that the American Constitution has continued to evolve in the centuries after the Philadelphia Framers concluded their work.

"Let's be clear," Mr. Burghardt said in a speech last month in Berlin, "we are not talking about an inappropriate comparison between the future 'United States of Europe' and the 'United States of America.' The European Union will not be the effigy or political clone of the USA - for obvious reasons."

Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moller, whose country will hold the EU summit in December that will decide the answer to the enlargement question, noted, "The European Union has for long been an economic heavyweight, but politically, our punch is below our potential.

"Though the European project in many ways is fundamentally different from the birth of [the United States], I am sure your Founding Fathers would have been able to appreciate the difficulties involved," Mr. Moller said.

But skeptics, echoing America's early anti-federalists who denounced the U.S. Constitution, say the convention exercise will inevitably become a power grab by Brussels.

William Cash, a Conservative Party member of Britain's House of Commons and the party's lead spokesman on legal affairs, said, "There is a lack of connection between the people and the elites on a huge scale" as the EU constitution-writing process gears up. …