leader visits Philadelphia
talked of the gradual merger of European nations, and how it was little
founding father of the European Union's new constitution came to
Philadelphia last night to pay homage to a place that knows a thing or two
Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the former
French president who developed the European constitution that is awaiting
ratification, said Europe's charter had generated as little excitement in
America as the U.S. Constitution did in Europe 218 years ago.
"Both were largely or even totally
ignored on the other side of the Atlantic," Giscard told an audience
at the National Constitution Center.
As the Europeans mistook the importance
of the new nation in North America, Americans underestimate the importance
of the gradual merger of European nations into a unified political and
economic entity, he said.
"Both were wrong, history did and
will teach us," Giscard said in a 30-minute address sponsored by the
constitution center and the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia.
Charming, witty and demonstrating an
impressive knowledge of the American founders, Giscard was the headline
event during an evening of warm Franco-American declarations. The recent
sniping between the two nations over the war in Iraq was brushed aside,
replaced by an emphasis on common heritage.
"The DNA of America has so many
French genes in it," said Richard Stengel, the chief executive of the
constitution center on Independence Mall.
Giscard, president from 1974 to 1981,
voiced approval of the recent European visits by President Bush and
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who offered support for a strong
Europe. He noted it was a sentiment "not articulated before,"
when the Bush administration openly sought to divide old and new Europe.
But mostly Giscard, 79, talked about the
legal structures of government.
Last year, a group he headed finished
drafting a European constitution, the latest manifestation of a gradual
merger that started 40 years ago when the European Community was created.
Giscard often referred to Philadelphia's
experience as the Europeans drafted their constitution.
The comparisons frequently fell short,
however. Giscard noted that the EU constitution contained little of the
powerful "We the People" language in the American Constitution.
And while the U.S. Constitution was
written from scratch at the end of a great war of independence by
representatives of 13 colonies with a population of 3.5 million, the EU
constitution had to be crafted to satisfy 25 nations with a population of
455 million who speak many languages.
"The process of the European Union
is to be evolutionary, not revolutionary," Giscard said.
Giscard's visit was also intended to
rally support among Europeans - especially the French - who live in
America but who can vote in a forthcoming referendum on the constitution.
The European measure must be approved by
all 25 EU nations. France and seven other member states will hold
referendums, while the remaining countries are leaving the decision to
Lithuania, Hungary, Slovenia and Spain
have endorsed the constitution.