IN OTHER WORDS : Reality check

Nothing like a little sport to provide the EU with a reality check. As European leaders gathered in Brussels over the last few days to negotiate a proposed constitution for their ever-closer union, hundreds of thousands of soccer fans from all over the continent descended on Portugal for the 2004 European Championships, to wave their national flags and jeer at their fellow Europeans. Or, in the case of several hundred English hooligans on the coast, to beat up their fellow Europeans. Soccer provides the last refuge for the continent’s primordial, bellicose nationalisms. Thousands of booing English fans in Lisbondrowned out “La Marseillaise” last weekend. In another rivalry, Dutch fans jeered Germany’s national anthem. On the field, the most talked-about moment was a spitting incident involving Italy’s mercurial star, Francesco Totti, and his Danish victim. Strident nationalism is deemed uncouth in today’s Europe — because of the union’s freedom of labour movement, even the domestic soccer leagues have become polyglot, multilateral institutions. So it is with the EU. A common market, currency and constitution, perhaps. But the idea that German, French and English soccer stars will be playing together anytime soon in a World Cup on a EU squad — with Beeth-oven’s “Ode to Joy” as their anthem — is inconceivable. — The New York Times