The European Union has embarked on a path of enlargement taken by Southeast Asian nations seven years ago. If the Asian example is any guide, the road will be lined with surprises. A meeting of the union's 10 members decided in Copenhagen on Friday to begin a process that could see the integration of 15 new nations in 2004. Turkey was also given approval for opening talks on joining if it can get its political, economic and human rights houses in order in the next two years. The redrawing of the continent's borders has been termed bold and historic by the United States, the region's foremost economic competitor. With 450 million people - 180 million more than the US - a 25-member EU would have economic clout greater than its transatlantic rival. The EU's chance to lessen America's global domination may seem appealing, but it will be challenging. The constitutional, economic and security hurdles will be difficult to surmount. But the challenges are no less daunting than they were for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 1995, when it decided at its annual summit in Bangkok to become a 10-member grouping with the eventual membership of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. The idea seemed logical, even though the inclusion of two communist governments, a military dictatorship and a democratically immature backwater seemed ideologically unsound to some of Asean's members. There was also concern that a two-tier Asean would evolve and that the healthy or growing economies of Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand would be dragged down by the poorly developed systems in the new member nations. As the expanded grouping started taking shape, the 1997 Asian economic crisis struck. With it came a reality that Asean is still struggling with - bigger does not mean better. Co-operation on matters such as security and diplomacy has improved among member nations, but economic disparity has made for uneasy partnerships. The EU demands far greater integration than does Asean. Given Asean's experience, Europe's divide between rich and poor, haves and have nots, desires and needs, will make for a difficult future for many Europeans.