Europe divided over unity anniversary
The Australian
The Times
February 26, 2007

BRUSSELS: Europe is fast approaching a 50th birthday party, but nobody can agree what to write on the card. A grand statement - the Berlin declaration - is planned next month to commemorate the founding in 1957 of what is now the EU, but the 27 member states are increasingly divided about what to celebrate.

Luxembourg is pushing for a prominent mention of the euro as one of Europe's greatest achievements. But this will not go down well in Britain and Denmark, where the single currency was rejected.

Poland and Italy want to emphasise Europe's Christian values but are opposed by the French, who prefer to keep religion out of politics. The Czechs and Poles want a strong statement on security, but the French and Germans are worried this will aggravate the Russians.

Germany and Spain are keen to look ahead to a revived constitutional treaty, which is upsetting the Dutch and British.

Diplomats are concerned that a well-intentioned gesture to celebrate 50 years of peace and prosperity now risks portraying Europe as factionalised and self-interested.

The text is due to be published on March 25 in Berlin because Germany holds the EU's rotating presidency. It will be drafted by Chancellor Angela Merkel, and discussed by European leaders in Brussels on March 8.

Fears the event could prepare the ground for new economic regulations and social directives have been stoked by a statement from nine member states that the anniversary should proclaim the "indispensable balance between economic freedoms and social rights, so the internal market can become an area also regulated by a social plan". This declaration was signed by Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg and Spain.

To Britain and others, it sounds like a recipe for more red tape to burden business and more intervention in people's lives.

Ms Merkel, however, is understood to believe a positive reference to the "social dimension" will be necessary to convince France the EU has not become too pro-business. This would help her campaign to revive the proposed constitution rejected by French voters in a 2004 referendum.

Former Iron Curtain countries are growing increasingly concerned that their experience under communism will be airbrushed out. After all, the 50th anniversary technically applies only to the six founding members - France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg. Most of the former communist countries did not join the EU until 2004. Marek Cichocki, Warsaw's chief negotiator on the declaration, said: "It shouldn't simply be a self-celebration by the old member states. It should also make mention of the dark legacy of European policy."


Opinions divided at unity party
Richard Owen, The Sunday Times
The Australian
March 23, 2007

THE choice of artwork to celebrate 50 years of European unity has raised questions about how countries view themselves and the rest of the European Union family. The exhibition, part of ceremonies celebrating the signing of the Treaty of Rome on March 25, 1957, will be inaugurated today by Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano and Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president. The show at the Palazzo del Quirinale, the Italian presidential palace, features works from prehistory to the 20th century drawn from the EU's 27 member states.

Britain's entry, sent by Tate Britain, is The Arrival of Louis-Philippe at Portsmouth 8 October 1844, by J.M.W.Turner, linking British maritime history with a moment of Anglo-French cordiality rather than enmity. Until four years ago, however, the painting was thought to depict Venice.

Vittorio Sgarbi, a leading and often controversial Italian art expert (he famously clashed with The Australian's national art critic Ben Genocchio over the 2003 exhibition The Italians in Canberra), says some of the chosen works are bizarre.

A former deputy minister of culture, he praises Malta for opting for a third millennium BC female image, the Fat Lady, symbolising "Mother Earth, the starting point of Mediterranean civilisation". He says Spain's choice of a Velazquez, View from the Garden of the Villa Medici, is impeccable, as is a portrait by Durer sent from Germany.

The French have erred, however, in choosing The Thinker by "the vacuous Rodin" instead of sending an impressionist painting, while The Netherlands' choice of an abstract work by Piet Mondrian instead of a Vermeer, Rembrandt or van Gogh is "nothing short of astounding".

Austria's decision to send an erotic depiction by Egon Schiele of a naked woman with splayed legs will raise eyebrows, while Titian's Man with Grey Eyes, Sgarbi says, "can in no way be said to express the Italian national spirit. In any case, why Titian and not Michelangelo, da Vinci or Caravaggio?"

He says it is regrettable that Europe's Christian heritage is represented only by icons from Bulgaria and Cyprus, van Dyck's Lamentation of Christ from Belgium and three frescoes of saints from Romania. "It is ironic that the frescoed room in the Quirinale was once the audience hall of Pope Paul V when the palace belonged to the popes," Sgarbi says. "So much for Europe's gothic cathedrals, altar pieces and religious frescoes by Giotto and Michelangelo."

Louis Godart, cultural adviser to Napolitano, says the exhibition is intended to highlight "the fact that every culture has contributed to the construction of today's values: democracy, tolerance and openness to the cultures of others".

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