Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Europe's Doldrums Show on European Union Day France Celebrates, but Elsewhere the Mood Is Decidedly Downbeat

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Europe's Doldrums Show on European Union Day France Celebrates, but Elsewhere the Mood Is Decidedly Downbeat

Article excerpt

WHEN Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and French President Francois Mitterrand cut the ribbon Friday to open the Channel Tunnel linking their two countries, bands played "God Save the Queen," "The Marseillaise" - and Beethoven's "Ode to Joy."

Ode to Joy? Unbeknownst to most Europeans, that piece of the composer's Ninth Symphony is also the hymn of the European Union. So the stirring music, suitable to mark an important step in European integration, should also be heard across the 12-country EU today - the Union's official commemoration day.

Yet, symptomatic of a Union that is still struggling to win its citizens' hearts, Europe Day remains largely unheralded by the 340 million people who make up the EU.

"It may be Europe Day, but I don't know it, and no one else does either," says Udo Cremer, a banker in Frankfurt, Germany. May 9 was chosen because, on that day in 1950, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman proposed a Franco-German coal and steel association, the forerunner of the Union.

The widespread ignorance of the official day also reflects the EU's controversial nature almost 40 years after the initially six-member union was founded in 1957.

In Greece, for example, plans to celebrate the day in a big way this year were abruptly canceled when Greece-EU differences over the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia turned nasty.

But the controversy could have come from French farmers protesting EU farm policy last year, or Danish anti-Euro-bureaucracy forces before that.

Matters are not helped by the particularly tough times the EU is having as it struggles to pull out of Europe's worst recession since World War II and faces widespread criticism for failing to stop a war in ex-Yugoslavia.

"There's a great disappointment in Europe over Yugoslavia; it showed us the wide gulf between intentions and acts," says Pascal Reber, a plant manager for a pharmaceuticals company outside Paris. "There should have been a common {EU} position from the beginning, but the disheartening truth is that it is completely nonexistent."

Reflecting this disappointment in Europe, polls run biannually by the EU's executive Commission show public support for European integration continuing to sink since the highs of 1991, in the euphoric aftermath of the Berlin Wall's fall.

In France, a recent poll in the weekly L'Express shows to what extent "Euroskepticism" has won the public. A slightly higher percentage of the French - 38 to 39 percent - think the Union has had a globally negative effect on their family, while 51 percent think the EU is going in the wrong direction. Less than a third judge the Union's direction positively.

To counteract the trend, French Euro-enthusiasts are hoping this year to give Europe Day a visible and positive presence in their country for the first time since the day was declared by European leaders in 1985. …

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