News

    European Union Begins 2010 With New Look

    The European Union begins 2010 profoundly transformed. A landmark agreement called the Lisbon Treaty is in force, aimed to increase EU clout on the world stage and streamline its decision-making. The first EU permanent president starts work in January, but many Europeans are apathetic about the institution that represents them.

    Multimedia

    Audio

    It is holiday season in Brussels.  Belgians and tourists stroll through Christmas markets that sell hot, spiced wine and Belgium's famous waffles.  They pause before an enormous Christmas tree in the Grand Place, the central square of Brussels that is surrounded by elaborately decorated old "guildhalls."

    Profound change

    These old European rituals are taking place at a time of profound change in Europe.  For the first time, Europeans have a permanent president of the European Union, former Belgian prime minister Herman Van Rompuy, who takes office on January 1.  They have a new EU foreign policy chief and new EU commissioners, and after years of setbacks European governments finally ratified a pact called the Lisbon Treaty to bind the bloc together.

    Nowhere are the changes felt more keenly than in Brussels, the administrative center of the 27-member bloc.  Angelo Callant, a Flemish speaking Belgian, says he supports the Lisbon Treaty and he is proud that a Belgian is the EU first president.

    "I am for a stronger Europe, so it is a good evolution now ...  Europe has an important job in some issues.  We need a stronger Europe for the economy and other things," Callant said.

    French tourist Jacques Tacquoi is also pro-European Union. As a businessman, Tacquoi says, having a European Union and the euro currency makes a difference.  He says he feels more European than French.

    Some not interested in treaty

    But many Europeans do not share these sentiments.  Survey after survey shows that many are not interested in the Lisbon Treaty or the European institutions representing them.  Turnout for European parliamentary elections last June was a record low, less than half of voting-age Europeans cast their ballots. 

    Frederic Micheau has been tracking this apathy as director of studies for the IFOP polling institute in Paris.

    Micheau says many Europeans feel the European Union is just a huge bureaucracy.  Most Europeans have never heard of their new EU president Mr. Van Rompuy or their new foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton of Britain.

    English tourist Dean Kershaw, visiting the Christmas markets in Brussels with his family, is no fan of the European Union.  He believes it is more of a handicap than an asset.  Kershaw says he is glad Britain is not part of the euro currency zone, which he believes has made things more expensive.

    "I think that you can be in Europe without actually being in Europe in a governmental sense," Kershaw said.  "We are an island and we should have our own independence.  [The EU] does OK with countries like Norway and Switzerland [which are not part of the EU] so I cannot see why not for us.  I think we would be a lot richer if we were separate."

    Too much meddling? 

    European critics argue the European Union meddles too much in their lives.  The European Union is involved in many areas, from setting fishing quotas and agricultural subsidies to punishing companies that violate European antitrust rules.  The EU parliament is gaining increasing powers although it cannot initiate legislation. 

    European officials say they are working hard to make people understand what the European Union is all about.  The European Parliament's Paris office, for example, has launched citizens' forums around France to explain what the parliament does.

    "I think people do not realize the level of protection they get through [EU] rules.  Especially for consumers.  Especially for environmental matters. If we still have agriculture that is very important on the economic level, it is because of the Common Agricultural Policy," European Parliament spokeswoman, Dominique Robert stated. "So I think there are a lot of issues which would not exist in a positive way if Europe did not exist."

    What next?

    London School of Economics analyst Iain Begg says the European Union has been focusing on pushing through institutional changes for years.  So no wonder Europeans are underwhelmed.  Now with the Lisbon Treaty in force, Begg expects to see some action. 

    "I would suggest 'watch this space' ought to be the watchword here because at last the European Union will get on with doing things rather than the process of how it does things," Begg said.

    Begg says the Copenhagen conference is one example of a more vigorous European Union.  While Europe failed to secure a tough and binding climate agreement, he says, its citizens see the European Union as the "good guy" in the greenhouse gas talks - pushing for the kinds of environmental changes they support.  
     

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conferencei
    X
    Serginho Roosblad
    May 30, 2016 5:11 PM
    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conference

    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video US Military's Fallen Honored With Flags

    Memorial Day is a long weekend for most Americans. For some, it is the unofficial start of summer -- local swimming pools open and outdoor grilling season begins. But Memorial Day remains true to its origins -- a day to remember the U.S. military's fallen.
    Video

    Video Rolling Thunder Rolls Into Washington

    The Rolling Thunder caravan of motorcycles rolled into Washington Sunday, to support the U.S. military on the country's Memorial Day weekend
    Video

    Video A New Reading Program Pairs Kids with Dogs

    Dogs, it is said, are man's best friend. What some researchers have discovered is that they can also be a friend to a struggling reader. A group called Intermountain Therapy Animals trains dogs to help all kinds of kids with reading problems — from those with special needs to those for whom English is a second language. Faiza Elmasry has more on the New York chapter of R.E.A.D., or Reading Education Assistance Dogs, in this piece narrated by Faith Lapidus.
    Video

    Video Fan Base Grows for Fictional Wyoming Sheriff Longmire

    Around the world, the most enduring symbol of the U.S. is that of the cowboy. A very small percentage of Americans live in Western rural areas, and fewer still are cowboys. But the fascination with the American West is kept alive by such cultural offerings as “Longmire,” a series of books and TV episodes about a fictional Wyoming sheriff. VOA’s Greg Flakus recently spoke with Longmire’s creator, Craig Johnson, and filed this report from Houston.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora