Sat, Jul 12, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Europe sinking into vicious cycle of xenophobia

`ORGY OF INSULTS' On the same day the EU adopted the motto `United in Diversity,' politicians were busy snubbing or slating colleagues from other member countries

THE GUARDIAN , ROME, BRUSSELS AND BERLIN

With politicians and commentators in two of the EU's biggest states trading xenophobic abuse, the convention on the future of Europe on Thursday decided at its final session that the soon-to-be-expanded bloc ought to have a motto.

It is to be: "United in Diversity."

The move came on a day when the head of Germany's ruling party followed the lead of his chancellor and scrapped a holiday in Italy to protest at an Italian minister comparing a German Member of the European Parliament (MEP) to a Nazi guard; a Swedish party leader apologized for saying the German foreign minister had been a terrorist, and a Danish member of MEP bitterly denounced the convention for creating a "superstate."

The EU will also get an anthem -- Beethoven's Ode to Joy.

Bringing to an end 17 months' work on a draft constitution for the EU, the former French president, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, said: "I launch an appeal to politicians in Europe: citizens say `yes' to our constitution. Do not respond by saying `no.'"

On Thursday, however, several of Europe's politicians were too busy snubbing or slating each other to take a lot of notice.

In Berlin, it was announced that Olaf Scholz, the general secretary of the Social Democrats, the senior partners in Germany's governing coalition, had cancelled a holiday in the Abruzzo region of Italy as the row between the two countries showed no signs of abating. A party spokesman said he had "now decided to go to France instead."

Scholz's move, like that of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, followed an article published by an Italian junior minister, Stefano Stefani, who described Germany as a "country intoxicated by arrogant certainties" and its inhabitants as "stereotyped blonds with a hyper-nationalist pride."

An opposition motion tabled in the Italian parliament yesterday called for his removal from office because of the "gravity, inappropriateness and irresponsibility of his statements."

Astoi, a group representing Italian tour operators, said it feared a further drop in bookings by German holiday-makers, who are already staying away because of the downturn in the German economy.

"If another 5 percent of Germans spurn Italy because they feel offended or resentful we could have at least 350,000 fewer visitors this year," an Astoi official said.

Stefani is the minister responsible for tourism.

While some broadsheet commentators in Germany deplored the chancellor's initiative, public opinion was overwhelmingly supportive of him. A survey by the Emnid polling institute found 66 percent backed his decision to stay at home. The same organization said 14 percent of those questioned were planning to boycott Italian restaurants in Germany.

The tabloid Bild Zeitung yesterday headlined its front page: "Basta! The chancellor has had enough of pasta." It called on readers to join a mass protest by faxing Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi with demands for Stefani's removal.

In an attempt to defuse the row, the German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the relationship with Italy was "so good and so close [that it] must not be damaged by irresponsible comments."

On the other side of the Baltic, meanwhile, Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh was deploring as "most painful" the description of Fischer given to parliament by the leader of the Center party, Maud Olofsson.

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