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The capital of Europe?

Gavin Hewitt | 09:55 UK time, Tuesday, 22 September 2009

BRUSSELS: A city that divides. My predecessor had a soft spot for it; others before him could not wait to shake it off, like some minor complaint.

Other colleagues have spoken fondly of three years hanging out with an international crowd, as if on some vast ski slope, where almost everyone is visiting.

Yet, in my first days in Brussels, a magazine admitted that for many the city was "an assignment to be endured".

And I have detected those differences in the reactions to my appointment. Some have seemed genuinely excited on my behalf at the prospect of covering Europe with its variety of stories and intrigues. For others, the very dateline "Brussels" is a stain that can damage a career.

I have, of course, been to Brussels before - but this time, I looked at it with different eyes. Arriving in what they call the European Quarter, you feel you've entered a vast civil service encampment. A bureaucracy spread among 60 buildings - 30,000 bureaucrats, 10,000 lobbyists and several thousand interpreters. There are more ambassadors here, apparently, than there are in Washington DC. All feeding off the deluge of directives and regulations.

The skyline of central Brussels, Belgium, looking north-west across the city. The tower of the Hotel de Ville can be seen in the middle distance, and behind it on the horizon is the Basilica of the Sacred Heart (Koekelberg Basilica), the fifth largest church in the world. 23/04/2006

I had expected that the Belgians would unreservedly welcome this army, with its recession-proof spending power. Most probably do but here, too, I detected different views.

On my second day in the city, a taxi driver was taking me down Rue Archimede when he exploded with a loud scoff. He pointed at a board outside a restaurant. Several moules dishes were advertised for 25 euros (£22.50). The price outraged him. He assured me that if we crossed the French border we could get moules for nine euros. Lurking behind his observation was a resentment at what he referred to as an elite, immune from the recession. "It's the price we pay for being the 'Capital of Europe'," he said with a weary shrug.

European Flags flutter at the entrance of the European Commission's Berlaymont building at the EU headquarters in BrusselsTherein lies part of an enigma. Brussels may sometimes act like the capital of Europe, but of course it is not. Yet diplomats swarm here and the European Union has its founding fathers. Buildings and streets are named after them: Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer, Alcide de Gaspiri, Paul-Henri Spaak: names that almost certainly would draw a blank in most British bars. As far as I know, these statesmen have not left behind great rhetoric or writings and yet they set in train - whatever your standpoint - a vast spreading of democracy.

For all that, as I set out as Europe editor, I detect uncertainty. Last year, I covered the Obama campaign. It was marked by its confidence and boldness - by the overpowering sense of the tide of history changing. The sense of purpose in Europe, at first sight, seems less clear.

You feel it in the anxious and oft-repeated enquiry "You do like Brussels?" which I can't ever remember being asked in Washington. No-one any longer speaks of any grand project that might excite and inspire. There is a feeling that, during the recession, Europe did not act from a common position. Nations, as they always have, sought their own solutions. I detect it in the reaction to the small turnout at the European elections. Enthusiasm for enlarging the European Union seems tepid at best.

Shortly, I will travel to Ireland for its referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. There is palpable anxiety in Brussels that the people, given the chance to express an opinion, might reject it again.

So for me it feels an intriguing time to be in Europe. The EU is on the edge of change. It faces vast challenges. How to connect its institutions with the people of 27 countries? The migrants that wait at its doors. A spluttering economy. The young, restless without work. The threat of climate change. The race to save fish stocks. The fragility of energy supplies.

All rich territory for any journalist.

And I hope, once the assignment is done, to find my own answer to the question "What is a European?"

Comments

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  • 1. At 11:08am on 22 Sep 2009, GaryOfBeeston wrote:

    Good luck with your new Eurobeat. Though I suspect "What is a European?" is a question that has taxed most philosophers over the centuries!

    Oddly, I've never really thought of Brussels as the capital of Europe, anymore than I think of London as the capital of England/Britain/the UK. It's where all the law-makers and administrators congregate, but you would never get a sense of what Europe is, was and could be by trolling around the Grote Markt or Berlaymont, any more than you could by visiting Covent Garden and Parliament Square. Go east, young man, go east!

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  • 2. At 11:24am on 22 Sep 2009, I am the Editor wrote:

    Poor Gavin. It looks like you'll have to leave the empty rhetoric and hype behind, and get used to the dull, workaday reality of the politics of substance. I hope the adjustment is not too traumatic.

    Just a thought: Perhaps people ask how you like Brussels because they care about how you cope with the very real cultural differences, rather than assume arrogantly that you must, unquestioningly, love it - as in DC?

    Those of us who followed your blogs on the US do remember that you were very much taken by America's delusional "can do" positivism, but, for all the "confidence and boldness" of the Obama campaign, what exactly has changed since that election?

    The EU is definitely on the edge of change, but the real change of a mature polity. Europe already has its universal health services, and few countries' police and security services are answering to charges of torture. Sadly, some European countries are mired in wars (of America's making), but at least none is rattling sabres with the desire to start a new one. The EU can, and does, focus on other priorities.

    "All rich territory for any journalist." Exactly. I hope you enjoy it.

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  • 3. At 12:23pm on 22 Sep 2009, U14146467 wrote:

    Brussels is an interesting place to live - not without irritations, but great nonetheless.
    It's also a fascinating place to work.
    You just need to leave behind a few British preconceptions and see the concrete work that's being done here.
    The reality is very different from the stuff of Eurosceptic nightmares...
    Good luck and have fun.

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  • 4. At 12:35pm on 22 Sep 2009, Michael Grazebrook wrote:

    "a vast spreading of democracy" - really? Surely the role of the European Parliament is more similar to our Lords than our elected House of Commons? Isn't vast power in the hands of political appointees? As power migrates to Brussels, aren't we losing democracy? The former Communist nations would have become democratic on their own, Brussels can't claim credit for that.

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  • 5. At 12:36pm on 22 Sep 2009, raygravfan wrote:

    One exciting project would be Sarkozy's plan for a relationship with the Maghreb. We should be looking to take them forward with us - allbeit at more than an arm's length.
    If we do not, then the likes of Tunisia will become little Saudi Arabi's on our doorstep. This is unacceptable for such nations which should be given the chance to blossom on the European fringe.

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  • 6. At 12:48pm on 22 Sep 2009, ATNotts wrote:

    Curious place, Brussels. The capital ofr Europe, but then at the same time the capital of a nation that harly really exists. The Flemmish in the north have about as much in common with the Walloons in the south as we (the British) have with the French! One nation divided by two languagues, and two quite different cultures.

    It would seem more logical to give Flanders to the Dutch, cede Wallonie to the French and set up Brussels as some sort of state like D.C in the USA - just there to be the European capital.

    That said, the Belgians do do probably the best Pommes Frites and Mayonaise and some of the best beer in Europe!

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  • 7. At 12:52pm on 22 Sep 2009, chris smith wrote:

    being a european is a made up word by brown and merkil etc trying to slowly intergrate us to thinking we are european and not british french etc the greatest lye ever told brown once booted out along with blair should be investigated for treason and an inquest should be done on britains orginal membership to the once then common market to see if they know what would have happened in the future once britain had joined up to it and not informing the people who voted at the time for its membership.

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  • 8. At 12:54pm on 22 Sep 2009, chris smith wrote:

    one more thing for as long as europe speaks in so many different languages sooner or later full intergrated of not it will spark nationality and cause trouble or a full break up of the EU

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  • 9. At 1:22pm on 22 Sep 2009, philippegeril wrote:

    Dear Gavin,

    you are right. Creating a sense of unity under the banner of Pan-European solidarity and integration is the biggest challenge for Europe yet.
    Unfortunately, not a single European politician seems to have the gumption to step up to the plate. One can only hope

    Maybe it will happen in your tour of duty.
    Success with the new appointment

    Philippe

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  • 10. At 1:50pm on 22 Sep 2009, Ticape wrote:

    It's good to see that the Euroblog is back. I wish you best of luck Gavin.

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  • 11. At 2:21pm on 22 Sep 2009, Kocoflanel wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 12. At 2:25pm on 22 Sep 2009, Freeman wrote:

    Welcome to the bear pit. ^^

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  • 13. At 2:33pm on 22 Sep 2009, Freeman wrote:

    A European is a person born or otherwise a citizen within the landmass known as Europe.

    A EU citizen is someone being dragged (potentially unwilling) into being beholden to a government of dubious democratic credentials who does not care for their opinion.

    A EUrocrat is a person responsible for taking the interesting and potentially wonderful united Europe idea and making a monumental mess of it...extra gravy points for EUSSR advances.

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  • 14. At 2:42pm on 22 Sep 2009, frenchderek wrote:

    I second Ticape #10. Good to see a BBC EU blog again.

    Europe can never be "integrated", certainly not in its cultural meaning; and I don't know of any politician who has seriously proposed such? Societies - and cultures - evolve, sometimes a little more quickly than others. But no-one can force the pace.

    In 1849, opening the debates at the Peace Congress (one of many such before the EU), Victor Hugo said:

    "A day will come when you all, nations of this continent, without losing your distinct qualities and your glorious individuality, will bind yourselves tightly in a new, higher unity - the brotherhood of Europe"

    OK he left out the UK (omen?), but I like his allusion to "brotherhood". Much more appropriate than "integration", I think.

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  • 15. At 2:48pm on 22 Sep 2009, G-in-Belgium wrote:

    #6 AtNotts; If my friends opinions are anything to go by, the francophone Belgians would rather have their legs sawn off than let their country become part of France :)

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  • 16. At 2:50pm on 22 Sep 2009, Jim wrote:

    Since the battles of Pepin and Charlemagne, being European meant speaking a different language than the people across a mountain but sharing the same religion. Nationality was something to be cultivated in a set of intricate codes of conduct. Whether such a long-lived tradition remains so, it is the youthfulness of the European political project - only about half a century old - that makes it so exciting. Can Britons, French, Belgians and others really form a stable confederation that helps them interact positively over the centuries to come with one voice on matters of common concern? Thankfully, the rhetoric both inspires and divides, which is why the Irish vote will be a hot topic worth covering.

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  • 17. At 3:10pm on 22 Sep 2009, AwdTiger wrote:

    Jaws1912 I guess your UKIP membership will be renewed by direct debit?

    We in the UK need to stop thinking about problems of being in a European Union and think of the benefits. I'm personally fed up having to exchange my GBP for Euro's everytime I visit the continent and then have to exchange what is left upon my return to the UK - each and every time the bank giving me a poor exchange rate and/or taking a charge for the service. and don't forget, The Euro has done a lot better than the pound since the banking crisis - we'd all have been a lot better of in the Eurozone!

    There's no risk of single nationalities taking over in Brussels one only has to look at the cabinets of the Commissioners, invariably they are staffed by Europeans from East, west North and South - i'm just surprised they ever come to a collective decision!!!

    Good luck in Brussels!

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  • 18. At 3:17pm on 22 Sep 2009, dennisjunior1 wrote:

    Gavin Hewitt:

    Good Luck with the new assignment in Europe.....

    =Dennis Junior=

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  • 19. At 3:19pm on 22 Sep 2009, fluffytale wrote:

    Good luck Gavin. we will try here in the states to keep legion busy and keep the cane toads out of Europe.

    good luck

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  • 20. At 3:28pm on 22 Sep 2009, cg wrote:

    Brussels, eh? I'm one of the ones genuinely excited on your behalf. As you contrast the certainty of the Obama campaign - its "confidence and boldness," the "sense of history changing" - with the meditative quandaries of a disparate cross-section of European societies, I am thinking that the potential of your assignment is clear. The Americans are confident and certain in things that will never pass - Obama the magical bullet pop-star who will "make change happen" has, extraordinarily predictably, become another US President. Well, it's true nobody really asked him what the "changes" would actually be, preferring to individually imagine that he'd just do what they wanted regardless of whether they even knew what that might be, so when there aren't any particular changes, I guess it shouldn't be a surprise. He's a bit too busy being impressed by how cool he is (yes, it was great to see you successfully dispatch a fly on-camera, Mr. President, I understand your self-satisfaction there, but perhaps dispatching homelessness or government corn subsidies that are leading to everyone eating food that is mostly noxious exotically-processed corn would be even cooler? Just a thought, sire. If that's too much trouble, how about letting the taxi drivers and farmers America bought and labelled 'enemy combatants' out of your extrajudicial Afghan dungeons? No?). So while the brash confidence of America in all its witless ignorance and fantastical mass-murdering glory may present an exciting Hollywood-style fantasyland from a safe (not really, though) vantage-point, I think you're right to be decamping to Brussels instead. Uncertainty? Hmm, how unglamorous and sane. But Brussels is nevertheless the place to be doing journalism now, because this may be the only "capital" city in the world that has the potential to do good, not just harm, in exercising the authority that makes it a capital. So far the Swiss are the only ones who weren't stupid enough to go for the nation-state model in which being a politician is for getting and holding enormous power rather than making one's little town a bit better so that people will be happy to see you and buy you a pint in the pub. But if somebody somewhere in the Berlayment or on the floor of the EP could only be coherent enough to make the case to people that the point of caring about Europe now is because Europe rather any one country is where there aren't so many vested interests and politicians with populist power bases that there's theoretically an ice cube's chance in hell of changing the way society is run and the way people want and expect to be governed for the better, then maybe Europe could do something nobody but the Swiss have done yet, and give building a halfway responsible governance structure a try. Leave America alone to assume it got or will get change that will never come, Mr. Hewitt. Americans don't read or learn anyway so it's moot. Your job -- and amazing opportunity for which I am profoundly jealous and which I so dearly hope someone will not squander someday -- is to help people understand what is really at stake; why Brussels has the potential to be something they can be excited about, and how dreadful it will be if they continue to assume they may as well be bored when they hear the name of this city with so many dreary connotations and such wonderful potential.

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  • 21. At 3:51pm on 22 Sep 2009, Sir Marky wrote:

    Good luck with the assignment.

    From what you are suggesting in this opening piece the EU's main issue is one of communicating what it is to the people of the Union.

    Those countries who signed up for membership in the past, UK included, accepted the idea of integrating and creating common institutions. Those wishing to join understand what a benefit they are.

    The problem, is making the citizen understand why they are there and why they are good for everyone even if changes are required now and then to tweak and change their function matching the requirements of the time. Get the citizens to understand and you have a better idea of where the Union should go. The EU's main problem over the past decade has been one of communicating those ideas and marketing itself to it's own electorate.

    Hope the reporting in Ireland goes well and enjoy your stay in Brussels.

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  • 22. At 3:51pm on 22 Sep 2009, britishandeuropean wrote:

    Gavin,
    Arriving in brussels well-armed with British euroesceptic prejudices!

    Take your paragraph: "A bureaucracy spread among 60 buildings - 30,000 bureaucrats, 10,000 lobbyists and several thousand interpreters. There are more ambassadors here, apparently, than there are in Washington DC. All feeding off the deluge of directives and regulations."

    First, you shock and awe with a big number, without comparing like with like, nor explaining that one third to do with the multipilicity of languages, let alone point out that the Commission has fewer employees than, say, Leeds City Council (and I think about the same number as the BBC). Then, mention all the ambassadors without explaining that this is because most countries choose to have separate ambassadors to Belgium, to NATO and to the EU. Then, the old chestnut about a "deluge" of regulations, when EU legislation comprises only about 10 percent of our laws, often cutting red tape by replcing 27 technical standards with one.

    Still, most of those arriving in Brussels without a pre-determined political agenda gradually get to learn the difference between mythology and reality. Let's hope you will too!

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  • 23. At 4:09pm on 22 Sep 2009, brusan71 wrote:

    Bienvenue à Bruxelles Gavin . I have been following Mark Mardell for the last two years and I am looking forward to hear your idea and presentations . Indeed, Brussels is the centre of Europe's powerhouses . I am sure good journalist like you will enjoy working in the nice city which welcomes everyone with an open hand .

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  • 24. At 4:52pm on 22 Sep 2009, U4466131 wrote:

    Judging by the queue we need more moderators. I won't bother

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  • 25. At 7:24pm on 22 Sep 2009, Kermit wrote:

    Welcome and good luck, Gavin. Mark set a high bar for you to follow :)

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  • 26. At 07:43am on 23 Sep 2009, Wonthillian wrote:

    Well, you wait ages for a Gavin Hewitt blog to come along and then two come at once, a bit like Brussels trams. Anyway, good luck in your new posting.

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  • 27. At 1:09pm on 23 Sep 2009, mikewarsaw wrote:

    A strange article, though maybe not so from a journalist so clearly enamoured with things "american". Frankly, I found Brussels an enjoyable experience (I lived there from 1987-90) though it was then clearly divided between the local population (of whatever language group) and the eurocrats and the EU institutions. Certainly, if you like good food, Brussels has a greater concentration of quality restaurants, including in its suburbs, than for example, Paris. And its a very short travel distance from a host of other EU countries. The EU is fortunately NOT a federation of States as per the American example but the idea of being a European is a reality. Both I and my sons, as British and EU citizens, feel we have far more in common with the citizens of other European countries living in London or elsewhere in Europe than for example with people from south Asia or North Africa.

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  • 28. At 09:25am on 24 Sep 2009, phoenix wrote:


    "A day will come when you all, nations of this continent, without losing your distinct qualities and your glorious individuality, will bind yourselves tightly in a new, higher unity - the brotherhood of Europe"

    Victor Hugo 1849

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  • 29. At 10:51am on 24 Sep 2009, AnonymousCalifornian wrote:

    I wish this blog had be put on the Europe section the way the American version was. I enjoyed Mardell's Euroblog, and am confident I will enjoy Gavin Hewitt's Europe as well. Was 'Euroblog' done away with to make it more in line with the American and Australian blogs?

    For Europeans who want Europe to be some great power, a unified, federal (at least federal, if not centralised) EU is a must. There is no way, unless other countries really 'blow it' that any individual European country can be a major power the way the UK and France once were.

    However, if gloire is not one's objective, I can see how many Europeans would rather the EU remain basically an economic fraternity. Especially as many Europeans (in my opinion) tend to have overly rosy views regarding the low chance of a military threat to their countries. The United States federalised in large part to protect our states from strong European countries. If Europeans content to not be nationalist (on a supposedly European level) see no threat - although such threats might exist - then it makes sense they would see no need for political union.

    Odds were greater for Irish approval of the Lisbon Treaty when the global recession was really bad. As the economy improves, it may become harder to sell the pro-Lisbon message.

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  • 30. At 5:55pm on 26 Sep 2009, BernardVC wrote:

    "If my friends opinions are anything to go by, the francophone Belgians would rather have their legs sawn off than let their country become part of France"

    ah yes, that's why it's always the flemish part of the country that has to make the sacrifices in name of Belgium not?

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  • 31. At 9:24pm on 27 Sep 2009, aflfan wrote:

    For the sake of balance: Welkom in Brussel Gavin. I spent 1 year in Belgium at the Université Catholique de Louvain-la-Neuve and am now back at home, with great reluctance I must say. I hope you thoroughly enjoy Belgium and covering European issues and I look forward to your blog and your reports on the Beeb.

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  • 32. At 08:28am on 28 Sep 2009, G-in-Belgium wrote:

    #30. I wouldn't know, I live in Luxembourg's sphere of influence. Brussels has forgotten the south, except for when it comes to tax collection. I assume the Population of Liège, Kortrijk, Antwerp, Büllingen and Hasselt feel the same about their area.

    As for getting into the North/South vendetta rubbish, no thanks. There are packs of lies stacked on other packs of lies. I'm not interested in either sides whinging.

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  • 33. At 11:20am on 28 Sep 2009, richardlaming wrote:

    You are not sure whether Robert Schuman left behind any rhetoric. Try this:

    "World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it." from the Schuman declaration of 9 May 1950 (the day commemorated in Europe Day).

    You can read the whole text here: http://europa.eu/abc/symbols/9-may/decl_en.htm

    Then go back to your excellent list of issues that need to be addressed and ask what "creative efforts" that are "proportionate to the dangers" would actually look like. The gulf between what is needed and what is currently being done is what pro-Europeans are trying to address and what the Lisbon treaty will help with.

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  • 34. At 7:11pm on 29 Sep 2009, dennisjunior1 wrote:

    Gavin Hewitt:

    i hope that you enjoy the time in brussels...


    ~Dennis Junior~

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  • 35. At 4:14pm on 30 Sep 2009, poettchen wrote:

    I would greatly appreciate if the BBC would spend a bit more time on open European issues that various member states are trying to brush under the carpet. The EU is a peace project to bring Europe together on the basis of a common understanding and, most importantly, equal rights for all. After World War II 14 Million Germans as well as a smaller number of other ethnic groups, among them mainly Poles and Hungarians, have been expelled from their century old homeland on the basis of their ethnicity. Large historic regions, like Silesia, Pommerania, East Prussia, the Sudetenland, the Kosice/Kassa area or East Galicia have been depopulated and people of different ethnicities have been settled there instead. Nobody in Europe is suggesting to change boundaries today, but it is unacceptable that certain countries continue to deny simple justice to people that have been the victims of ethnic cleansing after the war. We cannot build a Europe of equality if Poland and the Czech Republic enact laws that restitute all victims of communism but exclude Germans or Hungarians on the basis of their ethnicity, regardless of their degree of guilt in the War. It is also not acceptable that historic place names have been introduced in all of Eastern Europe except in places that where majority German and Hungarian (or Polish in the Ukraine)where artificially created new nationalist names are used that would have long been forbidden in this form in Ireland or the UK. It is rather scary to see the UK Conservatives going in alliance with those political Parties in the Czech Republic and Poland that defend a Europe in which property and cultural rights are only granted on the basis of ethnicity. Wales could be used as a model for the protection of indigenous languages in the regions affected by mass expulsion and ehtnic cleansing on a European basis. The UK media should also pay more attention to this for the sake of a Europe of equality and peace. I think solving this open question is also in the long term interest of the UK.

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  • 36. At 10:11am on 07 Oct 2009, MonroeDoctrine wrote:

    Gotta love all the blind US hate. The posters making those comments are just as delusional as the Americans they love to hate.

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  • 37. At 01:38am on 09 Oct 2009, PLANETLONDON wrote:

    Capitals are those centers that are central to creating economic growth and jobs for those who believe in them.
    Capitals are those centers that are open to being owned by those who believe in them.
    Capitals grow in size and are only limited by their capacity to serve the common interests of their belivers.
    Paris is the Capital of France and serves French interests.
    Tokyo is the Capital of Japan in the same way.
    London is the Global Capital of the belivers in the English Language.
    London was central to the expansion of the English speaking world in Australia, Canada, India, America.
    Much like Rome is the Global Capital of the Catholic peoples.
    Brussels is an enigma when you see it in this light.
    It is the formal capital of an artificial union - like the UN HQ is in New York; like Canberra plays Capital of Australia.
    Am not sure if Europe really can ever have a natural capital city, that not only makes the rules but also creates the jobs and growth for the believers in Europe.
    Most of the internal migration within EU is not headed for Brussels, but London. And, this is the real litmus test for a CAPITAL centre.
    Perhaps the English Language will make London the natural CAPITAL of Europe finally. Maybe London is where the EU HQ should be relocated.



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  • 38. At 8:07pm on 10 Oct 2009, lacerniagigante wrote:

    I lived in Wash DC for 4 years in the late nineties/early noughties. I enjoyed the chilli at Ben's and the jam session at HR57. And although both places are representative of the Afro-American culture, they're definitely not a microcosm of the USA culture, which is much richer.

    I guess the same is true of Brussels, you'll find the moules-frites and the occasional Brel/Hérgé revivals, but that's surely just a very tiny fraction of European culture, which is much richer.

    By the way, does anyone have a decent address in Brussels for good food, but at human (not eurocrat gravy-train) prices? I'm going to spend a weekend there in November.

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  • 39. At 8:12pm on 10 Oct 2009, lacerniagigante wrote:

    37. At 01:38am on 09 Oct 2009, PLANETLONDON wrote:

    "London is the Global Capital of the belivers in the English Language."

    Surely, those believers would be proud of your spelling ;-)

    All my US American friends, who speak English as a mother tongue, will surely beg to differ with your statement.

    There are 330 Million English speakers in North America alone, and just about 60 Millions in England.

    If there is a capital of englishness, surely that's not London.

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  • 40. At 8:16pm on 12 Oct 2009, PLANETLONDON wrote:

    # 39
    1. Pleased to see North American correcting English spelling.
    2. Like to believe that had America chosen to be Spanish speaking, it will be more like Latin America rather than New England.
    3. Like alos to believe that English is the reason why America is today the sole super-power. Because the choice of Spanish/French/German would have prevented British Capital going in to build America in the period 1868 - 1913, that marked the transition of America from the "Australia" that it was.
    4. If London is not the fountainhead of Englishness, and North America wishes to claim that one of its cities is the "New Rome" for Englishness, that is indeed a welcome development.
    5. The point I was trying to make was not this aspect though. It was about Europe having a capital for European-ness. Brussels doesnt seem to make the grade.

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  • 41. At 11:21pm on 12 Oct 2009, BolffX wrote:

    Brussels, the capital of divided country as capital of EU?
    Non-sense.


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  • 42. At 4:05pm on 13 Oct 2009, Seraphim wrote:

    Planetlondon:

    " Like alos to believe that English is the reason why America is today the sole super-power. Because the choice of Spanish/French/German would have prevented British Capital going in to build America in the period 1868 - 1913, that marked the transition of America from the "Australia" that it was."

    When have they stopped using the english language in Australia? If english is the reason America "made it" then why haven't other english speaking countries? There must be more to it!

    "Maybe London is where the EU HQ should be relocated."

    I doubt this will ever happen for 2 reasons.

    1. Too much rivalry between London Paris and Berlin then who should become it as all of those would probably make a good choice.
    2. Britons seem to be far too europhobe for that. With the LT there is now an official way to move out of the EU and the British sem to be the only ones really considering this option.

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  • 43. At 1:15pm on 20 Oct 2009, twowicky wrote:

    Brussels truly is an enigma. It won't let itself be loved that easily unless you actually make an effort to discover the place.

    Its also perhaps the most surrealistic place on earth I've ever seen. If it didn't exist, Belgium would have split long ago. The strange fact is, most Belgians could care less about their own capital, yet no one can bring themselves to actually letting it go.

    And so while Brussels is officially administered by Belgium, no one really owns it. It's actually been a language independent city state for a long time.
    Case in point: Traditionally it was a Dutch speaking city. When France was still a world super power, it turned French.
    Now days, the right wing parties will claim it will soon be an Arabic speaking city. But from my experience with dealing with businesses based in Brussels, you'll now how hear a plethora of languages being spoken on the work floor, but for most things, English has become the norm. I've even started to see job ads from local companies that demand an essential knowledge of English, while Dutch and French are considered at most a plus.
    And if perhaps Chinese becomes the most important language on the world stage tomorrow, In Brussels, everyone will be answering their phone with 'Ni Hao'.

    And this may be why it has become the capital of capitals.

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  • 44. At 08:11am on 04 Nov 2009, Jay P wrote:

    Best thing about Brussels and the only thing I miss is its food.
    Being the Euro Capital is probably a plus for some but also a big burden. Think about strikes and "manifs" of the Euro farmers invading the place...
    Now about the EU: if only they could spend the money in a better way than using it to make laws about the size of bananas.
    (I'm a ex Eurolander, born in the neighbourhood of Brussels but chose to vote with my feet and moved to live in Asia).

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  • 45. At 11:54am on 04 Nov 2009, ORION wrote:

    Reference to recent announcement of the Lisbon Treaty being passed without any UK electoral referendum.
    We seem to have lost a sense of direction and purpose within the government establishment, it appears every ones for himself.
    I must admit that I know very little about Lisbon Treaty and how it will affect my standard of living in the UK and my future pension entitlements.
    The standing government prime minister (non-elected), was not voted in by any general election, but moved in as promised by his predecessor, who is now being named candidate as first European prime minister. If UK government want a full say in Europe then they should accept a full membership and join Europe 100% that includes transferring over to Euro. Otherwise pull out and work on the free trade with other countries who would be eager to trade with UK.
    I work for a global communication company in UK that brings me close to manufactures in Europe, China and traveled worldwide. My salary is paid in Euros' and converted to UK-pounds through international banking system at cost to my employer. So would it not make sense to convert sovereign currency over, as it would cost no more to do as its costing the tax payer to bail out the UK banking system. As for next election, what is this current government expecting from its electors? I am of the post war generation and like many others of my age have a majority vote. The leading electional parties in all establishments across the country must account for themselves through transparent policies that will be adhered too if they want to secure the nation vote of confidence.

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  • 46. At 10:53pm on 04 Nov 2009, Adriana Negruti wrote:

    Probably is too late to comment on this, but it's a long time since I need to say the things that follow.
    For me, as a Romanian, Brussells is just a place, not a threatening capital of a dangerous state, it's a hope for a better future for our country Romania and for other like it.
    UK is very much concerned about possible diminishing of their powers because this country is accustomed to represent a significant power in the world.

    We don't understand who wants Europe to become united. But for countries like Romania looks like something so positive after being so isolated for so many years in a very unfair way.
    So, when we see so much concern and postponing, it's very normal to be afraid that we are not lucky and a better future is still far at the horizon for us, because the Western countries are the selfish ones and will never care about our situation.

    To be a European in this area called Europe, in my opinion, should be something similar to be a American in the USA area, with the difference that here each state has a different language, a lot of specific traditions, a history and a set of mentalities that have to come in harmony with the others if a common interest is identified. This interest would be a better coordination of resources, a good knowledge of the local problems and a real will to solve them together in a friendly human community which Europe seems to be conceived to become. And if the language chosen for all countries in Europe to talk is English I think that UK should consider it as a huge achievement and not to be concerned about losing power...UK should already realize that they gained the respect of the world and their position will never be diminished. It's probably childish for me to comment like this, but it's what people in our country feel and not only our country.

    You noticed the burocracy in Brussells, but the comments and concerns UK is bringing all the time showing that they are not interested in an unite Europe represent something much more negative and make us so unhappy...

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  • 47. At 06:59am on 25 Apr 2010, Nico Lemmens wrote:

    It is good to see that you go to what you call Europe.
    My Europe is a place where people live and work on their and our children future.I hope you find that and as long as we talk that UK is not Europe you will have difficulties. Brussels should learn to run itself as a economy and not as an office.The costs explode like they do in , sorry , all the world. In that respect it is good that in a Brussels Centre pub your beer costs £2 and in London Centre £ 3. If you discover the Europe we will have a economy that enables our children to live here in future.

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  • 48. At 12:50pm on 21 Jun 2010, Trevor Smith wrote:

    I saw the report on English expatriates importing food to France. Firstly the pound/euro exchange rate spread over the last five years has never been higher than 23 percent and has averaged more like 11 percent so how someone has lost 'a third' of their income must be due to UK interest rates falling as well as exchange rates. Secondly it was instructive to see what was being bought eg. Bisto, Oxo and other UK products which do not find favour with the French and are therefore fringe products for French supermarkets! Try buying fringe French products in a UK supermarket and see what that costs. Thirdly, comparing identical products we find the prices in France are still below those in UK even though VAT is charged on food here. Take a look at ham, fresh fish, fresh meat and fresh vegetables let alone wine, beer, spirits and snack foods and you will find the reported comments to be unfairly biased. If living in France is so expensive why not move to the UK?

    Could your reporters do a bit of homework to see if the comments made are justified and provide a bit more balance or is life easier for you to just pass on gossip?

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