Choosing Delors to advertise Brussels is like picking Hannibal Lecter to promote vegetarianism

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Series Details Vol.7, No.38, 18.10.01, p6
Publication Date 18/10/2001
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Date: 18/10/01

By Gareth Harding

A group of central and eastern European journalists were in town last week to learn more about the Byzantine way in which the EU works. Walking up Rue Belliard after a tour around the European Parliament, they must have felt a pang of nostalgia for the Soviet era.

A bronze statue of Greek goddess Europa holding the letter 'E' aloft like a hammer and sickle (we prefer her riding side-saddle on her bull), the Council of Ministers' squat and soulless HQ looking for all the world like KGB command central, and to top it all off, a gigantic poster of a bespectacled old man staring down at them in a Big Brother sort of way.

With his thick glasses and receding hairline, the unlikely pin-up looks a bit like former East German dictator Erich Honeker. It is only when you get closer that you notice the squinty eyes of former European Commission president Jacques Delors peering out from behind his specs.

There is so much wrong with this ad, which is part of a propaganda campaign financed by the Commission Communautaire Française, that it is difficult to know where to begin. "Bruxelles cultive l'art sans pareil d'un accueil simple et chaleureux grâce à l'atmosphère que seuls savent créer les Bruxellois," the Frenchman is quoted as saying. (A rough translation is: 'Brussels is without compare when it comes to providing a warm and hearty welcome thanks to the atmosphere that only Brussels people can create'). Now the self-styled capital of Europe is a fantastic place justly renowned for its epicurean delights, eclectic mix of nationalities and rich cultural heritage, but warm and welcoming it ain't. Civic pride is almost non-existent, the pre-dominant colour is grey and the city's service culture reminds me of Prague before the Velvet Revolution.

Secondly, the advertising hoarding could not have been placed in a more inopportune place. It is tacked on to the wall of a crumbling, disused building which will probably be torn down in a few years to make way for more ugly EU buildings. Thirdly, choosing Delors to advertise the merits of Brussels is like picking Hannibal Lecter to promote vegetarianism. During his ten years at the helm of the Commission, large swathes of the city's European district - which used to be a beautiful Bohemian quartier - were demolished to make way for nondescript EU offices.

Despite his god-like status among Commission officials, the 76-year-old former finance minister is hardly the best person to project a dynamic, forward-looking image of the Union either. Delors, who lorded over the Commission from 1985 to 1995, was a political visionary who put an end to decades of Euro-sclerosis; but a man of the people he was not. The Frenchman saw public opinion as an obstacle that could always be steamrollered with the help of his powerful chums, François Mitterand and Helmut Kohl.

He also turned a blind eye to the waste, mismanagement and petty corruption that were eventually to prove the downfall of his successor Jacques Santer. The EU's agricultural and fisheries policies reached a nadir of environmental and social destruction during his reign and billions of euro of EU funds were fluttered away on grand infrastructure projects. But Delors was always more interested in big picture issues than looking after taxpayers' money.

Admittedly, many of the other posters in the 'Destination Europe' campaign feature more down to earth stars such as crooner Jacques Brel and athlete Mohamed Mourhit. But rather than more billboards - which is the last thing Brussels needs - local authorities would do better to spend their money tarting up the EU area. They have made a start by creating an impressive new square between the Council and the Parliament, but the EU district is still a depressing place to work or visit and the worst sort of advertisement for a city desperately trying to shrug off its image as Europe's suitcase capital.

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