Rebels rub shoulders with EU elite at night to remember in the Palace

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Series Details Vol.7, No.45, 6.12.01, p17
Publication Date 06/12/2001
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Date: 06/12/01

By David Cronin

Life is never dull when Daniel Cohn- Bendit is in the room. The tempestuous leader of the 1968 Paris revolt spent much of Tuesday's EV50 ceremony heckling everyone, from his fellow MEPs to the absent leader of the free world.

It was all in good humour, but there was no disguising the air of tension permeating the bonhomie amid the marble pillars of Brussels' Palais d'Egmont.

With many of the invited guests representing Europe's political and corporate elite, there was a palpable sense of disapproval when anti-globalisation hero José Bové was named 'achiever of the year'. His video message portrayed him as a gentle pipe-smoker, an image that sits oddly with his infamous demolition of a McDonald's restaurant in southern France.

Surely only Belgium's ruling coalition can compare with the collection of EU establishment figures and mavericks named as the 10 award winners at Tuesday's gala ceremony.

For the keen federalists present, the least palatable choices were 'Metric Martyrs' Steve Thoburn and Neil Herron as Campaigners of the Year. Currently awaiting a verdict in their appeal against a conviction for defying a 1981 EU directive ordering that they cease selling food in British imperial measures, the two grocers were loudly heckled by Socialist MEP Michael Cashman.

Herron claimed he was just an "ordinary market trader" who had been "criminalised" and strongly denounced the Union's policy-makers: "They have forgotten the ordinary people, forgotten who democracy actually belongs to."

While leading Danish eurosceptic Jens-Peter Bonde (Politican of the Year) also used the occasion to deliver a serious political message (on the dearth of transparency in the Prodi Commission), most of the EU enthusiasts fêted were more light-hearted.

The main exception to that rule was Bonde's compatriot, film-maker and avowed Euro-federalist Lars Von Trier (Visionary of the Year). The Dancer in the Dark director claimed he was "ashamed to be Danish" (an apparent reference to the victory of anti-immigration forces in his country's recent general election).

Cork-based Liberal leader Pat Cox (MEP of the Year) quipped that God must have been in favour of the metric system as he set 10 commandments. And Chris Patten (Commissioner of the Year) described his award as a "tribute to what happens to you if you're never in Brussels". To underscore his point, the external relations chief was in Moscow and had to pre-record his message.

The general consensus was that the only woman to accept an award stole the show. Irish EU ambassador Anne Anderson pointed out that, although she is accustomed to deputising for ministers, it was the first time she had stood in for rock icon Bono.

Named European of the Year for his relentless efforts to have the debts crippling the world's poorest nations cancelled, Bono had asked Anderson to read a deeply personal statement on his behalf.

The U2 singer said that 2001 had been a year of both magic and loss. His wife Ali had given birth to another son and his 20-year-old band is now doing some of its best work. But he had also buried his father "and on 11 September, the whole world was grieving".

Dwelling on the atrocities in New York, he added: "The only really fitting memorial to the lives lost on that day would be not just a safer, less dangerous world but a fairer, more inclusive one because a more prosperous world is a more secure world, a more educated world is a more tolerant world and a healthier world is a more stable world.

"These words may sound strange coming out of a spoilt rotten rock star's mouth," he said, but as they were actually delivered by somebody else, they could maybe be tolerated.

Anderson summed up by declaring that "people can be embarrassed about idealism as straightforward as this", especially when they live "in a privileged cocoon in Brussels". The people who had voted for Bono were "looking to the European Union not for charity but for justice."

It was a simple message on which to close the proceedings. And an eloquent one, too.

Report of the European Voice 'European of the Year' awards ceremony, held in Brussels on 4 December 2001.

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