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Opinion: Enlargement? What Enlargement?

The most remarkable thing about life in Brussels in the days after Europe's "Big Bang" enlargement is how it's been anything but. In Parliament, at the Commission and on the streets, very little seems to have changed.


The European Union's enlargement festivities are now over, and daily life has returned to Brussels and Strasbourg, the centers of the European Union's political activity. Indeed, on the surface, very little has changed.

Three days after the celebrations, the flags have been rolled back up. And in Brussels it's business as usual. The European Commission is ignoring the much-lauded admission of the 10 new members -- at least when it comes to language. On the official Commission Web site, pages are still only offered in the 11 official working languages of Europe. The nine new languages will soon be added, the responsible authorities say. But then, the EU only had seven years to prepare for enlargement, so one can't really expect that everything will be functioning at the first go. Right?

A similar situation has befallen the members of the European Parliament: During the first vote in the body, which has grown by 162 members, the printed materials weren't available in all 20 working languages. Pat Cox, the Irish president of the European Parliament swept the complaints of members off the table, even before the getting encircled by the historic aura of May 1, with the comment: "We really don't want to get petty now."

Finding their voices

Brussels, too, is back to its daily trot -- not because it's raining from the gray skies as it always does, but rather because, really, nothing has changed. The aforementioned 162 new members of parliament were already there before May 1. They just had another name: observers. Now they have voting rights. But the offices, employees and files remain the same. The new member states have also been participating in the meetings of the council of ministers and European Council committees for the past year. Here things are running smoothly, according to a spokesman.

Meanwhile, the number of bureaucrats in the European Commission is doing what it always did -- it's growing. There are currently 34,000 "Eurocrats" at the Commission. In the coming four years, that figure is expected to increase by 6,000 as result of enlargement. But it will all implemented at a leisurely pace; in other words: no "Big Bang."

The EU ambassadors from the new EU member states have already been present in Brussels and have expanded their personnel during the past year. Nobody was standing with a packed suitcase at the door on May 1. The 10 new EU commissioners have also been in Brussels since March and have begun to work, even though they haven't been given their areas of competency yet, albeit with only a small group of employees.

On the ground

Nor has much changed on the streets of Brussels. As planned, the new Commission headquarters is still not ready to be occupied by the expanded European Union. Every now and then you can find a trace of the celebrations -- an expansion flag here and there -- but that's about it.

The most noticeable change is the increase in the number of cars with Lithuanian, Czech or Polish license plates. The drivers have already been trying for months to get used to the chaotic traffic rules and chronically congested streets of Brussels. Though the people haven't arrived overnight, it's also interesting to note the diversity of languages that can now be heard in Brussels' EU quarter. Whether in the underground, in the gym or a sandwich bar, snippets of conversation can be heard in German, Polish, Spanish, Hungarian -- or was that Finnish?

There's also been another palpable change since May 1 -- at least in the cafeterias of the European Commission. They're serving more dishes from the new member states -- be it cheese from Cyprus or Hungary's proverbial goulash.

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  • Date 05.05.2004
  • Author Bernd Riegert (dsl)
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/4zee
  • Date 05.05.2004
  • Author Bernd Riegert (dsl)
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/4zee