EU political leaders, artists and scientists are gathering in Austria this week to rethink what it means to be a union of 25 nations in the aftermath of "no" votes to a constitution and a general malaise about unity.
EU leaders are accused of being out of touch with the public
Starting on Thursday, the current president of the European Union, Austria, is bringing together political and cultural figures in Salzburg to discuss the EU's identity crisis, against a backdrop of celebrations in honor of Mozart's 250th anniversary.
With this great debate, titled "The Sound of Europe," Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel hopes to resurrect a 2004 Dutch presidency initiative to improve awareness and appreciation of Europe.
He also hopes the meeting can create initiatives to tackle the public malaise or even outright hostility toward the EU and its proposed constitution. Critics of Brussels have noted that with two "no" votes in France and the Netherlands last year, EU leaders have to do something to bring them more in touch with their populations.
About 300 personalities from the continent's political, scientific, artistic and media arenas will share views and proposals on the future of the European project in the face of globalization. There will also be opportunities to discuss fears about Europe and find concrete solutions, including using art and culture to bring the idea of Europe close to the people, organizers said.
Discussions must be conducted "without taboos," said Schüssel's spokeswoman, Verena Nowotny.
Austria also has the EU fatigue
Schüssel wants to reinvigorate the identity debate
As host country, prosperous Austria reflects the "malaise" citizens have towards the EU.
Only 32 percent of the country's population considers Europe a good thing, compared with 46 percent a year ago, making it the most euro-skeptic of the EU's 25 member states, according to the latest Eurobarometer survey published Monday.
The survey also confirmed Austrians' refusal to allow Turkey's entry into the union.
A Viennese physical therapist reflected his countrymen's disillusioned attitude, saying he feared Brussels was "only listening to the interests of businesses, not of citizens" and would further open its doors to poorly paid foreign labor, thus encouraging the far-right.
Attendess will also mark Mozart's 250 birthday
Of the 25 EU member states, 14 have ratified the proposed EU constitution, including Germany. But there are no guarantees that countries like Denmark and the UK will follow. As the UK's foreign secretary Jack Straw said: "the treaty is in limbo. That is somewhere between heaven and hell. It is difficult to argue that it’s not dead."
Some leaders say there is no chance of it being ratified by all EU countries and want the document changed. Others say that the provisions were hammered out over four years and they do not want to go back to the table. And yet others say, keep it but do a better job of selling to the public. Regardless of the difficult task ahead, the attendees, which also include presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers, can take a break after and mark the anniversary of Mozart's birth in Salzburg 250 years ago Friday with a special concert.