Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Great and The Good of Brussels

So it was the great and the good of Europe and Brussels getting together for the annual EV50 dinner.

Black tie in Palace d'Egmont as tradition dictates. Candidates and hopefulls mingled with the general crowd in anticipation of the results of the vote.

Some years ago I remember that a substantial number of the awards were collected by different Irish representatives. The fact that the entire thing is presided over by former European Parliament president Pat Cox of course then added to the Celtic dominance of the evening.

This year was different. If there was a tendency here, then it was in the Eastern direction. An awareness of a new Europe is slowly coming to Brussels, even if there were tendencies in the other direction as well.

There were Polish, Ukrainian, Lithuanian and Finnish names all over the place this evening. With Poland emerging as the star performer.

The Statesmen of the Year award went to outgoing President of Poland Alexandr Kwasniewski. During his last week of his ten year presidency, he was undoubtedly in a good mood this evening, thankning everyone for what had been achieved, and noting that these were the years when his country had been able to enter both NATO and the European Union.

But he didn't stop with this, but delivered political pointers for the future as well.

Most importantly, he made a passionate appeal for a membership perspective for Ukraine in the years to come. "Ukraine needs Europe and Europe needs Ukraine."

And he went on speaking about the need to see Europe as much more than the sum of the national self-interest of the member countries. "Europe is not only a combination of nations - Europe is a value in itself, and our common great opportunity for the future."

Needless to say, words like these are distinct crowd-pleasers at a gathering like the one yesterday evening.

But Poland was also honoured with Journalist of the Year with Anna Marszalek.

Non-European of the Year become President of the Ukraine Viktor Yushenko, which of course added to the impact of the Kwasniewski appeal.

And the Baltic touch was certainly there with former President of Finland Martti Ahtisaari becoming Diplomat of the Year for the peace agreement on Aceh, and Dalia Grybarskaite from Lithuania becoming Commissioner of the Year for her struggle with the budget of the Union. Among the nominated commissioners was also Finland's Olli Rehn.

If there was another tendency it was one that might not have been entirely to the liking of Microsoft in spite of the company belong to the sponsors of the evening. Michael Richard become Member of the European Parliament for his opposition to too stringent software patents, and Florian Mueller Campaigner of the Year for his campaign on the very same issue.

The intellectual property issues are obviously as keenly felt as the Eastern enlargement issues.

As European of the Year emerged non other than Prime Minister Jean-Claude Junker of Luxembourg¨. Fresh from a battle earlier in the day with the European Central Bank he conceded that it has been "a very difficult year", but he at the least was grateful to the voters of Luxembourg that they had said Yes to the constitutional treaty when everyone else had voted no, and dedicated his price to them all. That they also preserved him in office went unmentioned.

And after all these words of wisdom we headed for the drinks, the gossip and the much too late beer with further gossip in the delightful athmosphere of the Place Sablon.

Another year. Another dinner. Another bunch of European contributions.