Richard North, 07/06/2004  

In fact, this letter is being written after my return from Rome, where between wandering round the Forum, the Colisseum, the Circus Maximus, numerous baroque churches, the old Jewish quarter (where, alas, as a sign of the times, the police was out in greater force than anywhere else in the city) and many other places that indicated Rome’s long history as the centre of western (though not necessarily European) culture, I managed to note one or two interesting facts to do with the European Union.

The first thing that strikes one is the ubiquitous presence of the EU flag. Wherever the Italian flag flies, there flies the azure blue with the gold stars. It is hard to work out whether this means a stupendous loyalty to the EU, gratitude for moneys and favours received or, simply, an indication that neither of the flags means anything. Rome, after all, was the last part of Italy to join the united country in 1870, even though it immediately became its capital.

The second thing one notices is the extraordinarily large number of posters with pictures of political leaders fighting for a seat in the European Parliament. Many of these have been torn down. Not defaced but actually torn down either by opponents or people who cannot stand large electoral posters. There seem to be many parties standing for the European Parliament but they all have one thing in common: they are fighting the election on Italian issues.

The flag may fly and the election campaign may be more in evidence than it is in Britain. But European issues seem to mean as little in Rome as they do in London.

We shall have to wait and see whether the turn-out in Italy with all the flags and posters will be any more significant on June 13 than in other member state of the EU.

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