Letter from Thessaloniki

In terms of democracy, forthcoming elections and musical garbage, it has been a good week for Europe. New Democracy and PASOK yesterday announced their candidates for the European Parliament as well as their strategies for the upcoming elections on June 7, with the ruling party stressing the fact that people should not read too much into the results of next month’s vote. Nevertheless, the real pan-European significance of these election seems to be generally lost on Greek voters, who are primarily concerned with their internal affairs. And that is because the only directly elected body among the various supranational institutions that are gradually shaping lives, an ever-growing number of Europeans is constantly jolting – though not yet knocking over – the Union’s often arrogant and largely unaccountable executive in Brussels. These coming elections could – at long last! – mark a major shift in the balance of power between the three main arms of the European Union, namely the Parliament, the Commission and the Council of Ministers, the last of which represents the Union’s 27 governments. The Parliament is supposed to scrutinize and, if need be, amend legislation presented by the Commission. Nowadays therefore, it is far from being the powerless institution it had been not so long ago. Each new EU treaty – including the one agreed at Maastricht and the most recent one in Lisbon, signed by heads of government on 13 December 2007 at the Jeronimos Monastery in the Portuguese capital – has given the Parliament more power. This important Lisbon Treaty amended the treaties of Maastricht and of Rome and strengthened the European Parliament’s role. Note that this will be the first European Parliament election in which Bulgaria and Romania will be participating at the same time as the other member states. When they joined the EU in 2007, they held elections for MEPs outside the normal electoral calendar. Spring is in the air and now is the time when anything goes. Not just the looming – for some – June 7 European Parliament elections. Peace, prosperity, glitz and kitsch are usually good things for the Eurovision Song Contest, as well as for political parties in power when election time rolls around with a boom-bang-a-bang, to remember one of the past Eurovision hits. The Eurovision Song Contest is among the longest-running television shows in the world and – according to the organizers – «an irreplaceable part of European culture.» Alas, not for all. The German magazine Der Spiegel saw it differently, as «the song contest that taste forgot.» While Britain’s Guardian published a recent article under the title «Europe’s schmaltz.» Even the usually unexcited and objective Associated Press described the event in Moscow as «the continent’s kitsch and wildly popular song contest.» Some days ago our own columnist Pantelis Boukalas understandably characterized it as «frivolous» and joked about our Greek predisposition to conspiracy theories when we don’t win. Many think that in this country «…the only key, to explain away all the ills that befall us as individuals or as a nation is dark conspiracy,» Boukalas wrote. Quite understandably we did not win in Moscow. With a far better entry, violinist and singer Alexander Rybak – nicknamed also for his fiddling wizardry «Harry Potter» – triumphed for Norway, a European country that has until now snubbed the EU, while our popular singer and heartthrob Sakis Rouvas with «This Is Our Night» came seventh for Greece. Eurovision is one of the most watched European television events, attracting nearly 300 million viewers around the world. In its 53-year history, the sometimes trashy contest has managed to launch world careers, including those of Celine Dion and Abba. Most certainly, Eurovision is not about politics or asserting your place in the community, nor even about national pride. Furthermore it is not an opportunity to show your neighbors how much you love them. We are facing another election this week. A voting process will determine the most important Greek personalities from among the «Great Greeks» presented in the Skai TV documentary series. Alexander the Great is one of them. Among the top 10 are Aristotle, Ioannis Capodistrias, Constantine Karamanlis, Theodoros Kolokotronis, Georgios Papanikolaou, Pericles, Plato, Socrates and Eleftherios Venizelos. The final leg of the voting runs to today, May 18. Interested in casting your vote? You may use SMS texting on 19400 (type E followed by a space, followed by the name) and by phone on 901.140.5040. For more information and online voting visit www.greatgreeks.skai.gr. Could it be Alexander the Great? Just to be on the safe side, George Papandreou yesterday announced that fourth place in PASOK’s European Parliament list of candidates would be taken by the respected expert on Alexander’s family, Dr Chryssoula Paliadeli, professor of archaeology in the Department of History and Archaeology at Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University.

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