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Europe diary: Austrian hospitality
12 January 2006

In his diary this week, BBC Europe editor Mark Mardell, fresh from his first trip to Vienna under the Austrian EU presidency, discusses journalistic freebies, religious architecture and a rising star of French politics.

The diary is published every Thursday.

WINE AND SONG

Is there an end to austerity under the Austrian presidency of the EU? The British gave journalists none of the traditional bribes, sorry, gifts on assuming the presidency. Doubtless they were aware that ungrateful wretches like me would write cynical nonsense like the above and the more earnest would work themselves into a lather about the cost to the British taxpayer.

Austrian EU logo
A logo well-suited to beach bags
While the Austrians weren't quite up to one fabled Irish presidency, which I'm told handed out bottles of whiskey and sides of smoked salmon, we did get a cake and a bag in the Austrian logo, which will come in very handy for the beach in the summer.

We were also treated to dinner at a castle and entertainment by a soprano. A very forceful woman with the mouth of Cherie Blair and a mass of red hair, she fixed anyone who dared talk with gimlet eyes and sang directly into their face. No lover of the opera, I was rather entranced by this gutsy performance. Although I wasn't guilty of talking, she did sing directly at me. I'm told the line was: "When I look at you I think of my homeland". Really, I didn't think Austria was in such a bad state.

ARCHITECTURAL MECCA

One of the mildly frustrating things about this job is spending time in lovely places and only getting to see the inside of the press room. So I was glad that I could only get an afternoon flight back from Vienna, and had a morning to go around the rather wonderful St Stephen's Cathedral. I wanted to see it for myself because of the suffragan bishop of Salzburg's warning that if Turkey is allowed into the European Union, Vienna's best-loved church could eventually be turned into a mosque.

Hagia Sophia
Under the top: Tourists in Istanbul's Hagia Sophia
His argument? The EU is a democracy, Turks are having more children as Austrians have less: QED. Only 11% of people in Austria want to see Turkey in the EU. Fears deep-rooted in history combine with current terrors to make a deadly mix for Turkey's chances.

Actually the Karlskirche would be a much better candidate for conversion: it already has a dome and what look like minarets. Leaving aside religion and politics, purely on aesthetic grounds which is better - a church that has been converted into a mosque, like the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, or a mosque that has become a church like the Mezquita in Cordoba? I think the over-the-top gold and silver in the Spanish cathedral come close to ruining the cool clear lines of the building.

HOT TIP

Segolene Royal
Ms Royal was born in Senegal of a military family
Is there an outside chance that France could follow Germany's example and elect a female leader? Hot tip to take up the Socialist mantle in next year's French presidential election is Segolene Royal (that's Ségolène for those whose computers read accents).

She's currently leader of the regional government in Poitou-Charentes, a former health and education minister, and the mother of four children. Curiously for a campaigner for traditional family values, she's the partner, not wife, of Francois Hollande, the Socialist leader.

THANKS FOR YOUR MESSAGES

Thanks for all your comments on Belgium's other language. What an erudite and thoughtful lot you are.

But then there is the third most widely spoken tongue. At a news conference last week I watched three men on the podium, two of them native German speakers, all talking to journalists from all over the EU in English. It must be rather irritating for some that English is de facto the lingua franca (that's a joke) of the EU. But what are the consequences for the language itself?

Isn't Europe wonderful? All nations coming together in Brussels and... mutilating the French and English languages!
Ronald Vopel, Brussels

A friend and colleague who is annoyingly fluent in half a dozen languages notices the growth of something he calls "Brussels English". One example he gives is the persistent use of "security" to mean "safety", perhaps because in French and German they are the same word. This habit has evidently spread to England too. He cites an example at Waterloo Station, which requests that people put their hot drinks down while going through the ticket barrier "for their own security". But surely it is their safety, not security, that is at risk?

But that sets me musing on whether this is a reaction to a rather modern use of the word "security" in English. When did it first acquire its current meaning in English? Wartime? When did "security guards" first enter the language?




MARK MARDELL'S EUROPE DIARY

Mark Mardell Mardell's Euroblog
The Europe Diary is now a Euroblog - click here for the latest post


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