EC Ministers' Open Session Draws Only Trickle of Citizens


THERE were no award-winning performances, and if it had been opening night on Broadway the place would have closed down because of the poor turnout.

Aside from the normal gaggle of journalists, only nine citizens showed up.

Still, when European Community foreign ministers left their meeting room door ajar for the first time and exposed themselves to the citizens' gaze, it was a sign that someone was taking seriously recent EC talk of "drawing closer to the people."

"Our purpose was not to provide a great song and dance," British Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd said a few hours after the foreign ministers' new experiment in democratization. "Our purpose was to show the kinds of matters that come before us, and the way we discuss them."

Ever since Danish voters said "no" last May to the EC's Maastricht Treaty for a deeper and tighter union, EC leaders have been talking up the need to make the Community's business more accessible and meaningful to the public. The 12 foreign ministers took the plunge on Feb. 1 by allowing closed-circuit televisions to peer in for a few hours of their proceedings.

Not everyone seemed convinced of the exercise's utility. In the opening session, Belgian Foreign Minister Willy Claes took part of his allotted five minutes to opine that the ministers' discussions had turned to "speech-making" for home audiences.

One Spanish official joked that the experiment revealed a kind of "opaque transparency," with ministers bellowing positions popular at home for the cameras, while saving the "real" talk for closed-door sessions.

Yet the ministers' public performances seemed pretty true to character. The Spanish talked about the threat of instability spilling over the western Mediterranean and the French hammered on the need to address unemployment and subtly attacked the British for holding up EC social policy.

The ministers promised to repeat the exercise soon, but if in-person turnout is any indication, they needn't rush to fit their meeting room with an observation gallery.

According to Community security, visitors included students, business people, Iranian diplomats, a Belgian passerby, and "one elderly female British tourist."

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