European Parliament members speak at Pitt

European Parliament members Graf Alexander Lambsdorff of Germany and Antonyia Parvanova of Bulgaria spoke about foreign affairs at the University of Pittsburgh’s European Union Center of Excellence on Tuesday.

Lambsdorff, a former member of the German Foreign Office, serves on the delegation for United States relations and is a substitute on the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Parvanova, only an observer until Bulgaria officially enters the European Union in January, is involved with the environment, public health, and food safety committee.

Pitt’s EU center is one of 10 centers in the U.S. funded by the European Commission.

The European Parliament is the only EU institution whose members are elected. The EU’s 457 million citizens are represented by 732 members of Parliament, according to the EU’s website. There are seven political parties within the parliament; Lambsdorff and Parvanova are in the Alliance of Democrats and Liberals for Europe (ALDE), the third-largest party.

According to Lambsdorff, the party supports economic liberalization and closer integration as well as a constitution.

Lambsdorff said there is “broad agreement” between the EU and the U.S. on terrorism, a “transatlantic issue,” and nuclear proliferation. He said President Bush has tried to rebuild ties with the EU after falling out over Iraq. Lambsdorff also pointed out initiatives that the EU has taken on the world stage, such as leading negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programs.

Parvanova discussed Bulgaria’s tough 10-year process of joining the EU. The country had to make many reforms, she said, and it is behind on environmental issues. Bulgaria was also forced to close some nuclear power plants, which hurt the country’s economy. There are also concerns about the volume of crime and money laundering.

Parvanova, a pediatrician, is interested in health care in the EU. She supported a proposal for European citizens to have free choice of health care across the EU. ALDE is also working on a bill of rights for patients.

Both speakers addressed audience questions. Lambsdorff agreed that the EU has a “democratic deficit,” calling EU politics “opaque” and “hard for the average citizen to follow.”

Enlargement — adding new members to the EU — is a contentious issue. Turkey’s efforts to join the democratic, primarily Christian EU have been blocked.

Lambsdorff feels that, for the EU to succeed, there needs to be an EU public with a European identity. He said he is opposed to Turkey joining for “democratic and financial reasons.”