- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2006

European ambassadors, commemorating the 56th anniversary of the European Union, gave local students a lesson in history and culture yesterday.

Nine of the more than two dozen ambassadors from EU member countries acted as substitute teachers in world studies and world history classes at several schools in Maryland, Virginia and the District. They discussed a range of topics such as the European economy and the diversity of the countries that belong to the European Union.

At Cardozo Senior High School in Northwest, Swedish Ambassador Gunnar Lund fielded a barrage of questions from about 30 students, some of whom wondered about the number of languages spoken within the European Union.

“We have around 20 languages” in the union, Mr. Lund said. “We want to preserve that diversity.”

The response pleased Sheila Perez, 17, a junior who speaks some Chinese, Arabic, Spanish and French, which she is studying at Cardozo.

“I learned [the different languages] from friends,” she said.

Mr. Lund said the language diversity requires many interpreters to attend political meetings, which can become problematic. But English, French and German are most common languages, he said.

“Most ambassadors know those three languages,” he said.

Students also asked about the difficulty of acquiring membership or leaving the union, the future of the federation, allegiance to homeland or continent, and the euro currency, which is used in 12 of the 25 member countries.

Though Sweden doesn’t use the euro, Mr. Lund said, it has been “quite a useful thing.”

“It made an impression,” Mr. Lund said. “The European economy has been doing reasonably well.”

Europe Day commemorates the conception of the European Union in 1950, when French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman proposed that Western European countries pool their coal and steel production as the first concrete foundation of a European federation, according to the EU Commission Delegation in Washington.

Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany were the first countries to become member states.

EU leaders decided at a summit in Milan, Italy, in 1985 to commemorate May 9 as Europe Day.

Ambassadors to the United States, including EU Ambassador John Bruton, will teach during the month at 26 schools in the D.C. area.

Italian Ambassador Giovanni Castellaneta held court at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda yesterday.

“We have to contact the younger generation to explain the meaning and significance of the union,” Mr. Castellaneta said. “The [EU] means that now 25 countries are working together.”

Mr. Castellaneta took the helm for world studies teacher Ty Healey, whose students were joined by Maria Cavallini’s Italian class.

“We don’t really study the union too much, so [the assembly] taught us about the culture and how Europe was unified,” said Megan Acquaviva, 17, a senior in Ms. Cavallini’s class.

“It’s more of the older history that we talk about in class,” said senior Christine Patterson, 17.

Students questioned Mr. Castellaneta about border policies, proper representation and potential new members.

Mr. Castellaneta said he supports Turkey’s accession. Turkey began membership talks with the European Union in the fall.

“I’m impressed that he actually took the time out of his schedule to come here,” said Roxane Farahifar, 17, one of Mr. Healey’s students. “It was interesting that he supports Turkey to join the union, since most people view Turkey as a Middle Eastern nation, not a European nation.”

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