Mousetricht explains the European idea to baffled bambini

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The Independent Online
WHEN the going gets tough, Europe traditionally turns to the United States for help. Little surprise, therefore, that to explain the Maastricht treaty, the Italians have roped in Mickey Mouse.

The children's magazine Topolino, published by the Italian arm of Walt Disney, is about to launch a four-week extravaganza to illuminate European integration for its 8- to 12-year-old readers. Topolino is the Italian name for Mickey, an immensely popular figure in Europe and said to be the most recognised personality in the world.

It is not Mickey himself, however, who is to do the hard work on this one. Perhaps aware that others have found their careers badly damaged by association with Maastricht, he has drafted in three sidekicks - Huey, Dewey and Louie, the indefatigable nephews of Donald Duck. They are shown trekking round Europe in search of their family roots, and exploring the bright new continent as they do so.

In the first episode, Qui, Qua and Quo, as the three are called in Italian, make the acquaintance of Strasbourg and Brussels, including the European Commission. ('practically the European government]' says one in a moment of insight that would not endear him to John Major.) They have not yet got on to subsidiarity - though the publishers seem sure that tough concepts can be communicated through cartoons.

Since the Duck family originates (it transpires) in Scotland it has no problems with passports or visas. Nor does it fall foul of EC regulations on transporting livestock.

Discussions are under way on possible French and German spin-offs. It certainly beats Rory the lion, the tired-looking symbol used by Britain for its EC presidency last year.