EU goes into orbit in search of UFOs

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FROM EU to ET is a small step in the alphabet, but a giant leap for the European Parliament. Extending its reach from the minutiae of gas pipelines to the vast reaches of space, the brave men and women of its energy committee yesterday proposed to set up a European centre for sightings of unidentified flying objects. The UFO has finally taken its place in the home of the acronym.

The Parliament proposes to give the job of alien-watching to a research institution in France, as part of its five- year mission to seek out new ways to spend other people's money. Its new building in Brussels might serve as an appropriate home: the locals have dubbed it the Folly of the Gods and it bears more than a passing resemblance to Starfleet Command.

Various theories are kicked around by the report. While aliens on neighbouring planets are not regarded as a possibility, 'the theory that aliens have established a base in the asteroid belt cannot be ruled out'.

The report's rapporteur, Tullio Regge, an Italian Socialist, hints darkly at a kind of conspiracy that wants to use the UFO phenomenon. 'There are organisations determined to manipulate the credulity of the masses for political ends,' he adds.

Mr Regge wrote to all the air forces of the EU member states, though apparently only the Italians replied. He also spoke to more than 100 people working in civil aviation, and found only one with a story to tell, an Alitalia steward. But the report is especially concerned with a spate of sightings in Belgium, which apparently is a mecca for the little green men.

The Parliament finds this dubious, since it maintains a lofty disdain for national institutions, and seems to think aliens should too.