Winding Down

The EU Summit that starts today will probably be the beginning of a general wind down period for the EU as a whole, a bit differently than the EU leaders had expected.

Everyone had already started talking about this period after the August break – when all EU work grinds to a halt – as the general run-up to the year 2009, when both a new EU Parliament and a new EU Commission is to be selected. Logically, neither body would have any interest in starting any new huge undertakings as they would not know whether or not they would be able to finish them.

Some Commissioners will likely re-appear. Chairman José Manuel Barroso, for example, makes little secret of his wish to be re-appointed, and seems to have enough political support from e.g. Germany to see a second term in office. And Ms Androulla Vasiliou is so new on the job that she has little time to mess things up, at least, enough to be removed.

Others will certainly not. Vice president Margot Wallström, for instance, has made it clear that she is not seeking re-election. That is to all intents and purposes a preventive statement in order to save her the embarrassment of being ousted, not because she is doing a poor job – on the contrary, she is generally held in high esteem – but because she is a Social Democrat. So was Sweden’s only other Commissioner to date, Anita Gradin. But the current Swedish government is not. They will be little inclined, to say the least, to continue nominating representatives of their main political arch rivals, especially since they won the last election with promises including a reform of the nomination process to public top jobs, where Social Democrats – who have held governmental power for all but eleven of the last 76 years – for some reason have had a notorious habit of being appointed.

I’d be rather surprised if they didn’t put Carl Bildt in there instead, but I’ve been wrong before.

However, apart from that general slowdown, the current Summit will have to throw all plans to address pressing current issues such as galloping food and oil prices out the window, and instead embark on another endless crisis management tour in the wake of Ireland’s no to the Lisbon Treaty.

Another deadlock, from which there is no known escape, just before the slowdown time, while interest rates are creeping upwards, economy downwards, and stagflation is looming around the corner. Not to mention what to do with the EU’s ambitious climate targets, which might help delay global warming for a few years (until China’s and India’s emissions have made up for the balance), but will eat into the world’s already scarce food resources and continue to trigger famine, especially in poor countries. And I haven’t even started with the need to do something about the EU’s gigantic Common Agriculture Policy in order to make it help feed us all instead of just making matters worse.

This is when Brussels would have needed to take some tough decisions. But, sorry to say, don’t hold your breath.

Why Are We Here?

The Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter today puts its finger on a sore spot: Why have an EU Summit right now at all?

The whole idea of inserting a third summit each year was part of the Lisbon strategy, intended at boosting EU competivity, a (traditionally) unsigned editorial notes. However, it has turned out that the EU manages to boost its capacity for increased competition power perfectly well without the politicians telling people how to do it, thank you very much, and the spring summit is increasingly becoming a bit of a yawn generator. Even Sweden’s Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, concedes on his blog that “this meeting with the European Council will possibly not go down in history as one of the very biggest”.

However, Dagens Nyheter fumes (to the general amusement of my Swedish colleagues here at the EU Summit press room, who have spent the morning speculating who actually wrote the vitriolic editorial in question – the writer was more or less officially identified as Barbro Hedvall), the EU cannot back down from holding spring summits now, because that would be seen as a loss of prestige and – more importantly – a source of speculation about why the leaders wouldn’t want to meet each other, especially who didn’t want to meet who.

I’m not so sure I agree with the criticism. After all, it is never a bad idea that people – especially at high levels – get together and talk. Even if they currently may have little to talk about, there might come other times when having an institutionalised forum may be crucal, instead of wasting precious energy on procedure and formalities. After all, that is what the EU is all about – defusing possible points of conflict before they flare up.

And therein lies a PR problem, because it is always difficult to sell to the general public that we have avoided conflicts to the point where they never happened. “What conflicts?” we EU citizens ask, oblivious to the long and bloody history of our part of the world, where war between the people groups now represented at the negotiation table was the norm, not the exception.

I do realise that the bloodless summits require lots of travelling, security arrangements, and so on. But I’ll take that over war every time.

Summit Time, And The Living Is Easy

I’m not entirely sure what’s wrong with Slovenian ham. I’ve just put down two delicious wraps with that and some other stuff in it, and it was lovely. But for some reason, they were the ones that most people here hadn’t touched at all.

In other words: It’s EU Summit time again, and I’m back at the press centre munching free sandwiches, traditionally handed out by the current Presidency so as to avoid insane queues where everybody is trying to pay for their meals. There’s hundreds and hundreds of journalists here, and any attempt to charge money for the food would probably lead to queues the length of Belgium. Where the last in line might get his/her orders in time for the next summit.

The first and second time I visited this event, the catering consisted of incredibly dry baguette rolls with dry chees or ham. Puffs of dust came out as you put your teeth into them. And – they were the only choice.

But that, I understood later, was all due to the presidency of the day, which shall remain unnamed for their culinary crime. Later presidencies have improved the snacks, introduced more variations, and the Portuguese last time offered some quite decent rolls with camembert, which raised my spirits considerably.

The current Slovenian presidency has rightly taken the opportunity to boost interestin its national cuisine, I realised as I just snuck into the press centre to check things out (and, frankly, to get a free snack).  As I said, the Slovenian ham was delicious, and I do hope that my colleagues’ disinclination to try something new and daring doesn’t put this and future presidencies off their attempts to offer something more interesting than air-dried cotton posing as bread.

Let’s see, who’s next in line…. aha, France.  Hmmm. If they do not live up to and beat du pain, du vin, et du Boursin, I shall slam them at their national pride on this blog, eternally shaming them for betraying their proud cuisine. Or something like that.

But first’ I gotta get another one of them ham wraps.

The Princess And I

Friday’s press conference with the Swedish Prime and Foreign Ministers offered a rare opportunity to chat for a moment with the Swedish Crown Princess Victoria as well.

(I say that with the sort of feigned disinterest that befits a journalist who wants to appear as if he is constantly rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty of this world. The awkward truth is that I spend a lot of time in the privacy of my working chambers at home, but don’t tell anyone, will you).

Princess Victoria has been a virtually constant intern at the various levels of Swedish government, preparing for her forthcoming role as Head of State, and had just spent a week serving at the Swedish permanent representation to the EU. There, she kept a low profile, but was still admitted to the Summit as a minister, and allowed to sit in on even the most sensitive of deliberations.

She was not part of the concluding press conference, merely there as an observer. Consequently, she snuck in along one wall after the press conference had started, together with assorted members of the Swedish delgation, and sat on one of the chairs lined up along the wall around the large conference table around which we journalists and the ministers were distributed. It only so happened that she sat right behind me.

There I was, slumped belly-up in those extremely comfortable chairs designed for hours and hours of intra-community haggling, and as the full truth of the event dawned on me, a few TV cameras were already pointing my direction to get a glimpse of the Princess behind me. With me in the forefront, due to the camera angles likely making me appear even larger than in real life, and with my ‘deployed vehicle airbag’ prominently positioned.

In other words: those TV pictures would have showed the future Queen of Sweden only partly visible, peeping forward behind by my big fat tummy.

I checked – it seemed that the TV people were wise enough not to use those images. I call that professional discretion.

The Economist worries about whatever she was doing there, oblivious to the fact that she as Queen will be chairing the Permanent Foreign Comittee of the Swedish Parliament, and thus has every reason to be well-informed from the start. I don’t, because after the press conference, a few of us of course took the chance to exchange a few words with her. She seemed genuinely interested and started questioning us about how we work at these events, in a way that was either professionally faked or professionally inquisitive. While not being much of a royalist, I must confess to havng had a very positive impression of how seriously she seems to take her role.

However, I do regret missing the obvious question that we journalists shared (but didn’t ask her then either) last time she was a Government intern visiting Brussels: “So, how does the Ambassador take his coffee?”

The Cake Was Awful And The Champagne Was Gone

I promised you an update on the Portuguese fiesta at the EU Summit… Well, easily done: The cake was awful and the champagne was gone.

The feast was to commence at 1430, but it only so happened that France was suddenly announcing its press conference to that very time as well. I thought I might go and get a glimpse and a feel of Monsieur Sarkozy, and in any case I wasn’t going to stay for that long. Or so I thought.

The room was packed well beyond its capacity, the heat from people and TV spotlights reaching corresponding levels, and oxygen had run out already before I arrived. I stood and waited, and waited, and waited. Eventually, I the floor started swaying under my feet and I realised I was about to faint, so I managed against all odds to find a free seat. There, I promptly nodded off, only to awake a few moments later to the buzz of a text message arriving in my cell phone and realising that absolutely nothing had happened. An hour and fifteen minutes had gone by and still no Sarkozy. (And no, he hadn’t come and gone while I was dozing).

The text message informed me that there was going to be a press conference with the Swedes immediately, and since I work for a Swedish news organisation, I decided for that to more important. After all, the Swedes usually do turn up on time and all that. So, I went up to the next floor in the EU Council bastion, and waited there together with the entire Swedish press corps for another quarter of an hour or so, before Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s press secretary arrived and informed us that the whole thing was postponed because all the headsofstatengovernment were still in their meeting.

I took a lift back down to the press centre, gleefully passing my French-speaking colleagues on my way, thinking that they’d probably remain sitting there until who knows when, oblivious to the fact that theman they were waiting for still hadn’t risen form the conference table yet. Good time then to have a bite and a sip.

Or so I thought.

It turned out that the champagne had all been consumed by then, by my thirsty colleagues, in spite of alarge group of them being stuck in the Fench briefing room (and another contingent in the German next doors). There were some sweaty pieces of cake left, which I sampled. Some dried-out excuse for a fruit cake, completely clad in what is best described as something between jelly candy and conserved fruit. It felt like eating dried packaging foam with glazed chewing gum.

Blah.

Sunny Portugal

Portugal is trying to put on a charm offensive after being slammed by numbers for insisting on flying all the EU leaders – and Gordon Brown – to Lisbon yesterday just to put their names on a document.

Or so it seems, at least. The Portuguese Presidency is trying to woo journalists here at the EU Smmit’s Press Centre, where I am writing this, by handing out Christmas presents. Everyone gets a windproof jacket with the legend “eu2007.pt” in large letters across the back, unusually enough, together with a book about Portuguese points of interest. Supposedly intended to make us Brussels-based reportes sit around in the standard Belgian winter weather of fog, dark, and ice water pouring from a grey, grey sky, and dream about an Algarve getaway, no doubt.

Quite unusual for a gift, actually. Normally, the Presidencies at most hand out straps that you are supposed to hang your press badge on,  or something of the same 1/magnitude.

Moreover, this afternoon, they have promised to “close with a bang”, as a text message described it some moments ago.

“The Pres. invites you for a Portuguese Xmas cake and a sparkling frong 14h30 at the press centre/main hall”, the message read.

As far as the jackets are concerned, you could always suspect that they just had an extra stockpile lying around that they couldn’t get rid of before ending their presidency. If the same goes for the cake remains to be seen in a few moments – I shall be back with a report.

However, to prove that I have not been bought by this bribery attempt, let me direct you to this wonderful butchery of the Lisbon signing madness, penned by Times journalist Ben Macintyre, who pretty much saw the same thing as the rest of us watching the event online but who describes it far better than anyone else:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article3048452.ece

Happy reading, it’s well worth the extra moments.

You Better Come Home Speedy Gonzales

Sitting at the Press Centre at the EU Summit, I just can’t get the old Pat Boone hit “You Better Come Home Speedy Gonzales” out of my head. Which is of course because his namesake, Spanish ex-Premier Felipe Gonzalez, has just been appointed head of the reflection group that is to ponder the future of the European Union. By his side: a former Latvian Pesident, Vaira Vike-Freiberga – and the former cell phone giant Nokia leader Jorma Ollila.

Ollila was expected and Ms Vike-Freiberga too, but Mr Gonzalez had been ruled out as someone who was as unlikely as Tony Blair to take the helm. Instead, he was chosen to lead the group.

Upon hearing the news, a colleague remarked: “Isn’t there a song about ‘come home Felipe Gonzalez’?” She was soon corrected, of course, but then that old song’s hook was burying itself into at least my cortex: Na-NAAAAA, na na na naaa na na na NAAAAAA, na na na na na na na naaaaaa, na na na na na na na naaaaaaaaaaaaaa…”

Will France Leave The EU?

When the EU had twelve members, one never went against the will of France. When the EU expanded to 15, it could happen. When it went to 25, it became a regular habit. Now, some suspect that France might even leave the EU.

That’s how a top diplomat explained France’s lost glory a few days ago, as a backdrop to why France will be snuck around at tomorrow’s EU Summit in Brussels.

Tomorrow will be the first summit since 1991 where there will be no reference to enlargement in the final document. The reason is, plain and simple, that the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, does not want to admit Turkey, which is next in line to join the club.

This has created outrage already at the Foreign Ministers’ meeting earlier this week, where the Swedish Foreign Secretary Carl Bildt demanded that there be a clearer reference to agreements already made at the EU Summit last December. All seemed to agree – except France.

“My friend Bernard Kouchner was forced to argue without one single matter-of-fact argument – only referring to what France could accept and not accept”, Mr Bildt writes himself about the event on his blog.

However, what France Can Accept and Not Accept does not mean anything anymore internationally, which still seems to be an insight yet to be made in Paris, where the prevailing outlook appears to be that we are still at the year 1777 or so.

Indeed, the French wriggling is already making Mr Sarkozy lose credibility in EU circles, and may even lead to his country losing even more influence in the 27-nation bloc. But due to the various requirements of unanimity in EU procedures, France cannot be completely run over, which is why the rest of the nations will tiptoe around the Turkey issue at this summit.

“We want to avoid a harsh discussion about enlargement at the summit that might cause Sarkozy to say, ‘I’ve had it’, and slam the door on Turkey”, an unnamed top diplomat tells the Financial Times (using words that sound identical to how a top diplomat described the situation to me a few days ago. It makes me suspect that it might very well have been the same person, but that’s beside the point).

But all this is now raising suspicions in EU circles that France may indeed be considering to withdraw from the EU it once so boastfully percived itself of leading. Instead, the reasoning goes, France will look south to form a Mediterranean club of some sort.

It sounds like a wild assumption. But given the way France has behaved so far, it isn’t all that far-fetched if the country wants to put an end to its humiliation – especially since the humiliation hurts the inflated French pride more than it would most other countries.

Meanwhile, it is soon time for France to take the rotating presidency. That may be an interesting time indeed.

Cowardy-Cowardy-Custard

…as we used to chant when I was a little boy in London at anyone backing down from anything scary. This time, I’d be happy to yell that abuse at the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Mr. Brown has a delicate problem. He can’t be seen signing the new EU Constitution Reform Treaty in Lisbon today together with his 26 colleagues from the other EU member states, because that would offend Eurosceptics in his party and in his country (like The Sun, endlessly campaigning against the Constitution Reform Treaty for wringing national sovereignty out of the British government’s hands). He can’t not sign, because that would be too much of a snub that would throw Britain’s position within the EU off balance, and because he has painted himself into the proverbial corner of speaking too much of the document as being just another treaty that doesn’t need to be put to a referendum in Britain, and therefore musnt’t be rejected by Britain at the signatory stage.

So what does he do – choose one opinion and be damned? Nope. He is sending his Foreign Secretary David Milliband to participate in the signatory ceremony, staying at home with the worst excuse in British political history: a schedule conflict has regrettably prohibited him from attending; he will be in Parliament answering questions instead. But, after that, he will fly out to Lisbon to join the rest of the gang for a few drinks – oh, what a coincidence, just after they’ve signed the document – and put his name on it in private. In secret, almost, or at least well away from all the drums and trumpets of the main event.

So acts a spineless amoeba who will avoid taking a stand even at the cost of making an utter, utter fool of hiself.

And to think that this person is to lead Britain instead of having custard pies rightl thrown at him.

Summit Week

As you might have noticed, the top people of the European Union’s member states will convene in Brussels at the end of this week – after flying out on a day trip to Lisbon to sign their names on a piece of paper, taht is.

If they do manage to write all the letters in their own names without piercing themselves to death with their fountain pens or something similar, they will be turning up late Thursday. That means that it’s time to reserve a workspace in the press centre.

Ye faithful readers of this blog know that this isn’t as easy as it seems. At the last few summits, spaces have been harder and harder to get, and at the last one, someone stole mine.

This time I’m going to avenge myself, I thought, and manufactured the most professional-looking sign I could throw together, with my company’s logo and all. I went there some time after 9 am this morning – and indeed, reservations had already started even thpough the workmen were still setting things up – and firmly taped it down. I happened to be there when another group of Swedish journalists arrived in the same business, and decided to join them hoping that the mass effect would be harder to beat (and that we would be friendly enough to keep an eye on eachother’s reswervations, among colleagues and all that). We joked that we should perhaps raise a Swedish flag or something and claim an area as occupied territory, just to be sure.

But I think I’ll follow the example of Associated Press next time. They’ve printed reservation signs on A4-sized stickers, attached permanently to the tables, which means that they have permanent reservations even though the tables in the main press area are folded up and stored away between summits. I saw some that bore visible signs of violent attempts to scrape them off, so the practice may not be all that popular with the press centre staff – but at least it seems to work.

Taking my soldering iron with me and physically enbgraving my name on one of the tables is another thought that has occured to me, but that would increase the risk of the tables being replaced due to damage, and bang goes that smart idea.

Not to mention that I might be reprimanded for it. But then again, I could just make a name up, or write my boss’s.

Can Your Prime Minister Write? Watch The Web For Proof

The EU has – in an act of breathtaking madness – decided to push through with flying its 27 Heads of Government (accompanied by some Heads of State) to Lisbon on December 13 to sign the Lisbon Treaty, only to fly them all back to Brussels for a summit the day after.

I got the formal press information on the matter by text message (SMS) yesterday, which stated that there will be no press conference, but the entire event can be followed on EuroNews or http://www.eu2007.pt , the Portuguese Presidency’s website.

Too bad we journalists will be unable to attend an informative press conference, then, where the questions would doubtlessly be variations of the legend “How did it feel to hold the pen?” But it is reassuring to know that we will be able to watch live on TV when our respective Prime Ministers sign their names on a piece of paper, probably the first photographic evidence that that they are capable of doing so.

After their ludicrous decision to fly themselves all across the entire continent to put a signature on a document, expectations of their capacities in general are not exactly reaching any summit levels.

That’s Some Expensive Ink

No, I’m not talking about InkJet printer stuff – although that’s more precious than gold, but that’s another story – but about the 27 signatures that will be placed on the European Union’s new constitution Reform Treaty on December 13.

The Portuguese, who currently hold the rotating presidency, have finalised the negotiations and have been able to have it branded The Lisbon Treaty. Thus, they want to crown their efforts by having it formally signed in Lisbon as well.

The only problem is that there is supposed to be an ordinary Summit of the EU heads of state and government on that same date – in Brussels. As is customary ever since the EU decided to place all their summits there instead of shifting them around the current presiding nation, a few years ago.

The Portuguese have flatly refused to have the precious Lisbon Treaty signed anywhere else than in Lisbon, even though it’s literally just a question of putting names on pieces of paper. Ok, so are we to move the Summit there, then?

No way, the Belgians have declared. Summits are to be held in Brussels and nowhere else, period.

The solution so far (although no final decision has been taken) is – brace yourselves – that the 27 EU leaders will first fly to Lisbon on December 13 to write their names on a piece of paper. Immediately thereafter, they will all fly to Brussels to resume the rest of the Summit.

No, I am not joking. I do realise that this is hard to believe, so let me link to some other coverage of this outrageous idea, which you can find by clicking here and here.

135 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) is the estimated footprint of these 77,000 kilometres of unnecessary extra travel – just as the EU has decided to reduce CO2 output by 20 per cent. And all, once again, for 27 people to write their names on a piece of paper.

All in the name of national pride.

While you all ponder on why on Earth they can’t just e-mail the final draft around, and tag it electronically, I might add that these precious signatures may be rendered useless, because the Irish, for instance, are still undecided whether or not to vote in favour of it at the subsequent referendum. A few setbacks like that is what killed the previous Constitution, and could very well do so again.

Moreover, the other 26 EU leaders could find themselves turning up in Lisbon between flights only to discover that the 27th can’t sign or maybe isn’t there at all, because there is currently no guarantee that Belgium will have a functioning government by then. In such a case, Belgium will be unable to sign, leaving the other 26 with some unexpected spare time to go shopping in Lisbon or whatever.

And to add insult to injury… they will all be in Lisbon anyway a few days earlier for the EU-Africa summit, but the Portuguese have refused to allow any signing then.

If I am dreaming, then could you please wake me up.

Wise Men Say

Lo and behold, the EU leaders actually did manage to agree on a new constitution sorry, Reform Treaty. Already on Thursday night, that is, not, as I erroneously wrote in a previous blog post, during this weekend. I must have expected negotiations to drag on into the unknown hours, as always, but this time they were finished already at 2 am.

That’s such a stupid macho thing to do, by the way. Do they really think that we are impressed by them squabbling on into the night, emerging red-eyed at some hour no-one can imagine? Especially since they usually don’t get started before late in the afternoon? Is it supposed to be better to negotiate at night, and look tough and uncompromising, than to get some sleep and take discussions with all your mental capacities in place?

The current negotiations about the future Belgian government have been dancing to the same tune, speaking of that. Every other day, we are told on the news that an agreement has been made after hard negotiations at 3 am… 3.30 am… and so on. RUBBISH! I don’t give a toss for any agreement that’s constructed at that hour. Don’t try to tell me that it’s supposed to be better than anything hammered out by people who are awake and alert. And bearing in mind that nocturnal negotiations are usually staged to look nocturnal, when they didn’t have to be, it’s all such a ridiculous attempt at looking potent to the public that it makes my stomach turn.

Anyway. I’m not going to immerse myself in the details of the new constitution sorry, Reform Treaty – there is already, as always, an excellent account of it on EUObserver which you can read by clicking here. However, I do note that in the margin of things, the French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s idea of setting up a panel of “wise men”, to examine the future of the EU in the long to very long term, has been all but dismissedby EU Commissioner Olli Rehn.

I quite understand him. Where in the EU machinery would you actually find any wise men?

Polish Parliament

From 1652 to 1791, the Polish parliament, the Sejm, practised what is known as liberum veto. Each deputy had the right to stop a decision single-handedly, and decisions could only be taken unanimously. This is usually considered one of the reasons why Poland was eventually defeated and parted. In Swedish, this has led to the generic saying “Polish Parliament” (polsk riksdag) as a by-word for any type of anarchy or chaos.

Funny, then, that it is the Polish leadership that is now trying to resuscitate a simliar principle on European Union level. But at this weekend’s informal EU Summitin Lisbon, which is supposed to unify the Union’s leaders around the EU’s new constitution  sorry, Reform Treaty, the Polish twin leaders are bringing a proposal that small minorities should be able to block decisions.

That is probably an attempt that will be applauded on some British editorial pages. However, the backlash on the longer term is of course that once the impotence of such a system is becoming evident, there is a great possibility that there will be calls for even more power to majority votes than today.

However, the question still remains whether or not the constitution  sorry, Reform Treaty will eventually be adopted at all, since it requires the signature of the heads of government – and Belgium still doesn’t have one.

It’s not due to be signed this time, but rather at the December official summit. We shall see whether or not there is a Belgian govermnent in place by then.

Euromyths Revisited

Just discovered that there’s been a broken link since April to the great compilation of Euromyths I wrote about in this blog post. So, here it is again. Oh, it’s so nice I’ll post it twice, in plain text too: http://ec.europa.eu/unitedkingdom/press/euromyths/index_en.htm

Told You So!

Well, it’s Friday evening at 10pm, and the EU Summit is still going on. Judging from the latest reports, they’ll be haggling long into Saturday as well, and if you were planning to have a European Prime Minister for dinner on Sunday, don’t be too surprised if s/he doesn’t turn up.

They’re slowly being roasted elsewhere, a few storeys up in the Justus Lipsius Building on Rue de la Loi, Brussels.

I thought this summit would be lengthy, but I must say I am surprised at how long it seems that it will be. Apparently, Britain’s and Poland’s objections have tunred out to be harder to overcome than expected, and now France has thrown another spanner in the works – or should I say “wooden clog”, sabot in French, the throwing of which into machines during early Industrialism coined the term sabotage – by seemingly tried to delete the EU’s focus on free competition.

This is seriously outrageous. If there’s anything the EU has got right – apart from  being able to prevent war in pour part of the world – then it is to fight for good competition for the benefit of European consumers. Just look at how they’ve take on Microsoft, noone else has done that! And if there’s something France is god at, it’s state-aid, protectionism, and anything else that distorts free competition. And now Monsieur Sarkozy wants that to become EU policy?

Sure, he has all kinds of explanations why this isn’t really the case, and so on. But I get the creeps when the first effort of the new French President is to overthrow the good work the EU is doing and plunge it down into the mire of oligarchy.

Not to mention that the EU has problems already with this summit.

It’s Going To Take The Weekend

Now I’ve heard it from one of the highest possible sources: This EU Summit will probably go on and on into the weekend.

Not even the official programme says much about Friday’s schedule, unusually enough, but satisfies with the legend “Further information on the day’s programe and timetable will be sent later”. Which, as I said, was confirmed by a top source this morning.

That’s great. That means I won’t have to be here this evening, but can sneak out soon.

Moan, Moan

Got to moan a bit more about the EU Summit’s press centre: The sandwiches may be free, but are ever drier than last time. In fact, I suspect that they probably are leftovers from last time.

That’s the punishment I get, I suppose, from complaining about it when interviewed by a German radio station last time.

Someone Stole My Seat!

It wasn’t enough that I went to the EU Summit press centre the day before yesterday and reserved the last available workstation. Today, as I arrived here, someone had taken my place.

I’m not going to make a big song and dance about it – it works to sit on a sofa, too, as long as the WiFi connection works.

I’ll just refer to my nice colleagues here as vultures and leave it at that.

Why Can’t They Sleep Like Normal People?

Over the next few days, you’ll probably hear about your usual politicians’ heroic efforts to fight for your country’s interests late through the night at the upcoming EU summit, which starts Thursday, and where 27 heads of state and government are to fight over a new EU Constitution sorry, treaty no not really, er, additional treaty, or what was it we were going to call it so as not to offend anyone?

Anyway. It’s all fine and dandy that they work hard. What I can’t understand is why they have to go on and on into the night.

It probably looks very heroic and macho to say that “we fought into the wee hours, and we beat the others at about half past four because we were the only ones able to stay awake” et cetera ad nauseam. But then you should know that they don’t even start the meeting until 17.00 (5pm).

Serious. It’s always like that. They drop in around 5pm in the biggest flood of motorcades you’ve seen (tip: if you’re planning a traffic offense in Belgium, try Thursday-Friday, because I can guarantee you that there isn’t a motorcycle policeman anywhere else in the whole country). An hour later, it’s time for the famous “family photo”, where they all line up for a pic – and which is a common source of bickering over who gets to stand where, thus able to be percieved as more important, and who gets to join in last, thus able to be percieved as more important.

(The image shown here is the “family photo” from the last summit, in March, happily nicked from the German Presidency’s web site. If you are able to count to more than 27 people on this picture, you’re right, since a wide selection of foreign ministers and other similar types of people usually join them. I can’t decide if Angela Merkel is either trying to conduct everyone into place, pushing back Jan-Peter Balkenende for getting too intimate, waving farewell to Jacques Chirac as this was his last summit, or if she’s simply praying for Mr Chirac. Romano Prodi, who used to head the EU Commission but now tries to steer Italy, poor chap, seems like he’s made enough friends during his EU years to share a few jokes. Guy Verhofstadt is obviously pondering whether or not he remembered to tie his shoes, Tony Blair has his eyes fixed on the exit already, and Fredrik Reinfeldt looks like he’s thinking “can we please just get on with it so I can go to the bathroom?”)

Anyway. Only then do they get down to some serious business, and of course that takes forever and a day. The day after, they’re actually supposed to be finished around late lunchtime.

Now, you have to remember that most of the hard work is usually carried out by their ambassadors and their delegations in advance. But still – a time schedule like this is astonishing. Why can’t they get to work at nine o’clock in the morning like ordinary people do? Would that look too bland? Like you’d notice, given the blandness of the rest of the EU?

The latest gossip here in Brussels is that they’ll have to extend the summit into the weekend as well, because they probably won’t be able to agree. Well, fellas, maybe you could have avoided that if you’d got started a little earlier.

…And More Vultures

Speaking about vultures, I just popped into the Summit Press Centre at the EU Council’s building Justus Lipsius to reserve a workstation.

At the December summit, I went to reserve a place some a day or so before the summit, and then, there were about 30 left. Last time, I went there a little earlier, and then there might have been, say, 20 left. This time, I was almost unable to find ONE. Well, eventually I did, but it was a close shave.

The thing is, you want to be in the courtyard (see image), where all the action is. There are more workstations two storeys underground insome hopeless cellar (basement), as there are a few more spread out in various other areas as well. And that’s what most other colleagues think, too.

Worst of all is that I live in Brussels, but was beaten by a few hundred journalists who are only here for the summit! Seems like I have a few more tricks to learn…

I was here at the end of last week (but then they hadn’t finished setting everything up yet) and could have easily driven past here on Sunday (but then they probably wouldn’t have let me in). But it seems that you have to keep the building under constant surveillance and rush in there as soon as things are set up, providing they don’t jail you for keeping the building under surveillance, that is.

Security is majestical during these events, but I suppose I’ll write more about that later during this week.

Vultures

This week is Summit week, when the European Union’s Heads of State and Government (I almost typed “Hades” instead of “Heads”, now there’s a Freudian slip if I ever saw one) gather to adopt a Constitution taht isn’t a constitution or whatever. And already, the vultures are gathering.

Literally. Flocks of Spanish Griffon vultures have flown north in search for food, because they are unable to find any at home since Spanish farmers have stopped dropping cattle carcasses in the open. A flock was recently seen in Ghent, not to far from Brussels.

So. Why Belgium? Why (almost) Brussels? Why right now, when the Hades Heads of State and Government are here too? Why right now, when flocks of journalists are here as well? Why at the very summit which is desperately trying to, ehrm, revive the EU Constitution?

I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.