Going Bananas

I am writing this sitting in the back row of the main press briefing room at the European Council’s bastion. Today, we are all being told everything there is to know about Monday’s General Affairs and External Relations Coucil, with the EU’s chronic knack for acronyms usually called GAERC.

The briefing is off the record, but I managed to sneak up my camera and fire away this shot from my seat to give you an idea about what it looks like (don’t tell anyone, will you).

Waitaminit, you may ask now. What on Earth has a journalist covering the food industry got to do with the monthly meeting of foreign ministers?

The answer is that food issues more often than you think make their way even into foreign policy, international relations, and diplomacy. The reason that triggered my visit today was to find out whether or not there will be any discussion about banana imports, which apparently has ended up on the foreign ministers’ table between dossiers to be considered on US missile shields, Sudan and Darfur, the Middle East, the Balkans, and other things that you might have thought of more importance.

So far, there has been no mention about bananas, but there has been mention about the ongoing meat crisis between Poland and Russia. As you may or may not be aware of, Russia has blocked all meat imports from Poland due to alleged health safety concerns – or, if you ask the Polish, in order to punish the country for its outspokenness against Russia. Poland is one of the former Communist bloc nations that most enthusiastically threw itself into the arms of all things Western as soon as the Iron Curtain was lifted, and many suspect the Russians of wanting to make a point.

Regardless of what you think about that, it is an observable fact that Russia is putting on an impressive procrastination performance in order to stall any and every attempt to solve the issue. The latest correspondence came from Moscow only yesterday, and is already considered way inadequate here in Brussels.

The jury is still out on whether this feud will wreck the entire upcoming summit between the EU and Russia. Everyone assures us that the summit won’t be called off, but the very fact that such talk is circulating gives you an idea about how big this issue has become.

This is just how far-reaching effects all things food sometimes have. It is not merely a matter of eating to stay alive; food contains so much of culture, national pride, identity and politics that a heap of meat can ruin the relations between two of the world’s mightiest powers.

The defence ministers will also meet, but, so far, food related issues are not being discussed by them, I am happy to say. But don’t be surprised if that happens, too, one bad day. The world is smaller than we think.

Wait, now they’re talking bananas after all. Got to go!

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