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.

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.