Indeed, I survived the Luxembunker, but I’m not sure the delegations will.
I got home at 23.30, sank down on my couch with my wife and watched a movie, and I’ll go get myself a nice snack and enjoy it in my robe as soon as I’ve finished writing this.
That’s not what the ministers and their delegations are experiencing.
The interpreters at the Agriculture Ministers’ meeting were scheduled to be on duty until midnight, we learned this afternoon. Later, people familiar with the matter informed us journalists, there will be nightly discussions and general haggling into the wee hours, until times probably ujnknown to the rest of mankind, and then they’re supposed to be back at tomorrow’s leg of the meeting starting at 10.00. (I won’t be at Day Two for other reasons, but that’s another story.)
Moreover, since these are ministers and delegations from all the four…teen corners of the EU, most of them have had to set off at who knows what hour this morning – some testified to having rolled out of bed at 05.00. A full 24-hour shift… followed by another one. And then back to the usual soup of urgent issues, parliamentary questions, documents and issues piling up, public visits, meetings with voters, industrialists, organisations, reporters digging their noses in the wastepaper baskets, etc etc etc etc.
The fun thing is that the EU – well, not the Agriculture Ministers, but still – has recently adopted a working hours directive that severely curbs workers’ ability all over the whole EU to work too long hours. Hospitals and other shift-working places have already had to reschedule their staff quite extensively to comply with the new rules.
And yet… the EU ministers fail to apply the working hour rules to themselves.
I raised this issue with one delegation member, who immediately promised that the EU’s new working hour rules would most certainly be applied when her country took the rotating presidency. Or so we hope.
But as I sit here, comfortable and snug in my sofa in my own home with my family close by, I can’t help but think. Yes, their jobs may be well paid. Yes, they may have all earthly power and glory within their area at their command or something like that. Yes, they may even be flying Learjets through the night.
But for all the perks and fringe benefits in the world… I certainly wouldn’t like to trade places with them.
Still no name in sight concerning who held the pen when putting the Berlin declaration into text. Bah, I knew it! It was probably the product of a committee, or written by Frau Dr Merkel herself. Just when you thought it was going to get entertaining.
Anyway. As always, it’s a fun sport to sift through the layers of political science nonsense to see what is not in the text.
One such thing is to read the penultimate paragraph in the declaration and see how they wriggle around trying to avoid using the word “Constitution”. Germany wants one, the French, Dutch, British and other assorted people do not, and the general sentiment in most other countries seems to be “let’s not ask” for fear of getting the wrong answer.
Having a Constitution for the EU is the final nail in the coffin for national supremacy, and the cradle for a European superstate, the reasoning behind that goes. (I’m not quite sure how something can be both a nail and a cradle at the same time, but that’s beside the point.)
So, in order to make everyone happy, Ms-Dr-Merkel’s-secretary-or-whoever-the-unlucky-fellow-was-who-had-to-write-the-final-draft had to try to write “let’s get us a Constitution before 2009” without actually writing “let’s get us a Constitution before 2009”. The resulting euphemistic acrobacy can be enjoyed ->here<-.
Christianity was also deined access in the final round, in spite of heavy lobbying on its part by especially the Poles, at least for a mention.
I’m a Christian by choice and deepest convincement, but still quite divided on whether or not Christianity should be in such a declaration as this. True, Europe is founded on 2,000 years of Christian ethics. This is an historic fact and nothing to try to hide, and then Turkey can rant as much as it likes about the EU being a ‘Christian Club’ to divert attention from its chronic inability of learning to spell the legend h-u-m-a-n r-i-g-h-t-s.
On the other hand, throughout those last 2,000 years, every attempt to impose Christianity from the top in society has ended painfully. The simple reason is that true Christianity lies in the heart of the believer and cannot be commanded forth. And my freedom to advocate and exercise my faith can only be guaranteed in a society that also guarantees others the freedom to refrain from doing so. Freedom, by definition, involves the right to make one’s own choices.
“One Nation Under God” works in the US, where a large number of people voluntarily confess some sort of faith, and there is no history of religious oppression. But in Europe, I’m afraid a similar statement would only provoke a generally negative counter-response. And that is exactly what I, as a Christian, want to avoid.
In other words: If you want to reach Europeans with the Gospel, you’d better avoid conjuring up collective memories of state churches controlling all aspects of life, memories of which lie just beneath the surface.
Not to mention that the true Gospel includes the freedom of option for each individual to reject it.
Among the more peculiar attempts to raise some sort of festive mood in the adent of the European Union’s 50th birthday was a recent football (soccer) game between Manchester United and a team named Europe XI at the Old Trafford. The announcement of this led to some amused questions by journalists, and EU Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen found it necessary at at least two different press conferences to repeatedly underline that the Commissioners themselves would not take part in that team. To the general dismay for those of us who might have wanted to see Mr Barroso et consortes get a good tackle or so.
Anyway. This spurred my imagination into thinking how the EU institutions would perform as a football team.
First, there is no manager. There is a collective of 27 people all trying to influence coaching, but they can only give general directions, mostly in the neighbourhood of “Strategy: Put ball into goal“. They take turn organising the training, which means that strategy changes every six months.
Second, there is a captain, but he can only propose what to do. The decisions are taken by yet another body of 27 managers, the composition of which changes depending on whether we are talking which way e.g. the goalkeeper or the forwards should go.
Third, the supporter club insists on having opinions about everything and anything, but does not have the power to really change much. And a number of members in the supporter club cheer for opposing teams or want their team to be dismantled altogether.
Fourth, because of the constant infighting within the team, it has set up its own court to settle disputes between them. This doesn’t stop some of them from grumbling that they’d be better off leaving the field altogether, maybe joining another team. However, there’s really no established way for such transfers.
Fifth, outside the dressing room are a number of other players wanting very badly to get on the team, and they are usually let in without much further ado. Except one, because it refuses to seek professional help for its sado-masochistic tendencies. This leaves the field increasingly crowded with players who keep running in all directions, sometimes charging towards their own goal.
Sixth, everybody keeps shouting their opinions in their own language. Since they cannot agree on using a comon one, the field is even more crowded by an army of translators, who have to follow their every step. Since things sometimes get lost in translation, the left forwards insist that everyone should use their language.
Seventh, the team spends considerable time arguing against the referee, in spite of the real risk of being sent off the field.
Eighth, it is plagued by hooligans, many of which believe there should be no game altogether, or even that the entire sport should be abolished.
In other words – sounds just like Arsenal.
(For those of you who wonder: The match ended 4-3 to Man U.)
Some time ago, I enjoyed a great sermon in my church along the lines of “You’ve Got Two Choices”.
Before saying anything else, I should add that my church is NOT into whacking people over their heads with simple fix-all solutions. (I would run for the door if that would ever happen, let me assure you.) Rather, its preachers usually draw upon their own experiences, pains, struggles and joys to help and encourage.
Anyway. I remembered this as I realised that I could choose to look at my life right now in two different ways.
1) Ten years ago this month, I was living in Brussels, I was cold and soaked, I was broke, I felt I had accomplished very little in life, I had no idea about the future, and I was driving an old automatic gearbox car that cost a lot of money in repairs. Today, I am living in Brussels, I am cold and sometimes soaked, I am broke, I feel I had accomplished very little in life, I have little idea about the future, and I am driving an old automatic gearbox car that costs a lot of money in repairs.
2) Ten years ago this month, I was living in a crummy, run-down shambolic useless excuse for an apartment, which my then girlfriend Y could hardly visit for fear of the neighbourhood, I had no job, no family, precious little food, and no education. Today, I am living in a beautiful apartment, my girlfriend Y now having become my wife, in a neighbourhood which is as safe as it gets, I have a great job, two wonderful children, food on the table, and a BA.
Both ways of looking at the last ten years are equally true factually speaking. The entire difference is in what we journalists would call “the angle”, or, to put it into the context where I started, which choice I make when thinking of things.
I began writing this by hand, scribbled on the back of an EU Council agenda, standing up in the middle of a steel can of compressed human flesh commonly known as The Brussels Metro. In a fit of desperation to control my claustrophobia, that is.
Yes, I know, anyone who has ever managed to squeeze him/herself down the London Tube during rush hour, or, as I understand, onto any train in Japan at any given point, will probably think I am whining about nothing. But the Brussels Metro has this strange, rubbery, CO2-filled stench, which adds quite considerably to the nausea already originating from the combination of being compressed into corned beef together with a group of total strangers, the stop-go rolling and tumbling of the train itself, fatigue, hunger and general angst. Blah.
It gets hot, too, and it is as dimly lit as every other public place in Brussels. So maybe it is an attempt by the ever-present Catholic Church to remind us, poor travelling souls, of the perils at the next underground level that awaits the sinners? In fact, some days, you almost wonder how deep underground the Metro train goes, come to that. Maybe that stench is brimstone, after all.
The funny thing is that the trains are usually about as long as half the platforms at the stations. So why, oh why, can’t they just add on a few cars?