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Thursday, 24 October, 2002, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
Diary: Stuck in Brussels

Denmark has been robbed! And so has the world's press!

The mid-term summit of EU leaders always used to be held somewhere beautiful

We could be somewhere gorgeous this week - Elsinore, perhaps. Instead we are stuck in Brussels, where we always are. Harrumph.

And it is all Jacques Chirac's fault.

One of the delights of the European Union's six-month rotating presidencies - perhaps the only delight - was the chance it gave each member-country to showcase some of its finest cities.

The mid-term summit of EU leaders was always held somewhere beautiful - recent ones have been at an Austrian lakeside resort, in deepest Finland, in Lisbon, Biarritz, Barcelona, and so on. But no more, thanks to one of the silliest of many silly decisions taken in the small hours of the last night of the Nice Summit in December 2000.

Not even a bite of Danish fish to look forward to at the end of the day

As Belgium was holding up final agreement, quibbling about getting one less vote in EU meetings than Holland, President Chirac came up with a proposal to break the deadlock: from mid-2002 all mid-term summits would be held in Brussels.

So here we are. Two days of Euroheadaches in prospect, and not even a bite of Danish fish to look forward to at the end of the day.

And imagine - soon all summits (four a year) will be held here. This was not why the EU was invented!

  • As the roadblocks go up around the European institutions area of Brussels, most of its citizens fail to understand what was so good about the suggestion anyway.

    Brussels just does not have the same ring to it as Biarritz

    It means that every few months they will be plagued with traffic jams, barbed wire, and quite likely violent demonstrations.

    As for the ladies and gentlemen of the press, who normally flock to these picturesque summits in their thousands, this time, for some reason, they are less keen.

    Brussels just does not have the same ring to it as Biarritz.

  • When is a summit not a summit? When it is a council, stupid.

    Officially, all these EU summits are known as European Councils - a fact that has ruined many a decent soundbite.

    If politicians aim to bring Europe closer to its people, they could start by using our language

    I recall the Gothenburg Summit (as we referred to it), where some clever dick in the Foreign Office trained Tony Blair in what purported to be the correct Swedish pronunciation of the city's name.

    At the closing news conference, the prime minister had almost delivered something we could have used on the Six O'Clock News, then ruined it by saying how pleased he was with the "Yuttebury Council".

    Was this some New Labour gain in local elections? Did he mean Canterbury Council? Let's hope that this week he does not try "Bruxelles" and calls a council a summit.

    If politicians aim to bring Europe closer to its people, they could start by using our language.

  • Not that you can have too many councils in the EU. Or presidents.

    We already have three - the president of the commission, the president of the parliament, and the president of the council of ministers.

    Now, it seems, we are to have a president who will rule over all of the others

    Not to mention the president of the committee of the regions, a little-known figure who goes by the name of Bore.

    Yet now, it seems, we are to have a president of the Yet-to-be-Decided-What-We-Call-This-One, who will rule over the whole lot.

    That is what President Chirac proposed; this month Britain seconded it; and Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder even persuaded President Romano Prodi (of the commission) to share out the title a little, over supper at the Michelin-starred Truffe Noire restaurant in Brussels, sorry, Bruxelles.

    The Convention on the Future of Europe is considering this suggestion - oh yes, under its president, Valery Giscard d'Estaing.


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