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Last Updated: Saturday, 2 October, 2004, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
Roxburgh's EU diary: September
Angus Roxburgh takes a wry look at life in Brussels.

I've always felt the EU would do best to avoid stunts with unfortunate associations - balloons (hot air), circuses (clowns), etc.

Nonetheless, Eurocrats and Euro-hangers-on returned from the summer break this month to find a huge multi-coloured tent occupying the entire Schuman roundabout, in the heart of the EU district of Brussels.

Inside this circus big top was an elaborate display, using photo-montage, cartoons, captions and cardboard cut-outs, to trace the history of Europe - from the Big Bang (no less) to the present... and well into an imaginary future.

The exhibition was sponsored by the Dutch government, currently in charge of EU business, and its vision was one of relentless progress...

A few years from now, the euro becomes the world's favoured reserve currency, rather than the dollar.

In 2007 the EU is joined not just by Bulgaria and Romania but by Iceland, Norway, Croatia and Switzerland. Others, from Armenia to Albania, apply to join.

In 2015, "the southern half of the Roman Empire returns" - with Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Jordan, Israel and Palestine joining. The EU becomes known simply as "The Union".

And how serious are the authors of this vision?

Well, in 2012, they say, to simplify things Chinese is chosen as the EU's "single language". Ah, I see!


Makeover

The Berlaymont, the huge cross-shaped headquarters of the European Commission, is finally ready for reopening next month, when the new Commission moves in.

Berlaymont
The revamped Berlaymont will be the source of EU legislation

The paving stones and flower beds are in place, and 25 flagpoles, which they can't quite decide what to do with, not wishing to appear premature.

One day they sport 25 blue-and-yellow EU flags, the next just one. Today as I look out my window at them, there is no flag at all. Tricky business, EU protocol.

The building has been closed for 12 years for refurbishment and now sports tilting, heat-sensitive window slats, state-of-the-art air conditioning and energy-saving ceilings.

Perfect conditions, then, for cool thinking in the commissioners' huge offices on the top three floors.


Qualifications

All 24 prospective commissioners have, meanwhile, spent the month filling in two questionnaires about their suitability for their jobs.

Peter Mandelson
Peter Mandelson faces a grilling from MEPs next week
It's the sort of thing mere mortals do before they are appointed to a job, but commissioners get the job first and then have to explain why they want it.

"For all my political life I have been interested in Europe's development," said the UK's Peter Mandelson, trade commissioner-designate. Predictable, but worth saying.

Ingrida Udre, the commissioner from Latvia, by contrast, was quick to point out that she had learnt teamwork skills by "playing basketball at an international level".

That must be what the strangely shaped outcrop on top of the Berlaymont is - a basketball court, to help them all get on together.


Job allocation

And so to the hearings before the European parliament which began at the end of the month - a three-hour political trial for each commissioner-designate before committees of MEPs acting as judge, jury and if need be executioner.

In some cases the parliamentary rottweillers expressed surprise at the choice of portfolios given to some commissioners.

If you were Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, the president of the Commission, who would you put in charge of the Commission's regional aid budget, accounting for a third of total spending?

Why, a Pole of course.

Poland will be getting most of the cash, after all, so at least they know what they're talking about.

Actually, Danuta Hubner put up a convincing defence, expressing her determination not to allow EU governments to reduce their payments to the budget, which went down well.

Jose Manuel Durao Barroso
Has Barroso made the right choices?
I'm sure she'll save some for other needy countries.

And what about the agriculture portfolio?

Hmm, let's give that to a Danish woman whose husband is a farmer.

And the competition commissioner, vetting corporate mergers and takeovers?

Well, I know a very good Dutch woman who runs dozens of big companies.

Her name is Neelie Kroes. Would she do? Perfect. I suppose she'll have to give up the jobs?

Oh yes.

At her hearing, when not being gnashed by the chief rottweiler, Paul van Buitenen, who wants her dragged before a criminal court for alleged improprieties during her time as a government minister, Ms Kroes said her directorships of major companies (now duly given up) made her the perfect woman for the job.

You wouldn't want a football referee, she opined, who didn't understand football. Nor a farming commissioner who didn't understand farms. Or a regional aid commissioner who didn't understand poverty.

Conflict of interest? Of course not.




SEE ALSO:
At-a-glance: EU commissioners
27 Sep 04 |  Europe
Grilling for EU commissioners
27 Sep 04 |  Europe


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