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Last Updated: Friday, 18 June, 2004, 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK
Chocolate and stoicism at summit

By Guto Harri
BBC political correspondent in Brussels

Pieces of chocolate
At least there is free chocolate for journalists at the EU summit
What is the mood? It is a fair question and it is often asked; especially when negotiations are taking place behind closed doors and no-one outside them really knows if a deal is taking shape.

It is also asked when the details are too complicated or tedious to explore in a brief television exchange.

It is therefore being asked a lot today

The best any of us can hazard is a guess.

There are hundreds of journalists here - but they're almost all in the same boat - hunched over desks or hanging around bars in a heavily guarded press centre.

You pick up accreditation, you pick up free coffee, croissants, baguettes, chocolate and water.

You can also pick up plenty of documents.

Beyond the line

But the real action is elsewhere in the building - across a line we cannot cross.

Stand outside one entrance and you can shout a question at the various delegates.

If you are lucky - you might elicit a word or two in reply.

But once they are in - the leaders are protected from the press as well as the public by thick glass, walls and armed police.

In the end of course - there will be a story, and it will be big

Regulars at these summits seem reconciled to the ritual. It becomes a familiar routine and it is easily followed.

But few settings have so little colour or character.

I have seen car parks with more architectural distinction, and the flags plonked in front of the cameras in the central quad do little to decorate it.

It is called the Justus Lipsius building, named after a 16th-Century Belgian scholar who advocated a Stoic-inspired ideal of constancy in the face of unpleasant external events.

Open criticism

That stoic attitude is needed here - because reporting these summits is more about perseverance than inspiration.

It is therefore particularly welcome when a government briefing not only goes through the motions but reveals some of the true tension behind the scenes.

Such was the case this morning when the prime minister's official spokesman was openly critical of the negative tactics of France and Germany.

Describing their approach as "unfortunate" might not sound like severe condemnation, but every seasoned Westminster watcher knows just what it means.

We now know that there was a big row last night over dinner, that the upbeat aspirations for the summit have soured and that a deal, if one can be reached, will be one that's quietly resented by at least some countries.

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