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Last Updated: Friday, 17 June 2005, 21:35 GMT 22:35 UK
Diary: EU crisis summit
European leaders faced difficult discussions in Brussels to try to break the deadlock over the budget, after several states announced the postponement of their referendums on the constitution. The BBC's Europe Editor Mark Mardell was there - keeping a summit diary.

18 June 2005

Career choices and househunting

It was worth all the stale baguettes to see Tony Blair more fired up than I've ever seen him.

The British team aren't quite chanting "here we go here we go" but they are ready for this fight, furious with Chirac, determined to win.

The brand new Europe Minister Douglas Alexander, chortling, claps me on the back and says "well, we both made bad career choices, didn't we?"

This of course isn't about the details of the budget. It's about two visions of Europe, crudely the Anglo Saxon model versus the French.

Chirac was as magisterially rude in his news conference as ever, but his great nightmare is that when Schroeder loses the German elections, his replacement, Angela Merkel, will form an alliance with Blair.

She's very pro-American, cautiously pro-economic reform and socially liberal.

17 June 2005

Stale baguettes and late bars

This always happens. Someone has predicted it's all going to break up by lunch time but somehow tea time, supper time, dinner time have all passed and I'm still here chewing on a stale baguette, waiting for the leaders to come out with their final statements.

The feeling is that the Presidency, which means the people in the chair, which means the Luxembourg prime minister are trying to isolate Britain.

They offered a deal that would carve 1bn off Britain's rebate and promised a fundamental review of the budget - excluding the Common Agricultural Policy.

Much of that billion would have gone not to the new countries from the east but France. Mr Blair thought that "unacceptable".

The bad news is they gone back into another big meeting, the Dutch say there'll be another attempt to find a deal, the engineers have taken their fan back into the lorry, the presidential and prime ministerial planes have been put on standby for 0200, and the latest late bar will be closed by the time we've finished.

Snoozes and sorry presents

It is that time in a summit where you hang on to ever precious rumour and squeeze it dry for meaning.

Chirac, Schroeder and Berlusconi have just left the summit. So is it all over?

No, they left without their entourages, so could they be cooking up a cunning plan?

No again - more like a siesta. They are returning at six local time for another meeting.

Old hands look despairing and say to each other "Do you remember Nice?"

That was the summit that went long into the night and where newspapers featured pictures of a colleague from Sky snoozing on the floor.

One of the perks of covering these summits used to be that the host country would put the show on at the most exotic location they could find and give you presents.

I missed Dublin so never got the smoked salmon, but I'm still rather fond of a terracotta water jug from Greece.

When I returned home with this, a bottle of wine and some olive oil my son acutely said "Isn't that a bribe?"

But now all the summits are held in Brussels and we are trapped in an airless basement.

There are no bribes or sorry presents, beyond free black coffee. I have a horrible feeling we might need lots of it.

Although it is difficult to think what they might be talking about, we know Britain has now put up the idea that the new eastern countries could stop paying their bit of the rebate.

But frankly that is small beer. The Swedes say there is no point carrying on. The Italians threaten to use their veto. And Chirac has magisterially dismissed the idea of talking about agricultural reform.

Hitting the pause button

I'm told the dinner of prime ministers and presidents was a very relaxed affair but permeated with an air of unreality.

Schroeder in particular is said to have been in a daze, unable to believe the constitution is dead and his own political career is over.

Some of the leaders think that the "pause" is just like the button on their DVD, that they can really hit it a year or two later and the constitution will keep playing out.

But probably the most worrying consequence of a delay is that it stops new countries joining the EU - not just Turkey but Croatia and other Balkan states.

Some worry that without the hope of joining the club there will no reason to curb old ethnic enmities.

16 June 2005

An air of unreality

Jean Claude Junker once prematurely announced the death of Yasser Arafat to a startled press. Perhaps that is why he has been so cautious about announcing the death of the constitution.

There was an air of unreality about the news conference of the prime minister of Luxembourg, who chaired tonight's meeting. He talks as though he really believes that in a couple of years' time, there will be new referendums on the same constitution.

But the British Government believes this is progress.

Chirac and Schroeder left the meeting first without speaking to the media. They had wanted the votes to carry on as if nothing had happened.

But the Czechs, the Danes, the Poles - all those who faced referendum defeat in their own country - forced them to back down.

Mr Junker was announcing a step towards reality through gritted teeth, a step he did not really wish to take.

Prime ministers and presidents only

I am in a transitional phase, neither quite of Westminster nor quite of Brussels, moving from being Chief Political Correspondent to being Europe Editor.

The difference sank in looking at the 26 pages of the Luxembourg "Financial perspective 2007-2013, negotiating box".

My snap judgement, "Blair can't go for this", has to be supplemented by an opinion on what Spain will think of "application of a percentage to the above absolute amount in order to determine that region's financial envelope". Mmm.

The best bit so far has been the bar.

Friends would say that's typical, but I didn't have a single drink. Indeed I wouldn't be allowed one, but it was fascinating to be shown round this rather exclusive bar, immediately outside the room where the European Council meets.

Only prime ministers and presidents are allowed in here, no civil servants or diplomats.

Its refurbishment was paid for by the Dutch, and the giant smoke extractors are painted with quaint scenes of old Holland.

It has the feel of a 1960s senior common room - with vast green armchairs, each paired with a silver ashtray on a stand.

In addition, each of the 25 countries has donated a special chair.

The British one is a white plastic dish, again rather 60s, but my favourites are the swooping elegant carved Spanish one and the deliberately primitive Finnish chair made with logs of birch.


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