EU leaders are holding a one day informal summit on Thursday at Hampton Court Place near London with the presidency of the British government under something of a cloud.
By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website
UK presidency: in which direction?
There have been murmurings in the ranks. Brave Slovakia has spoken up. Its Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said recently: "Silence reigns. We do not have information. We lack information, especially from the presiding country."
Slovakia has reason to be worried. It, along with other new entrants, is hoping for hefty sums from the EU budget from 2007 but there is no agreement on spending for that period and little sign of a plan from the British government.
The British Prime Minster Tony Blair says that he intends to tackle this at the regular end-of-year summit in December. He wants Hampton Court to concentrate on something larger - how Europe reacts to globalisation.
Carts and horses
"We do not see Thursday as being about future financing," said a British official. "We have to set direction and then resolve how to get a result in the budget. That is the proper way to do it. We cannot put the cart before the horse."
Nevertheless, Mr Blair has been forced to write to his colleagues promising to talk to each of them about the budget in good time. There might not yet be a plan but there is a promise.
So nobody knows how the budget issue will eventually be resolved. Will there be a grand compromise under which Britain puts its budget rebate back on the table in exchange for another look at the levels of farm support? Or will the French President Jacques Chirac demand a reduction in the rebate anyway?
"If a result is achieved then there has to be some move on agriculture from the French and on the rebate from the British," said Terence Wynn, a British Labour Member of the European Parliament.
There is in any case not much appetite for a discussion on globalisation. Mr Blair's original plan for an overnight meeting, with perhaps a mock Tudor banquet stretching far into the night, has been reduced to a day trip.
And everyone already has his or her own idea about globalisation.
The French don't like it. They see it as a hard hearted "Anglo-Saxon" free for all. The British do like it. They see it as the way to solve unemployment. But there are other views and models - the Scandinavian, the Dutch.
A pamphlet issued by the European Movement this week challenged the two models concept: "The idea of two absolutely distinct "Anglo-Saxon" and "European social" models within the European Union does not stand up to scrutiny. The EU's approach to facing up to the challenges of globalisation would be better served without recourse to such caricatures," it stated.
The President of the Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso wants to throw money at it. He has proposed a multi-billion-euro fund to help workers who lose their jobs from it.
So there is boredom about the agenda item and frustration about the off-agenda item.
And all this on top of the failure of the EU constitution which has left the EU drifting.
There has therefore has been much talk of a "failed" presidency.
Six weeks only?
To be fair, this presidency has really only been going for about six weeks and still has to the end of December to make its mark.
And it has after all already notched up one success - the start of membership talks with Turkey.
Why six weeks, when the presidency began on 1 July?
Sir Michael Butler, former British ambassador to the EU and a man who knows the rhythm of life in Brussels only too well, points out that the second of the two six-month-long presidencies barely gets going in July. Then everyone goes on holiday until mid September.
"It is not sensible to write the thing off now," he remarked.
Nevertheless the atmosphere is not good. "The prospects are not all that brilliant," accepted Sir Michael, who is Chairman of the lobby group Britain in Europe, now part of the European Movement.
The six-month presidency
The EU presidency is an idea whose time has gone.
Once, in the Common Market of six, you got a turn every three years. Now, with 25 members, you wait 12.
However, many small member states value the rotation as it gives them influence.
Documents about the negotiations on the British rebate agreement in 1984 and released to the BBC News website under the Freedom of Information Act shows that having the presidency does count.
A British official wrote: "The Irish do not want to be landed with the consequences of failure during their Presidency. But they have no clout in the meantime." That's hard-nosed politics.
The EU constitution called for a full-time President of the European Council (the body made up of heads of state or government) on a five-year term to give overall direction and a grouping of several member states to control the decision-making Councils.
However, the constitution is in cold storage and so the current system of presidencies continues, for better or for worse.