Thursday, September 23, 2010

Brussels Bubble


Today I spent my time learning lots of new words and phrases, some very evocative and others mildly puzzling. Examples include: ‘Brussels bubble’ (what is going on in EU government), ‘Directive retired’ (they couldn’t agree), ‘to give political value to’ (?), ‘flagging up’ (drawing to attention?), ‘doing legislation’ (interesting new verb), ‘shadow rapporteur’ (you don’t want to know), ‘trilogues’ (ditto), ‘balanced’ (you are ripping us off and we want compensation), ‘to screen’ (to ask questions), ‘horizontal’ (generally applicable – really!), ‘disappointing’ (the EU Commission is really, really pissed off), ‘we are making our concerns heard’ (we’re really giving it to them between the eyes), ‘avec with’ (Frenchman with slightly weak English), ‘awareness-raising’ (publicity), ‘does some software’ (e.g. Microsoft), ‘this wording is still between square brackets’ (draft), ‘we will await the decision and then take a position’ (job description for an EU bureaucrat).

Yes, I have been hard at work, since that is my reason for being in Brussels – to attend a work meeting, which today consisted of a program of presentations from EU bureaucrats, some quite high level. They work for a plethora of acronyms, such as DG MARKT, DG HOME, GAC, ICANN, etc etc. We had Heads of Units, Third Secretaries, even a Second Secretary, of many nationalities, but with a predominance of Hungarian and Polish. The reason for this is that in 2011 these two countries will each hold the rotating Presidency of the European Union for six months. One Hungarian Second Secretary could hardly contain her excitement.

Seriously though....I did learn a lot about how the European Parliament works (the European Commission, the bureaucracy, will remain forever opaque, I fear). The EU Parliament has 735 elected members, who divide up into seven ‘political parties’ and a few independents. There’s a complicated system of making decisions, which don’t need to be unanimous. Decisions used to be unanimous, but they changed that recently. With 27 countries now part of the EU, things were getting a bit unwieldy. Some might say they are still unwieldy.

Brussels, Grand Place
Last night I managed to take a walk around the nearby streets – Brussels may not be the most inspiring city in Europe, but whenever I see the Grand Place, with its gorgeous guild houses, I think it is the most beautiful in Europe. Unfortunately it generally has a stage or performance space of some kind in the middle of it. I’m told that there is an equally gorgeous square in Antwerp.

I also managed to find a moment to pop into a chocolate shop. There are so many, but I chose – by chance – Neuhaus, which claims to be the inventor of Belgian praline. I knew you would want a report, so I taste-tested a few of their delicacies. I can confidently say that this is the best confectionary I have ever eaten in my entire life, or am ever likely to eat, in this life or the next. Yes, they are gooooood.

A full day of meetings today, and another tomorrow, but in between a dinner. It is good to meet up again with my IP tribe, so to speak. 

Alicia with moules frites

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