Friday, December 17, 2004
Last day of the year
This is it - the final Friday before leaving Brussels for the Christmas break. No more work until January 3rd. I can't wait to get back to the UK to enjoy hills, homecooked food, and no Belgians. Eurostar on Sunday.

It's been a very good week - I managed to avoid the Strasbourg carnival, so have remained in Brussels, partying away my colleague D's last week (he's found a job in the House of Lords, the jammy sod). Brussels is invariably dead during the Strasbourg plenary weeks, so we've enjoyed no queues at the sandwich bar, free squash courts at the gym, and minimal work. The hardest-working member of our office this week was the couch, which regularly had to support one or other of our hungover arses.

There have been some notable events this week. Europhile Timothy Kirkhope was elected leader of the Conservative delegation, defeating the excellent Chris Heaton-Harris and the raving leftist Giles Chichester. How the Tories ever expect to counter the UKIP threat by electing Wet pro-Europeans to key positions, is beyond me.

The Conservatives clearly expect to counter Labour on crime, however, by being even more draconian and wasteful on the issue than Labour are themselves. Predictions are that the upcoming General Election will be a "domestic safety" election similar to the recent US one; i.e. anti-crime and counter-terrorism. To that end, the Tories have announced their support for Labour's massively expensive, pointless and grossly illiberal ID card scheme. I haven't yet spoken to a fellow Conservative who approves of this step. ID cards are contrary to personal freedom, and stink of the worst kind of nanny statism. The Tory bigwigs clearly believe that aping Labour at every turn is the way to win the election - cleverly alienating their key party workers in the process. I despair.

Finally, the Turkey summit is going on this week in Brussels. I'm not going to go into the issue of whether Turkey should join (my gut reaction is against it on grounds that we should be trying to cut back the EU, not extend it; however Turkey joining would bugger utterly any further social integration, and that's a good thing). What I would say, however, is that the Belgian Police are out in force: riot vans on every corner; vicious barbed-wire fences blocking off roads; glowing orange-jacketed policemen wandering the streets, glowering at passing pedestrians; that type of thing. The area around the Council of Ministers building is in virtual lockdown, making it rather difficult to get to the pubs in that area; very annoying. Also, I'd better make sure that when I'm there, I cross the road at the delineated points and only when the little man turns green; otherwise I could be descended upon and truncheoned to death by a horde of bored, fluorescent-robed Belgian coppers.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 06, 2004
Yet more bureaucracy
Have just received a scathing email from the Direction Generale de la Presidence Direction de L'information et des Telecommunications(I kid you not). Apparently - Jesu forfend - I have neglected to return the form stating that:

1) I am the 2nd Assistant in my office,
2) I do use the phone,
3) I promise not to tell anyone the Top Secret code that allows me to make international phone calls, even though everyone else in the building has a code, and anyone with half a brain can go into the MEP's office and make international calls without needing to input a code anyway.

The best part of all is that I am listed as "2nd Assistant", and my name is omitted from the form I have to sign. Two of us use my work station; it could be either of us signing without the other's knowledge; and this whole thing is essentially a complete and utter waste of my time and theirs. I can't believe they pay some clown to send this crap out for a living (and, indeed, most likely give them a Baggy Trousers allowance and Big Red Nose tax exemption).

Rest assured, though. I will fax back the requisite form immediately and put this poor person's mind at rest that my secret number is safe with me and in no way written on my phone in pencil because I can never remember it. Not at all.

I discovered over the weekend just why the Berlaymont building took so long to be made safe. To fill the reader in, the star-shaped Berlaymont is home to the European Commission. Originally built in the 1960s, asbestos was discovered in the building in the early 90s, and Berlaymont was subsequently evacuated.

The renovation, however, has been a typical example of the EU frittering away taxpayers' money. The Commission kindly purchased the building from the Belgian government in 2002 for a mere €553 milllion. Seven years late and three times over budget, it cost, in total, over six hundred million pounds to remove the asbestos and overhaul the building. With typical Belgian efficiency, it took four years to actually start removing the asbestos after it was discovered, and then took another nine years to reopen the building.

With a splendidly pompous and grandiose lack of irony, the outside of the building has been renovated with glass panels, apparently as a metaphor for the increased transparency of the Commission to the average EU citizen. Quite honestly, words fail me.

To quote Margaret Thatcher, speaking in the Hague on May 15, 1992:

"Goethe described architecture as ‘frozen music’...

...What music would Goethe hear if he could look upon the Berlaymont, perhaps while acting as an advisor to the Commissioner responsible for developing a policy for European culture (which has languished so long without one)?

Surely the music would be something atonal and very long, perhaps performed by an orchestra including vacuum cleaners, scrubbing boards, and taxi-horns, with Songs of Harmonisation sung by a mixed choir from the Paris School of Deconstructionism.

And what a climax of discord and disharmony!"

The Lady sums it up better than I ever could. And besides, I'm sure the vast length of time needed to renovate Berlaymont had nothing to do with the fact that the offices being used by Commission during renovation were leased from... the same firm who were performing those essential Berlaymont repairs.

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