Bureaucracy and banality, the triumph of internationalism, the best hope for eastern Europe, a botched job - the EU is all these thingsby Nick Fraser / December 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
In the grubby, smoke-filled basement of the Breydel building in Brussels, members of the EU press corps gathers at noon each day for their briefing. Each of the 20 commissioners has a spokesman, and they skip up to the dais in turn. Today’s subject is the imposition of a kerosene tax on every plane flying in Europe. I note details, but as I do so they seem to slip away. A film of dead language wraps everything Christo-style, with phrases such as “parallel effort,” “global approach.” On the wall above us is a large painting entitled The Creation of the Single Market (1992) by Sven Nyrup, a Danish artist. Peering at neo-Expressionist murk, I realise that I am looking at a smudged map of Europe. I find a book listing the legislative achievements of the EU for 1999. Opened at random, page 406 shows a directive governing second-hand car prices in the Ukraine. A British spokesman rounds on me to complain about the behaviour of London newspapers. Nothing, it seems, will induce them to print positive stories. I can’t think of what to say to him.
Back to the Breydel to visit Romano Prodi, commission president. The lift deposits me on the 12th floor rather than the 4th. I keep taking wrong turnings, and can retain my bearings only by means of a poster representing the triumph of the treaty of Maastricht, which I pass again and again. Prodi’s suite of offices is surprisingly banal and he apologises for the ugliness. “We have to do something better than this,” he says, giggling. Prodi is smallish, dapper, soft-voiced. He was appointed with the task of making the EU commission believable after the mass resignation of commissioners which marked the end of Jacques Santer’s tenure in 1999. In recent weeks Le Monde has attacked him for irresolution, alleging that he is an “anglo-saxonist.” Under his tutelage, it is said, the prestige of the commission has fallen further still. Prodi suggests to me that Europe means so little to its citizens because they are essentially contented, and not fighting a war. Somehow Europeans must be led to realise that they are all members of minorities now, whether French, Italians or Bosnians. “Europe is a union of minorities,” he says, intriguingly. “There is no majority in Europe.” This sounds good, but I am not sure that it means much. Prodi appeals to…