Monthly Archives: November 2006

It pays to be alert when you walk in Brussels. You have to look down to avoid the dog mess on its famously besmirched streets while also dodging the scaffolding and cement mixers that signal a building frenzy in the city.
The drab EU quarter is no stranger to the construction craze. Builders have for months toiled on the pink granite Justus Lipsius centre that represents member states: until last week a large green skip sat unceremoniously by the entrance.


Apart from the spanking new flagpoles their national ensigns will occupy in Brussels after January 1, Romania and Bulgaria are seeking to make their mark as the twenty-sixth and twenty-seventh members of the European Union.
In the run-up to accession, each has dispatched an eminent citizen as a candidate for the post at the European Commission that is the entitlement of each member state.
On Tuesday the committees of the European Parliament that oversee the policy areas to which the new commissioners will be assigned gave their blessing to Meglena Kuneva, Bulgaria’s minister for Europe, and Leonard Orban, who led Romania’s membership negotiations. The approval will come as a particular relief to Bucharest, which hastily selected Mr Orban after its initial nominee withdrew in a flurry of corruption allegations.


In its drive to get us all to do our bit to combat climate change, the European Commission has adopted a pithy slogan: "Turn down. Switch off. Recycle. Walk." It seems, however, that Europe’s functionaries are reluctant to comply with the second of these four edicts.

Brusselspic1_1 Photographs passed to the Financial Times show several of the EU’s most illustrious buildings – including the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers’ Justus Lipsius building – lit up like Christmas trees in the middle of the night. The Committee of the Regions is incandescent. 

For a Brussels reporter chasing controversy and rough and ready action, a few hurdles stand in the way.
These include arcane policy discussions that mean little outside the Brussels bubble and endless talk of the need for EU-wide co-operation to avoid dispute – hardly zippy material for stories.
But then there is Viviane Reding, telecoms commissioner and a former journalist.
Along with Neelie Kroes, competition commissioner, and Charlie McCreevy, internal market policeman, Ms Reding is one of the few card-carrying members of Brussels’ "bombshell politics" club.


The Finns love open, transparent government. But even they admit privately that it is not particularly helpful to have cameras filming EU ministers as they try to hammer out a compromise on the vexed question of European working hours.
Spanish, French and Italian employment ministers are widely expected to use the televised session to denounce Britain over its use of the "opt out" from the EU’s maximum 48-hour working week legislation.
"We expect a lot of playing to the trade union gallery," said one EU diplomat.
It is only over lunch at Tuesday’s meeting that ministers will have their real negotiation on whether a compromise settlement can be reached under which the UK could keep its opt out, with some strings attached.
"The cameras won’t be allowed into the lunch, so you can expect it to be quite a long one," said the EU diplomat.


To understand the often down and dirty world of EU policy-making, look no further than last week’s battle to get a revised deal over rules on working hours.
The EU’s "working time" directive states that employees cannot put in more than 48 hours a week, even if they want to.
The law has become a symbol of the divide between "liberal" and "social" Europe – but has left both sides stretching their principles.
The idea that Brussels caps working hours, (its reasonings are health and safety) on health and safety grounds) is incomprehensible to some.
This includes "liberal" Britain, which "opts out" of the rules.