I’ll be in Madrid on Friday, listening to the representatives of 20 countries protesting their love for the European Union constitution (deceased), and insisting that as much of the hallowed treaty should be saved as possible.
That is their right and they have a point. After all, 18 out of 27 member states have ratified the constitution (that’s the equivalent of 270m people) and Portugal and Ireland will also be in Madrid as non-ratifying but honorary "friends of the constitution".
But they should prepare to be disappointed. The fact is that if anything is going to be saved it will have to be modest, unthreatening and boiled down to its barest essentials. This is how you do it:
European Commission officials essentially fall into one of two categories. On the one side there are the ordinary functionaries who spend years drawing up legislative proposals, writing up impact assessments or monitoring developments in the Italian olive oil market. Perfectly important business, mind you, but in the main their jobs rarely send the pulse racing.
The second (and far more dashing) type of official is the one you find at the directorate general for competition, or DG Comp in short. As Europe’s top competition enforcement officials, they do all kinds of exciting stuff. They get to raid the headquarters of big companies, impose huge fines on businesses that break the rules, and every so often they can tell Microsoft how to run its business.
But over the past year or so, I have detected a subtle change inside DG Comp. It seems that the hard-bitten trust-busters have gone, well, a little academic.