The haggling that goes on before every European summit is legendary. I’m not referring to all the talk of red lines by posturing leaders but the procuring by those lower down the pecking order of a pass into the Justus Lipsius centre where it all takes place, with its free flow of drink, food and, most of all, gossip.
Members of the European parliament are particularly keen to see their status recognised with the prestigious pass to feed off the crumbs at the top table. Each political group gets just one ticket. So Andrew Duff, the British Liberal who lives and breathes the constitution from every pore, will be left with his nose pressed against the glass while Graham Watson, his esteemed leader, prowls the corridors of power.
There are ways and means of getting round it. The eurosceptic Independence and Democracy group has found places for its two co-leaders. Jens-Peter Bonde, the veteran Dane, sneaked in as a journalist. That allows Nigel Farage, the voice of British obstructionism, to do what he does best, knocking back the beers with hacks at the bar and providing soundbites about Tony Blair’s duplicity.
Nothing could more annoy the UK Conservatives, who are stuck on the outside. They also want a referendum on any treaty and would love to bend but as members of the European People’s party are represented by Joseph Daul, a French farmer who backs greater integration.
Aides to Timothy Kirkhope, the Tory European leader, were left yesterday afternoon desperately lobbying for a badge as vice-chairman of the constitutional affairs committee to avoid this debacle.