To most people, the EU is apparently about dreary buildings in Brussels which obscure laws and the euro come out of. Indeed, the Justus Lipsius building is pretty ugly. All day today, the Lipsius has been plagued by grey and rainy skies. But never mind, because today is the first day of the EU summit, and today the European Council building is anything but a snooze.
As Tony, Bertie, Jacques and the lads launch into a 48hr session of snarling and bickering (some ministers only stay for 24hrs Ė precious little time for any serious debate), I cruzed by the council to gauge the atmosphere. I arrived at 16:15 CET. Queue after queue, I reached level -2 just as Captain Tony boarded the ship. Show time.
ďIt [finding a budget deal] is going to be very tough and very difficult. It is as well to be frank about that right at the outset. It hangs very much in the balance,Ē he said. Thank you, Tony.
And so, heads of states trickled in one by one, some chattier than others, others grinning than more than some, to be greeted by Tony and his friend Jack. But onwards and upwards to level -1 for me, through the darkly lit corridors and into the main press room.
Amusingly, this media epicentre, in its heyday, was the councilís car park. This room is ablaze with action. An engine room some might say. Iím not sure what these journos are talking about or doing (nothing has happened yet) but, this place is buzzing.
This media centre has 1200 workstations for newspaper journalists, 96 for TV and 26 for radio stations. There's phones and internet at our disposal. Participating media have access to a medical centre, a post office, travel agency, bank and exchange bureau. Whatís more, free breakfast, lunch and dinner will be served as well as snacks and drinks throughout the night. This is turning out to be quite the festival.
As I step over cables abundant on level -1, others are busy setting up their equipment and editing their earliest footage, I look forward to my canteen style supper (it is, after all, free and we all know that anything free tastes good), but I canít help thinking about the diplomatic dinner date thatís taking place on about, oh, level +10.
As holders of the rotating EU presidency, the UK is playing host. The menu: cullen skink, a Scottish fish soup made from haddock which presumably tastes nicer than it sounds? A rack of Northern Irish lamb as their main course. A selection of British cheeses, Scottish shortbread and coffee will follow. A white from Wales, Tintern Parva, and a red from Devon, Sharpham Beenleigh. I suppose one canít work on an empty stomach. Itís all very well bon appetit for some.
A so, my barometer gauges the fist few hours of this summit as a pretty relaxed start, although some seemed already exhausted, perhaps from their travels from far away lands (see photos). Folks are revving up for some action. Weíre all in place: lights, camera, action! But first, a bite to eatÖ