You have to be mad not to work at Euro-HQ

Marie Woolf explains what's behind moves to halt the Brussels gravy train
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IT IS NOT only the European fat cats who make a good living in Brussels. The psychiatrists are thriving too.

Not because the fonctionnaires - the civil servants who work in the European Parliament and Commission - have acute identity problems, but because the only way, it is said, to get a useless Eurocrat out of the Parliament is to certify him as clinically insane.

With the prospect of a pension that is as large as the average British salary, and a pay-off which rolls on for five years, the pill is not too bitter to swallow. But such a gentle exit may not be an option for long. Proposals to curb the magnificent golden farewells that Eurocrats receive represent a first step in ending the culture of lavish living in Brussels.

It is little wonder that so many of the young graduates who join the European Commission's five-month "stage", or training programme, want to stay on. Once they have passed the notoriously taxing entrance test - conducted in several languages - they are guaranteed a four-and-a-half day week and salaries that would put City bankers to shame. On top of that, the job is for life. The unions are so strong in Brussels that the slightest hint that a Portuguese pen-pusher should return to his native pastures provokes cries of "Sacre bleu!"

A stroll down Avenue Louise for a spot of shopping, followed by an afternoon munching truffles in a continental cafe is the perfect antidote to a week of drawing up documents.

Not that Brussels bureaucrats have nothing better to do at the weekend. They tend to speak at least four languages - with assorted continental dialects and oriental tongues on the side - and fill the Brussels symphony and opera house with enthusiastic applause. The Belgian cinemas get packed houses for Hindu classics with Flemish subtitles, art-house French films and the occasional Ken Loach flick. And with the advent of new trains, Paris is only half an hour away.

At least 17,000 Euro civil servants work in the European Commission in Brussels. They tend to be more open than British mandarins. But few outside the Brussels clique have the energy to find out exactly what they do with their working lives.

Most Eurocrats are happy simply getting on with their technical and often tedious jobs, which range from examining EU law to translating into Finnish. And there are too few of them - less than in Whitehall - to mount a serious offensive on the British way of life. Most have never heard of a prawn cocktail crisp. They are happiest finding fellow Euro-lieblings, also with comfy resettlement allowances, to settle down with and produce multilingual kids.

The metro at Place Schuman is packed with Spanish/Danish, British/Italian and Dutch/German Euro-couples on their way to work, copies of their national papers under their arms. Using strange hybrid words like cabotage and subsidiarity, the Eurocrats discuss where to educate their kinder. There is only one serious option: the European school.

Exclusively reserved for the children of those who work in Community institutions, the European schools produce amazing baccalaureate results at the taxpayer's expense. The private colleges produce teenagers who can speak a handful of European languages and master EU law by the age of seven. After a year out discovering their parents' homelands, many uber-teens take a seat next to their parents on the gravy train. Little wonder the Eurocrats are fiercely defending their perks - it's their children's future too.