Viewed from the wrong angle - and there is no right angle - the home of the European Council looks like a Stonehenge for the 1980s. All rising monoliths of pink polished granite, and seven storey sheets of glass where the sky and the fresh air should be.
It’s appropriate enough. The lasting appeal of Stonehenge is that quite what on earth it was for and whatever anyone actually did there is liable to remain forever a mystery.
In any event, then as now, what’s happening in Brussels is a searingly well observed satire straight from the days of Middle Earth. The tribes of Europa, the elves and the orcs, the dwarves and the goblins have beaten their swords into lanyards and committed themselves to 24 hours of gravely concerned posturing. Four of them even call themselves the Visegrads.
What everyone knows, as the Presidents and Prime Ministers of Europe gather for polite arguments over the smoked salmon is that, in the ever so slightly amended words of Churchill, this is not the end. It is not the beginning of the end. But it is, at last, thank God, fingers crossed, the end of the beginning. The end of The Negotiation and a giant leap, we hope, toward One Referendum To Finally End It All.
All at the dinner know very well what is at stake. The time for talking is almost over. Now they must say yes or no or maybe or kind of yes but maybe no to a small range of perpetually amendable proposals universally considered meaningless. But there is position to jostle for, face to save. Belgium wants x but Luxembourg wants y. Poland wants z but only if Lithuania agrees to pi times the radius squared expanding over a period of four years. If the senior management at Mensa International had to get a fox and a chicken over a river, this is what they would come up with - a pseudo-democratic super sudoku.
If they’re honest, no one in Brussels really understands the problem, but they all know its name. David Cameron. The suits, the scarves, the shoulderpads and the shimmering hair cuts of the European television press corps stand in long lines in the cold outside, staring down the barrel of a hundred cameras, tensing their eyebrows to maximum sincerity and rhapsodising upon a variation of the same two words. J’habite a David Cameron. Hay un David Cameron por aqui? Ist David Cameron einen Bahnhof?
One aspect of it all is real enough however, and it's cause to be terrified. If they don’t reach a deal this time, they’re threatening to come back and do it again in two weeks time. And again in March. This show could run, in the bleak words of our own Prime Minister, “For as long it takes.”
You’d like to think no one wants that, but you get the sense that some of them quite enjoy it.
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