Sunday, October 23, 2011

EPP heads of govt retreat to Belgian castle to discuss European Council

It’s a busy weekend in Brussels. Yesterday’s Economic and Financial Affairs Council cleared the path for today’s European Council/Eurozone Summit, while the General Affairs yesterday discussed (PDF) economic policy and finalized the EU positions for the G20 summit in Cannes in November and the COP17 climate conference in Durban in December.

Angela Merkel's badge is waiting for her
Source Flickr CC BY-NC-SA mounteulympus

Somewhere in between, 13 heads of state and government belonging to the European People’s Party (EPP), reinforced by José Manuel Barroso, Herman van Rompuy and Jerzy Buzek, took a retreat to a beautiful castle outside of Brussels to save the Euro over a decent dinner.

Journalists were waiting in front of the castle nervously as the first shaded limousines pulled into the driveway. One by one, heads of state and government got out of their cars and walked past the journalists to the castle entrance. Angela Merkel, Finland’s Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen and Austria’s Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger stopped to explain their expectancy of the summit, while Silvio Berlusconi put on a grin and ignored the journalists as his bodyguards walked him to the door. MEP Elmar Brok opened his passenger door alone and walked up to the castle by himself. By the time of his arrival, the journalists’ interest had waned and they were comparing their notes of the Merkel interview.

Your blogger had access to the advisors’ chamber, so over dinner I plugged into some interesting conversations. The advisors themselves were not fully aware of what was going on behind the closed doors of the meeting room, either. “Sometimes, very important progress is made in between the negotiations, in bilateral conversations in the hallway,” said German government spokesman Steffen Seibert. And after heads of government have negotiated a compromise among themselves, each of them returns home to win the approval of their Parliaments. “For those governments with a narrow majority, that can be quite a struggle,” Seibert said. Indeed, one reason for the postponement of the European Council to Wednesday is that Angela Merkel has not secured the approval of the German budget committee yet.

Throughout the dinner, buzz was high about the tête-à-tête between Sarkozy and Merkel after the EPP summit. Sarkozy did not participate in the summit but was due to arrive in Brussels later in the evening. According to media reports, however, the meeting only achieved little progress.

It seems that a lot of work remains as heads of government meet for the European Council today. And if the leaked conclusions prove to be true, there will not be an agreement on the recapitalization of the banks today.

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