It’s quiet. Too quiet. There are fewer buses. There are no queues at the sandwich joints on the Rue du Luxembourg. Tumbleweed can be seen blowing through the buildings of the European Parliament and the Berlaymont. You can walk over Rue Belliard against the red man because there is no traffic. The Indian takeaway across the road has gone on holiday – for six weeks!
If only everywhere was like this. When The Lobby goes to London this evening it will be met with the well-known hustle and bustle of a city that doesn’t so much sleep as one that never goes on holiday. In London August will be indistinguishable from September, which in turn will be the same as November, March, and June – and always has been and always will be.
Brussels, however, is different. It is as if the whole city has breathed its last and keeled over. The shops are still here. Some of the bars are still open. But the atmosphere, the hubbub, has left the building. Out of offices now spam my inbox. People are “not contactable”, have “no access to emails”, and ask you “in urgent matters” to contact their secretary (do secretaries never go on holiday?)
This year though the silence is masking what is still to come. Autumn will see the probable ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, set to fundamentally change how EU policy is agreed, and ushering in a new EU President and High Representative for Foreign Affairs. In the institutions, a new Commission will take to the boards on 1 November, and a new Parliament will get down to business and fight its corner in relation to its two rivals.
As if that wasn’t enough, December sees a historic climate change summit take place in Copenhagen which will – and must – decide on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, whilst at the same time the EU economy continues to flounder, particularly in the east. Meanwhile, a new global order flexes its muscles as the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) begin to bang on the door of western hegemony.
Hard though it is to believe for those of us left in Brussels during these summer months, the EU finds itself on a precipice entirely of its own making. To jump? Or to retrace our steps? The next few months will dictate how the EU will look like in ten, twenty, nay fifty years time.
Meanwhile the sun is shining, the policy paper trail has momentarily subsided – so let’s step outside and enjoy it while it lasts.