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Today I don’t want to discuss budgetary deficits or the WEEE Directive as I feel, like many others, caught up by the collective frenzy of the World Cup. Although I don’t really like football, I have read, over the last couple of weeks, a lot of articles, comments and alternately shared hopes and disappointments. What particularly stood out of this complex literature is the incredibly high political dimension that accompanies this World Cup.

End of a Black-Blanc-Beur myth? (Source: JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)

In the particular case of France, the fate of the team has become so political that I started to think of football as a political utopia. Football, as any utopia, reflects our society and can bring out the best and the worst. It is festive, has no skin colour, no social preference, and has an “unbelievable potential to bring us together” to quote Dave Zirin from the Guardian.

But it can also be aggressive, arrogant, and dictated by money. When the French Black-Blanc-Bleur team won the World Cup in 1998, it was celebrated as a success for immigration and integration. Today, after their pathetic collapse, the team is the shame of the country, and many politicians have expressed concern about their country’s reputation on the international scene as well as the way in which the team’s behaviour may influence French youth.

Should French leaders and the media expect so much from a football team? There has been too much politics, too much money, and too much arrogance inside and outside of the team. When taken too seriously, football can become as excessive and disappointing as a perverted utopia. This is what makes football so vibrant and human, but sometimes also unfair and full of disillusions.

– Maxime

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The EU loves a good crisis.  In the past we’ve had a Treaty crisis, a referendum crisis, an economic crisis, and a Euro crisis – and now, we have a World Cup crisis.

Argentina revelling in the globalised game

So far this has not been a good World Cup for EU Member States.  Favourites Spain lost their opener to a non-EU European country (Switzerland), Germany have literally just lost to a “wannabe” EU Member State (Serbia), and France’s defeat last night accompanies similar under-par performances from EU big-shots Italy, Portugal, and England, the UK’s sole representatives.

Before the competition started some Brussels-based folk tried to put together their dream-EU World Cup team, but now it must be doubted whether such a team could go far in the competition. 

Argentina have been the early pace-setters, with the other South American countries (Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Brazil and Mexico) all looking “useful” and creating problems for the European nations. 

The African countries have shown glimpses of brilliance (Ghana) followed by slightly longer periods of mediocrity (South Africa) and just plain stupidity (Nigeria), but the same could be said for the EU nations.  Basically, the EU collective has yet to play anything near to its best in the Rainbow state.

But can an EU Member State win the World Cup?  Of course – after all, they have won two of the last three – but the challenges from other global regions are growing all the time. 

EU countries now have to compete with the likes of South Korea, Mexico, and the United States who offer stiffer tests than they did ten years ago.  Many of these countries’ best players have themselves gained experience in the EU’s national leagues, become better players for it, and now enjoy putting one over their more fancied opponents.

The EU as a bloc is struggling to find its place in a globalised world, but nowhere is this truer than football, as this World Cup has gone to show.  The drawback, of course, is that it is much harder to introduce protectionist measures when it comes to a national football team than it is to slap a few hefty tariffs on imports from a developing country. 

Perhaps then football is the true result of globalisation, untainted and unsullied by corrective regulations and out of reach of national lawmakers.  Globalisation in its purest form. But for how long?

– Rob  

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Stiges - the ideal location for a secret get-together

For most, the first weekend of June was marked by sunny afternoons in the park, barbecues and growing anticipation for the World Cup.  In the small town of Stiges, a seaside town in Spain not far from Barcelona, however, the world’s elite were gathering for the mysterious Bilderberg Conference.  

So what’s the big deal? After all, the world’s leaders come together for high profile retreats quite regularly.

Well, this is not your typical weekend conference.  The Bilderberg Group, established in 1954 by Jozef Retinger, a leading advocate for European unification and founder of the European Movement and the Council of Europe, meets once a year, unofficially, and is run in virtually complete secrecy.  

The guest list of the Conference is not public, nor is the agenda, and the meetings are run under Chatham House rules.  

Leaks are rare, which has led to a host of conspiracy theories around the real purpose behind the group.  Information on past attendees, however, has slowly leaked out, further stirring the fire as some of the most prominent EU and US leaders have been named as participants, including former EU Commissioner Peter Mandelson, Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, Former US President Bill Clinton, World Trade Organisation Director Pascal Lamy, European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet, just to name a few.

If you believe all of the theories out there about the Bilderberg Group, this conference is either a harmless meeting to share information and promote cooperation, or itis actually ruling the modern world.  

Concerns over the Conference and its influence on global events have even been brought to the attention of the European Parliament which was briefed by an investigative journalist who has extensively studied the Group, Daniel Estulin.  

During a speech to the European Parliament, Mr Estulin presented what he describes as the ‘real intentions’ of the group – to collapse the global economy and make the world a corporation.  The Group was presented as ‘an all-seeing evil eye’ and as ‘a virtual spider web of interlocking financial, political and industrial interests.’ 

Personally, I imagine that in reality the Group’s activities and purpose falls somewhere in the middle, but if conspiracy theorists are to be believed and the group is really planning the invasion of Iran and to kill the Euro in favour of a global currency, we had better all watch out!

To be honest, however, the real question that comes to my mind is – how do I get an invite?

– Jessica

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Followers of the Belgian football team can be forgiven for being in the doldrums recently.  After qualifying for every World Cup from 1982 to 2002 – finishing fourth in 1986 – recent years have seen an alarming slump, during which they have failed to qualify for the last three major tournaments – and now the 2010 World Cup in South Africa also looks out of reach.

So Dick, will Belgium qualify for 2012 European Championships?

So Dick, will Belgium qualify for the 2012 European Championships?

The Lobby has been watching Belgium on a regular basis since arriving in the country, sometimes taking the long metro ride to Heysel, occasionally driving to Genk in pouring rain on a Wednesday night for a meaningless friendly, and memorably taking the train to Liège where the match against Estonia clashed with the I Love Techno weekend in the city.  Evidently, more people loved techno on that weekend than the Belgian national team.

But who is that knight in shining armour, approaching from the north, ready to reinstill some pride back into the Belgian football team?  Why, it’s the Dutchman Dick Advocaat, former coach of the Netherlands and 2008 UEFA Cup winners Zenit St Petersburg!  Advocaat has signed a contract to take over the Belgian team from 1 January 2010, and although no further information is forthcoming it seems likely that he will be in charge up to and possibly beyond the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine in 2012.

Advocaat is known as “the little general”, and there’s little doubt that the Belgian side could do with some military discipline if they are to recapture their glory years of the 1980s and early 1990s. With an abundance of rising stars coming through the Jupiler League, such as Steven Defour, Axel Witsel, and Eden Hazard, the future looks – if not bright – then slightly less bleak than it did a few months ago.

*If any expats (or Belgians, god forbid!) would like to join us on our regular trips to see Les Diables Rouges/Rode Duivels, please drop a line to The Lobby blogteam.

– Rob

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