By Brian Pelan, VIEW editor
As I sat on the 30th floor of the breakfast lounge at the Sheraton Hotel in Brussels, dipping my croissant into my second expresso with my copy of the International New York Times laid out in front of me, I thought, apart from the bleak weather that day, I could get used to this lifestyle.
I was in Brussels earlier this month as part of a European-wide delegation of journalists who had been invited to the beating heart of the European Union as part of Open Press Day.
Unlike some seasoned travellers to Brussels, who endlessly commute or live in the city to work at one of the many EU buildings, it was my first visit to the inner workings of a huge apparatus.
I have a few observations to make about my visit;
• Brussels makes the set up at the Stormont government offices in Northern Ireland look like a garden tea party in a small village.
• Brussels is the location for 40,000 EU employees, 4,000 NATO employees and hosts about 300 permanent representations: lobby groups, embassies and press corporations.
• The press team who showed me around the various offices were indefatigable defenders of politeness towards the swarm of journalists who followed them. At times I felt like an overwhelmed pupil on a school trip
• Some of the journalists who know the ropes as they navigate around the city are to be admired and slightly pitied at the same time. Too long in an institution can dull the senses.
• The various EU politicians who attended the press briefings, including Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn, were slick in their presentations and utterly at ease with the workings of the institution.
It all seemed so far away from the ravages of austerity that have hit many European countries, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.
The economist Joseph E. Stiglitz in a recent column remarked: “Austerity has been an utter and unmitigated disaster, which has become increasingly apparent as European Union economies once again face stagnation, if not a triple-dip recession, with unemployment persisting at record highs and per capita real (inflation-adjusted) GDP in many countries remaining below pre-recession levels. In even the best-performing economies, such as Germany, growth since the 2008 crisis has been so slow that, in any other circumstance, it would be rated as dismal.
“The most afflicted countries are in a depression. There is no other word to describe an economy like that of Spain or Greece, where nearly one in four people – and more than 50% of young people – cannot find work. To say that the medicine is working because the unemployment rate has decreased by a couple of percentage points, or because one can see a glimmer of meagre growth, is akin to a medieval barber saying that a bloodletting is working, because the patient has not died yet.”
Would I go back to Brussels? The answer is yes. My first trip was a brief three days, I would like to return for longer to ask many more questions of the many politicians who fervently believe that their policies are working.