Article written by Julien de Cruz and Waldo Vanderhaeghen
Our Babelians must wait, nobody knows when heads of state will have finished their “lunch”. After all, it is the economy as a whole that is at stake. Let us then not be too harsh on them for feasting that long if they can find solutions that way. Inside the building, journalists are losing patience. Some read, some drink beer at the bar or smoke in one of the numerous smoking booths. The most studious prepare their questions and their articles.
However, the hall of the Council is the scene of a rather curious show. Sometimes, a small troop of journalists gathers around a national government representative. The official speaks in a very low voice and delivers very vague information. Everyone eavesdrops with a little smile and takes note on a ragged notebook. Beware to those who would try to get this on record; those interviews are informal, off the record. This is what a Japanese journalist discovered. He approached his tiny microphone and got severely told off by his French colleagues. The official is now gone, this is what it costs to disregard tradition.
Please be reasonable !
In the French debriefing room, journalists are getting unruly. Some big names of the French national press are sitting next to strangers. The numb journalists suddenly straighten on their seats. “He’s coming!” “I have seen something move”. The president of the French republic gets in and the atmosphere changes instantly. After a fast-paced explanation, Nicolas Sarkozy declares that he is ready for questions. Journalists can let their wrists rest after having the task to fill up notebooks with this one minute thirty summary of a four hours summit.
A British journalist asks the first question in a rusty French. He accuses the car recovery plan to be protectionist. This is enough to anger the president. “I appreciate your effort to speak French but your question is a caricature (…) please be reasonable !”. The impertinent Brit has then to listen to an economy lesson. If a mother company is not protected in France, its Czech subsidiary is likely to close too. So, who’s protectionist now? The Debriefing carries on with these kind of declarations and just as much attacks on journalists “that do not know the topics.” The audience is sometimes charmed and sometimes shocked; it does not know how to react to the president’s wit. At the end of the session, the president must leave to Sharm El-Sheik.
The confidence summit - by Waldo Vanderhaeghen
Belgium, a small briefing room for a small country. Everybody knows each other here and networking seems the key to success. I can hear gossip, laughs and animosity. “So, this is Herman’s first (redaction note: Herman Van Rompuy has been the Belgian Prime Minister since December 30) , this must be different from cabinet meetings, I wonder how it went for him.” And it probably was, but then the man himself enters.. He starts off by shaking everybody’s hands. It is clear that he wants to create a feeling of friendship and cosiness, even the cameramen get a handshake. However, he is a serious man with serious things to say. According to him, this informal meeting was a “confidence summit”.
I have noted a couple of things following this encounter with our Prime Minister. First, there will not be a common Eastern solution as “each country is different”. Secondly, Herman seemed a little disappointed in Angela Merkel’s delay, as the acquisition of Opel by Belgium and Germany thus could not be discussed. A small note and discussions on lower levels will be the replacing forum. And finally, not less important, Belgium will launch its own stimulus package end of March.
Brussels on a SundayFor their part, Anna and Elisanda attend the Spanish debriefing. They find it rather long and boring. Zapatero insists on the necessity to be united and stresses that the frequency of head of States meetings must be kept high in these times of crisis. “We will surely meet again for many Sundays to come” emphasises the Prime Minister.
Nicolas Sarkozy says the same thing “Do you think I’m happy spending my Sunday with you journalists? We do not have the choice”. A sincere wave of laughter swirls around the room. For these heads of state and media professionals, there are probably more glamourous ways to spend a Sunday than being locked up in the council building. Our four Babelians are probably the only ones to have had an enriching experience.