That Euro Dinner
In principle, I'm all for a united Europe, a single currency and a fiscal union -- and feel dismayed at the Cameron stance. (Though I have to say that the appalling fates that have been predicted for the UK, outside the "real Europe", haven't so far sounded that dreadful to me "The New Switzerland", "The Singapore of Europe", "Norway without the oil". Could be worse, couldn't it?)
My problem is not the principle. It's how the vast superstate is organised and by whom? Thinking of this tends to bring out the rampant democrat in me. I can't say that I feel too keen on having a national budget "approved" by the European commissioners, and sent back for improvement if it doesn't come up to scratch on their view.
But there's also a giant questionmark, of course, over how you negotiate all this -- horribly brought out by the procedures this week.
I am in Italy right now, and I haven't been following what's been going on hour by hour -- so I'm only just catching up on that dinner and all night meeting.
I'm not sure, in any case, that it is a great idea for anyone to take big, long-term decisions over fiscal union with the pistol of Greek default and Italian collapse held to their heads. But, more to the point, how could anyone make sensible decisions in the way these leaders, elected and un-elected, were asked to do? (Clever as Mario Monti may be, do we really think it is OK for an entirely unelected leader to commit the Italians to a significantly new version of the EU treaty -- even if it IS to their short term advantage?)
OK, the whole public side of these discussions may only be a "staged" version; the real talking might well have been going on elsewhere. But is a nine hour late night dinner a good way of doing important business? The Italian papers are saying the Boyko Borisov (Mr Bulgaria) actually put his hand up a one point and asked to go to bed...and well he might have.
The other reports are equally dispiriting. David Cameron is reported to have drunk nothing but black coffee for 9 hours and to have complained about all the 'blah blah blah' of the technical discussions. Other leaders are said to have "knocked it back" a bit. I think, on balance, I would rather put my trust in the guys who put it away -- and if Cameron really did complain about the blah blah blah of technicalities, then I feel like saying "that blah blah blah is your job, mate".
Then there is all the hierarchy of dining. Apparently the leaders themselves ate in one room, with their EU ambassadors eating next door. They had same food (a slightly strange combination of soup, cod, chocolate cake and ice-cream) but the leaders got better wine (another reason why Cameron's coffee option seems duff one). The idea was presumably to give the leaders the opportunity to bond in private; but maybe it might have been a good idea for them to have had some expert advisors in the room with them (not just a blackberry away).
So think about it: the combination of serious exhaustion, encroaching tipsiness (or irritable sobriety), and too many calories. Is that a great way to rewrite the organisation of Europe?
Perhaps it has always been thus. Perhaps, underneath the formal programme, the conference at Versailles was organised no differently (and my guess is that there would have been rather more booze).
But look what a disaster that was.