Travels as a Brussels Scout: One Man's View of Life in the European Union -- Fast, Funny, and Occasionally Furious
by Nick Middleton
Nick Middleton tours all of Europe in the initial years following the formation of the European Union. He gets the idea following a stint working for the EU -- "working" best placed in quotation marks. From three EU jobs in three countries, he finds that a job at the EU seems to consists solely of having meetings, writing reports, and waiting to have meetings or waiting on reports.
Another African gentleman acted as [Vienna-based UN office of iron and steel industry in Africa] Mr Im-Bham's second-in command. Although he didn't appear to do anything except read the paper, he was very friendly to me and proved to be an endless source of invaluable advice on the subject of vitamin supplements.
Otherwise, the Im-Bham office was staffed with a small entourage of typists and assistants, all of whom were female and all of whom were rather beautiful... Mr Im-Bham gave me a piece of his own advice. 'I don't mind what you do,' he said, ' as long as you observe the Golden Rule: don't touch my secretaries'.
What is the effect of the EU and its bureaucracy on its member countries, he wonders. He convinces his publisher to put up the cash, and is on his way. His state of the E-union report can be summed up as thusly: a highly opinionated travelogue.
At times, his observations made me wince -- such as his description of Luxembourg. Other times, crude, such as describing the problem of dog excrement on Parisian streets.
On rare occasion, his description is touching, such as his tour of the Undertaker's Museum in Vienna.
'There are three doctors at the deathbed,' my mentor informed me. He had trouble explaining why three doctors were needed, but if I understood him correctly, there was the family doctor and an official doctor and a third doctor who processed a [long] knife like the one in the case before us. 'Doctor number three makes stick in the heart,' he said simply. 'For one hundred crowns,' he added before moving on.
The great problem with this book is that it is more than ten years old, and much is changed today. For instance, now the Euro is universal, making the money exchange obsolete -- as do bank machines.
Some bits are still true today, such as the Dutch railway system not accepting credit cards or non-Dutch bank cards. Still, the book provides a snapshot in time of a continent in transition.
The Danish attitude to their cousins across the water seems to be summed up in an advertisement for the Copenhagen-Malmo high-speed ferry link. 'When in Copenhagen,' the flyer screamed, 'don't miss Sweden'.
Has the EU and its dictates had an effect on its member countries? No, according to Mr Middleton. Occasionally he comes across a local concern, such as the Austrians worrying that EU-approved chocolate must be made with the blood of bulls (bad rumour), or Italian taxi drivers worry that Brussels will force a color change on their vehicles.
"Europe is a fact only for journalists who write about it," he quotes a Polish journalist living in Italy. "It does not exist in Italy. The average Italian, he has no opinion of Europe. The European Union is about changing the color of taxis from yellow to white because Brussels says so. Nothing more."
Ten years later, Europeans have more to worry from the EU than the color of taxi cabs. The imposition of the Euro dramatically cut the standard of living, as merchants simply swapped the DM (deutsch mark) for the e (Euro) symbol, instantly doubling the cost of all goods in Germany.
xvi + 288 pages
Published in 1997 by Widenfeld & Nicolson
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