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A freshman at the EU summit

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A report by Marinka De Rycke Informal meeting of heads of state or government, Brussels 19 November 2009’, that’s the master title of my accreditation badge. The word ‘informal’ hides the possibility of a significant moment in the history of the European Union. Tonight the leaders of Europe will probably choose the first President of Europe, which makes many people dream.

Who do I need to call if I want to call Europe?”, perhaps tonight Henry Kissinger will get the answer he has been longing for far too long.

My heart is pounding as I proudly leave the LEX building as a duly accredited reporter. After passing a police checkpoint and an airport-like security check, I enter the Justus Lipsius building where the meeting takes place. I’m overwhelmed; the entrance yard is filled with busy journalists equipped with desks, phones, internet connection and trendy lamps. There we could only reserve one spot for Brussels, which is in stark contrast is to the desires of our enthusiastic 8-headed team. We decide to move our headquarters to the second, smaller press room on the second floor underground. I follow everyone in a numbed, never ending smiling manner. This is so cool!

The arrival of the Heads of State or Government

Moments later I hurry to the red carpet where I see Gordon Brown, Jan-Peter Balkenende, Dalia Grybauskaite and José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero arriving and shaking the formal hands with the Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. This man has to shake hands and smile for the photos from 5.15 till 6.00 p.m., the official nature is pretty funny. I don’t immediately recognise the other leaders so I curse myself that I forgot the folder with the pictures and names of the heads of Europe. I sure know one thing: I’ve missed Herman Van Rompuy, Silvio Berlusconi and Nicolas Sarkozy.

A decision was made

After brainstorming about our main topics and discussing our tactics, we are ready to attack our fellow journalists before any official statement is made in the European Council. I wanted to capture the atmosphere of the event, but while taking pictures I noticed a famous Flemish journalist talking live to the public broadcasting of Flanders. I’m eavesdropping the live conversation while talking with a cameraman about the latest news.

His message totally overwhelms me. A decision is made! Officious, yes, but quite official: Herman Van Rompuy will be the new President, while Catherine ‘Cathy’ Ashton will become the new High Representative of Foreign Affairs. I’m confused, this is too soon. In my humble opinion, the swiftness of the decision alone is historical for the EU!

The fuzz and buzz in the press room

What follows is a lot of commotion and a true buzz of excited voices. Cameramen grab their cameras and journalists start typing on their laptops while making international calls with their homeland. Several minutes later an announcement reaches our ears: press conferences within five minutes. We hurry and join the exciting buzz, splitting up the team to gain as much information as possible. My feet bring me to the main press room, the most important journalist gather, flowers are already being brought. This is it! This is where I have to be. I’m not only witnessing the official statements being made in the main press room, but also the jokes of Van Rompuy. He is in shape. I feel a mixed response of the present press, they are all laughing with his jokes but I wonder if it’s cynical or sincere.

Not only his jokes receive a mixed response, the whole outcome of the meeting is. The Council made his decision and I feel proud to be Belgian. However, now that we lost our Prime Minister I am trying to ignore the upcoming problems in Belgium.