Mark Mardell has been the BBC’s Brussels correspondent for the last few years, and as part of this job he’s also been writing a blog.
He’s now moving across the Atlantic to become the BBC’s North America editor, and he’s written a couple of – insightful – final blog posts:
Here are a couple of quotes, first on Brussels:
Justin Webb’s piece for From Our Own Correspondent, nearly a decade ago, had a huge impact on the sensitive denizens of Brussels. Justin said the people were miserable, called it the dirtiest city in Europe, made special play with the dog mess that does indeed litter the pavements and attacked the lack of a service culture.
So why do I like it?
For a capital it is small: and that’s a good thing. When we first arrived and someone asked us over for dinner to their home on the opposite side of the city to where we live the almost automatic response was to turn down the invitation. In London you simply wouldn’t cross a city for an evening. In Brussels it only takes half an hour.
Our home backs onto a park and is surrounded by greenery, but walk the other way and in a few minutes you are on one of the city’s main arteries, full of fast-food shops, night shops and Chinese groceries. It is a ten-minute walk to the metro, which takes me just about to the door of the office in another ten minutes. Going out of town, as I did this morning, it’s a lovely slow drive through the dappled sunshine of the park and then through a magnificent forest, just right for weekend walks.
And here on the EU:
Recently a friend and colleague said to me: “You did a good job of giving the impression that you were excited by the European story. But surely you didn’t really enjoy it did you?” Well, the sad truth is, I am afraid, that none of it was feigned. I really do find European politics fascinating. Do I understand the EU any better? Of course you can’t spend four years at something without emerging with a deeper knowledge of the detail, but I mean do I really GET it? Well, perhaps I am groping towards some conclusions.
The idea of “them” forcing “us” to do something is rarely true. But what seems to happen time and time again – it is a hallmark of the way the EU operates – is “us” or our political representatives signing up to something European, and grand, and ambitious; but then, through a judicious mixture of cowardice and common sense, failing to honour or finance what they’ve agreed to.
If the EU is constantly, sometimes irritatingly, seeking out new ways of making itself relevant it is because it has so successfully completed its original mission: to keep the peace after more than a century of war. An achievement so obvious, that it’s pocketed without a thought by all the millions of citizens of this unique organisation.
He will be replaced by Gavin Hewitt in September.