An insider’s tale of Brussels bureaucracy – is it true…?

by Urs E. Gattiker on 2008/01/23 · 0 comments 3.115 views

From time-to-time we come across an interesting book
This is a book about the inner workings of the European Commssion
We tell you about about the book, its contents and what we feel about it.

Derk-Jan Eppink, a Dutch civil servant and a journalist has written an account of his years working for the European Commission in Brussels. His book got some rave reviews from such illustrous people as Gideon Rachman (Financial Times). Rachman attests the author rare insight and having a witty conversational writing style that makes this book something special.Well we put it to the test and asked for a copy from the publisher in Belgium to check out and enjoy, so we thought. Originally, this book was written in Dutch to be translated into English (398 pages). So some things might have gotten changed during the translation process.We read the book from beginning to the end and must say that in various places Eppink has managed to take something that sounds very dull – European postal directive – and make it far more fun to read (going out with postal union representatives in Strassburg discussing the matter, of course)

But not all is fun. While calling the Commission ‘the Princess’ is funny for the first 50 pages it starts to grate after a while.

Eppink points a picture of the Commission that can be horrifying to a non-bureaucrat but when comparing his examples to what happens in Member States’ own agencies things might not be that bad.

On p. 337 Eppink talks about the CDU / CSU party apparachiks such as Helmut Stoiber or Angela Merkel and comes to the interesting conclusion (to put it politely) that thanks to their contacts in Brussels and wooing the people there these savvy people could claim an election victory in state elections.

Herr Roland Koch running a tough compaign right now to be re-elected in Hessen. His platform based on recent news reports about youth brutality in subway stations deals with crime prevention. Neither his visits to and contacts within the Commission will make him win or loose his re-election. Reading p. 338 of Eppink’s book, one could believe that it is the bureacr4ats in Brussels that will make the difference… We prefer to wait and see how the ballots will look like.

On p. 264-267 Eppink talks about a visit he made with his Commissioner Frits Bolkestein to Zurich having been invited bei the Neue Zuercher Zeitung (a well respected daily) to talk to some invited guests. His account of the visit is quite funny but at the same time he seems a bit full of himself. For instance, just because the Neue Zuercher Zeitung puts the Commissioner’s speech on p. 2 (grated a few days after he visited and made the speech) instead of p. 1 he seems a bit miffed. But even some of the illustrous speakers at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week did not make it on p. 1.

Most of what Eppink writes is quite interesting but besides being sometimes witty it is often without much depth and reminds us of children’s play chatter, part of the game but not necessarily earth shaking. As well, throughout the book we get a few anectodes from his younger days about how the young Eppink managed to start writing speeches’ ins for local politicians at a rather early age (e.g., p. 250).

If you know how the Commission works, this book will give you little what you do not already know. If you lack any insights about the ‘Princess’ workings, do not fear Eppink is hear. So this is a nice book to read before you fall asleep and if you withstand the fluff that comes up from time to time, take a chance and have a look

I passed on my copy to a European mandarin to read certain passages I had marked for her. She found them amusing but seems tto concurr that the book begins to grate after a while. hence, we disagree with Gideon Rachman that Eppink has written a genuinly entertaining book about the European Commission. While entertaining it might be on a few pages for sure, unfortunately, it lacks the substance and beef to bring it beyond a very personal and jaded account.

Life of a European mandarin
Inside the Commission
Derk-Jan Eppink, Lannoo, Brussels: Euro 24.95 plus shipping.

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