hot-banana1The European Council is meeting in Brussels today to discuss the deepening economic and financial crisis. The painful consequences are becoming ever-more apparent (in Italy recently we were served one evening by a lady who tearfully told us how her husband, a skilled metalworker, simply couldn’t find work), but maybe not everywhere. On 19 February Eurostat issued statistics for GDP per capita income in 271 regions of the 27 EU member states. In 2006 the four regions at the top of the per capita GDP list were inner London (336% of the EU 27 average!), Luxembourg (267%), Brussels (233%) and Hamburg (200%). The lowest per capita GDP was in the north-east of Romania and Severozapadan in Bulgaria (both at 25%!). Every year there is a big exhibition and fair in Brussels, at the Heysel exhibition centre, for the construction industry, Batibouw. I had so far successfully managed to avoid this particular shrine of consumerism but this morning was convinced to go. And what did we find? Massive crowds and not the slightest hint of economies, let alone a recession. Much used to be made of Europe’s ‘hot banana’ of prosperity (London, Brussels, Luxembourg and Hamburg were firmly in its northern tip) and it seems it may now have become an island amid the recession. Timothy Garton Ash recently wrote in the Guardian about Europe being torn between ‘essential solidarity and national egoism’ but if the hot banana is still flourishing (and it certainly looked like that at Batibouw this morning) then the egoism could be regional as much as anything else.