Clyde took me for a walk at Tervuren this morning. Most Sundays I drop off the kids at Wezembeek Wanderers and then cut through to the lakes of Vossem. (For those not in the know, Wezembeek Wanderers is a volunteer-run football club that unites children and their parents of all nationalities in their love for the beautiful game and a kick-around on a Sunday morning.) The sun was out, and the trees were in their autumnal splendour; golds and reds and russets and oranges and yellows. A gaggle of geese flew over in perfect V formation and I saw swans taking off and landing (that particular sight always puts a song in my heart). It was a beautiful day. Moreover, both Belgium and England won their World Cup qualifying matches yesterday and Liverpool is second in the Premier League table, so all is well in the world.
Except, of course, that it ain’t. A financial crisis rages about us and our leaders are trying to bring the flames under control. But when you walk around the city, or when you work in the EU institutions (with the exception of those parts with direct competence for financial matters), you get no sense of urgency or of a crisis. There are no echoes of the sort of stark images the Great 1929 Wall Street crash left emblazoned in our collective memories. It’s a rum affair.
Pascale, the newsagent on the corner of our street, is my morning reality check. Her boyfriend, Nicolas, worked until recently as a salesman for the Belgian branch of a multinational company. A few weeks back he went into work to find his boss in tears. ‘I’m sorry,’ said the boss, ‘but the company has folded. I must ask you to leave your (company) car keys on the table.’ Now, the Dutch branch of the same company has offered some of the salesmen their jobs back, but as temporary staff and on a week-to-week basis. So; a big pay cut and no job security. Nice one. Nicolas is a dynamic chap with few commitments and can afford to wait for better offers to come along, but a lot of his colleagues, with families and mortgages, had little choice but to take up the offer. The EESC’s next President, Mario Sepi, a life-long trades unionist, intends to put human and social rights at the heart of his presidency. Clearly, such emphasis is timely.