vesuvioSome time back (22 February) I posted an entry about a study on the institutional consequences of enlargement. One clear consequence, the study found, has been a steady increase in the size of the EU institutions’ traditional decision-making bodies. In the case of the EESC, its Bureau now stands at 39 members.  As one Bureau member put it, the Bureau can tend to function more as an assembly than as an executive body – and most if not all EU institutions have seen similar developments. A second strong consequence, therefore, has been the development of smaller, informal bodies within the formal ones. These new bodies act as filtering and preparatory bodies and provide strategic impetus. In the EESC’s case, the body concerned is known as the ‘enlarged Presidency’. It consists of the President, the two Vice-Presidents, the three Group Presidents and the Secretary General. Twice a year, the enlarged Presidency holds a seminar, traditionally away from the distractions of Brussels, and that is what took us to Naples. Thus, the formal agenda consisted of such strategic discussion points as the follow-up to the Programme for Europe; the Committee’s role and contribution to the forthcoming Employment Summit in Prague (6-7 May); preparations for the debate in next week’s extraordinary Bureau meeting with Felipe Gonzalez, President of a high-level Reflection Group on the Future of the EU; and the Committee’s relationship with and administrative arrangements for the national economic and social councils, the Committee’s Liaison Group with European-level civil society organisations, and the International Association of Economic and Social Councils and Similar Institutions (known by its French acronym, AICESIS). And that’s how we spent Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning. As is par for the course, a lot of informal business was conducted ‘in the margins’ of the meeting. There was some culture in there also. We had two interpreters to ‘whisper’ in the ears of those of our participants who couldn’t understand French or English. One of them was the daughter of an archeologist who throughout her childhood had been the Head of the French Archeological Society’s Naples Office, and so she had known various places of antiquity – Pompei, Herculaneum, Paestum – as they were uncovered. It was fascinating listening to her childhood recollections over the breakfast table. After a quick buffet lunch, it was back to the airport and Brussels and an evening’s work with the files. Infuriatingly, the weather had been fine in the north.