It’s a Friday evening. A long and busy week is over and people are heading home for a well-deserved weekend, but not yet the Euro-mandarins; oh no. We must stay a while yet and do our penance. One of the members of my writers’ group, Alice Jolly (author of What the Eye Doesn’t See and If Only You Knew), once worked briefly for the European Commission. ‘It was OK,’ she once told me, ‘but I was driven barmy by the signataires.’ What, the layperson might ask, are the signataires? Basically, they are files with a document of some sort inside, usually requiring a decision. On the front is a routing slip, showing the visas of those from whom the document came and everybody who saw it on its way to you. It’s a way of establishing responsibility and hierarchy. There has been all sorts of talk about paperless offices and periodically efforts are made in all the institutions to shorten the lists of names on the routing slips but the signataire is still flourishing, a little like Japanese pond weed. To understand why it is the Euro-mandarins’ penance, you have to understand the rhythm and culture of our administrations. Quite naturally, before people go home they like to get stuff (probably various signataires) off their desks. So off go the files, ending up at the top of whatever tree they’re supposed to climb up, where the decisions have to be made. Moreover, on Friday evenings this phenomenon is compounded by two additional aspects. The first is that everybody wants to get rid of everything before the weekend – again, perfectly understandable. The second is that there are always urgent dossiers for next week (which could be any week, of course). And so, on Friday evenings all over Brussels, Euro-mandarins are settling down in their offices to start their penance.