Don’t go to the EU parliament with a full bladder

Speeding through the European night I was in desperate need of the loo. On the continent for a Master’s field trip the ginger ale I had been consuming since Dover had finally caught up with me. At a rather smart looking service station I stepped out from the coach into a dazzling bathroom. The flush even on the urinals was as strong as Niagara Falls, the porcelain was whiter than white and underneath the bar of sinks a gentle purple light breathed through the room. Amazed at the bathroom I exclaimed to one of my course mates that I didn’t know the loos in France could be so good. ‘They’re not – we’re in Belgium.’

We checked in to a hotel in Leuven and after a night out which included sampling the Belgium beer and chatting to the locals, I returned to the hotel only to keep my roommate up with my snoring. After a continental breakfast which appears to consist almost entirely of cheese we rode up to the European Parliament building in Brussels. My views on the EU were well known to my cohort as I had religiously warned of the dangers of globalism in class. Determined to take the institution head-on I walked side-by-side with the Director of Exeter University’s Strategy and Security Institute as the first entrants. I mentioned something about ‘the enemy camp, sir’ as we approached the desk which was met with a friendly chuckle.

Eventually we went through some scanners that made sure we weren’t separatist terrorists about to blow up the building and proceeded to what looked like miniature version of the parliament itself with a semi-circle of tiered seats and a desk set in the middle. Our first speaker was a British MEP and came out with an aide who sat assiduously beside him. When he decaled himself a member of the socialist wing, I graciously put our differences aside and wanted to hear what the chap had to say. Thankfully he did not argue for luxury space federal communism now but had instead kindly taken time out to explain the structures and functions of the various EU institutions for us. Afterwards I rose my hand for a question - ‘What was the point of the parliament if it could not propose legislation, which was instead done by an unelected commission?’ My premise was flatly denied which left me slightly perplexed but never mind, the next event was a tour of the parliament complex itself.

A blonde in high heels, white blouse and a dark suit was leading us around which was all very well but having previously downed several gallons of Brussels’ finest mineral water my bladder had expanded larger than the eastern European member state candidate list. As we approached a great atrium I really, really needed to go. Discreetly announcing my temporary absence to a tutor and in the spirit of that great explorer Scott, I gallantly left to discover a bathroom. But what was this? A corridor. And another. Another hall, then a turning. ‘Wasn’t this the way we came?’ I thought to myself, as pine door after pine door flew by me as I picked up the pace in my search. I was caught in a labyrinth of glass and steel. Rooms within rooms, mirrors within mirrors. The blueprint for the building was as complicated and complex as its own machinations. I was ironically trapped in the very institution I was politically trying to extricate myself out of. Eventually I found a blue and white sign (what else?) that pointed me towards my goal. I walked in. But where was everyone? It was awfully quiet. No one else was using the bathroom. Indeed, I can’t have passed a single person in the corridors along my way. As I found a path back to rejoin my group no room seemed bustling on the other side, no committee meetings were spilling out or individuals striding about with important bits of paper in-hand. It was completely deserted.

Eventually I returned to my fellow wanderers as the blonde lady was talking through the other EU buildings. The EU Parliament is held in Brussels but also in Strasbourg as is the European Commission. The EU Parliament has other facilities in Luxembourg. The European Court of Human Rights is held is held in Strasbourg, but the Court of Justice of the European Union is held in Luxembourg. The European Council meets in Brussels, not to be confused with the Council of Europe which is also held in Brussels. Frankfurt is home to the European Central Bank but aha! the European Investment bank is in Luxembourg. Finally, the European External Action Service which directs EU armed forces is located in good old Brussels. Not a project to abolish the nation-state I promise.

After a croissant and a cup and a half of Earl Grey we ascended up various elevators to meet a silver fox. All of the talks were under Chatham House rules for anything mentioned that wasn’t routine or in the public sphere, but since I hadn’t exactly signed the official secrets act in practical terms I didn’t really understand what was there to stop me from leaking any information to a passing Brussels reporter lurking underneath a pile of waffles. Nevertheless, my lips have and will continue to remain sealed on any details but the talk from an official from the European External Action force was excellent. Having recently asked my barber to fade my hair on the sides keeping it very short, I spied the official’s silvery-grey hair cut in a similar fashion. He wore a neat double-breasted suit with a pocket square and tie. ‘His hair is pretty cool,’ I mentioned to a fellow course mate as we all grouped together to leave the room. ‘Yes he does look the part – you wouldn’t want to leave your wife with him.’ I wouldn’t want to go to the EU parliament with a full bladder either.