Tough work gives way to pints and play


IF YOU'D been talking about EMU and the IGC all day, you'd want a pint too.

Great European minds seem to think alike, and they headed en masse for the pubs on Friday night. British Prime Minister John Major showed up in Kitty O'Shea's with Chancellor of the Exchequer Kenneth Clarke. At his closing press conference on Saturday, Charlie Bird presented Major with a photograph of himself and Clarke at the bar. Could he have a copy too? Clarke asked Bird.

post it to Number 11 Downing Street!

End-of-summit pressences provided some repartee between Euro and hacks. Guardian correspondent Michael White cheekily told John Major - who will probably be succeeded by Labour leader Tony Blair next spring - that this was likely to be his last European summit. Major didn't miss a beat: "I hope to see you next June (at the Amsterdam summit)," he told White. "If you still have a job." French President Jacques Chirac chided liberation's Brussels correspondent Jean Quatremer: "For years Liberation has been telling me that everything will go badly in Europe," Chirac said. "I am impressionable, so I arrive at these meetings somewhat worried. And then everything ends up fine - contrary to what I read in Liberation."

European summits are run on a class system as rigid as anything invented by the British. Heads of state and government are in first class. They're served champagne at every meal and have free run of Dublin Castle. The leaders' domain is called the Red Zone, and the borders of this sanctum are clearly marked by red signs and burly security guards with walkietalkies. No one would think of asking a prime minister or president to wear a vulgar ID badge; instead they were given gold-plated sterling lapel pins made by Dublin jewellery designer Alan Ardiff. The logo of. the Irish presidency - an egg shape with three curlicues - adorns the lapel pins. A handout from the Department of Foreign Affairs explained the logo: "The continuous spirals with seemingly no beginning or end are synonymous with the belief that as one cycle ends another begins." Not a bad definition of European presidencies!

Still in the Red Zone but a notch lower, the foreign and finance ministers wore the same lapel pins, except that theirs were not gold-plated. Ambassadors, ministers' assistants and other delegation members were in club class, known as the Blue Zone. Their lapel pins had blue enamel heads, (the blue being for Europe) with green (signifying Ireland) curlicues.

Finally, the 2,000 journalists at the summit were confined to steerage class in the Chester Beatty building and environs. Their yellow badges designated them as outcasts from the castle or delegation rooms. From time to time a government spokesman or minister would toss them a scrap of information.

The media couldn't complain though they had a free bar with Irish music on Friday and Saturday nights. And while the heads of state, ministers and leaders of aspirant EU members from eastern Europe were lunching on fresh and smoked salmon, Beluga caviar, fillet of Irish beef in roasted pinenut and basil crust and orange creme brulee on Saturday, the press were queuing up for their traditional freebies: A side of smoked salmon from Wrights of Howth, Butlers Irish handmade chocolates and a set of Guinness postcards. A voucher could be exchanged for a bottle of Jameson at Dublin airport.

The photographers and TV camera crews had the hardest job, waiting outside in the cold for repeated "family photos". It's hard to get a good shot when you're being jostled by hundreds of colleagues. There's always some poor guy at the back who has to hold his camera above his head and shoot his picture without knowing what he's getting. As they swarmed through the courtyards of Dublin castle, the photographers made fun of themselves, barking like dogs and bleating like sheep.

Leaders who skip the family photo are frowned upon. This time it was Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene, who made a beeline for the exit after lunch. Dehaene, it seems, didn't want to miss the Belgium-Netherlands World Cup qualifier.