Brussels functionaries bewildered by Greece

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Published: July 7, 2015 10:30:22 PM

Named after a founding father of the European Union, Brussels' busy Schuman roundabout lies at the heart of the bloc.

Named after a founding father of the European Union, Brussels’ busy Schuman roundabout lies at the heart of the bloc.

As EU leaders gathered on Tuesday afternoon at their summit hall, the European Council building on the southwest corner, the crisis that could see Greece crash out of the euro has unsettled the legions of officials and diplomats who make Brussels tick.

The European Commission, the EU’s permanent bureaucracy which faces the Council on the northwest corner, says it will respect the “democratic result” of Sunday’s referendum. Other member states, whose embassies dot the streets radiating from Schuman, say they will listen to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

But in the morning rush, among eurocrats emerging from the metro or dashing out for cappuccino, many were less diplomatic. Reuters took just their first names to hear the private view of staff in government jobs.

“The government is using the people to blackmail their negotiating partners,” said Bart, a 38-year-old Pole. “What I particularly dislike is the way the Greek government construed the situation and led the people into a dangerous situation.”

The dangers for the Union are felt deeply by many who have devoted their lives – and depend for livelihoods – on the EU institutions.

“I think negotiations could have gone much further,” said Tessa, 29, who works for the Dutch mission at the Council. “I’m disappointed that the government started this referendum.”

She and others, however, were unsurprised by the result.

Dimitris, 41, who works at the Commission and hails from Greek-speaking Cyprus, said mass unemployment after years of bailout austerity made it obvious: “If you have nothing to lose,” he said. “The choice is easy.”

Not everyone was critical of the Greek voters. Maria, 25, from Portugal, who works at the European Council, was happier than most around Schuman, having hoped for a ‘No’: “Greece has to stand up to what’s happening to its people,” she said. “I think it opened a precedent … in Europe.”

But Elena, 49, who had travelled from Germany for Tuesday’s summit, echoed many EU leaders: “It’s a bad decision at a bad point in time,” she said. “We’re looking at a very hard time.”

The dominant sentiment around Schuman, with its grinding day-long traffic and unlovely euro-towers, is one of confusion.

“It’s a pity for the Greek people,” said Latvian Commission worker Max, 27. “But long term for Europe? I don’t have a clue.”

“I have no idea,” echoed Marjita, 45, from Slovenia’s EU mission, adding: “I don’t think anyone does.”

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