European officials are vacating Brussels, pensive, worried and anxious. A brooding presence, a mysterious metallic machine, haunts the heart of the European institutions. For months IT has caused furious arguments amongst the Union’s 380 million citizens and observers around the world. Is IT a Unidentified Flying Object, a UFO, from another planet?
The enigmatic object has landed on the flat roof of the Berlaymont, the home of the European Commission. Ufologists in Brussels are all-a-twitter. Gastronomes too. It is more like a flying sauceboat than any flying saucer ever encountered. This landmark building, symbol of eurocracy par excellence, has given rise to a new breed of searchers for extraterrestrial life: the ubologists, researchers of Unidentified Brussels Objects.
The ubologists say the encounter is of a favourable type, a kind kind. They point out that the Commission building is now undergoing renovation and refurbishment. As it is being cleaned of asbestos in an environmentally friendly way, extraterrestrials have obviously decided to land their spacecraft and stay in Europe’s capital to demonstrate ecological solidarity with eurocrats, if not earthlings.
This opinion is considered scientifically outrageous by deep thinkers in the capital. The more seasoned groups of Brussels intellectuals have already come to a more mundane conclusion: the huge, metallic, oval basin-shaped object on the Berlaymont roof is obviously a man-made construction. A technological innovation, maybe, but it serves a practical purpose.
It is Commission President Romano Prodi’s new bath tub!
But scientific conclusions do not gain universal acceptance that easily. Amongst those studying the problem, separate schools of thought have now arisen. Those who firmly hold the Prodi bath tub as a working hypothesis are one. These are known as the Bathists. Those who oppose this have been dubbed the Bath-atheists, or Batheists for short. They believed they had a clinching argument and pointed to a later addition: a series of windows on the side of the so-called Prodi bath tub.
The Bathists responded that, on the contrary, this made their case even stronger: Mr Prodi is obviously interested in transparency, even in his bath. Now there is even a third group, the Bath agnostics. They lie somewhere in the middle. Known as the BaAthists, they say they are an independent bath party. They refute the suggestion that they are connected in any way with the Iraqi Ba’ath party. Their leader is not Saddam but said to be a shadowy personage called Dunnow Duntker.
Meanwhile, the Bathists uncovered further evidence that they were right. The presence of a crane pointed indisputably to the fact that this was a Community Bath. The tub was big enough for total immersion of all the Commission.
Why such a large crane? Experience showed, they said, that help was needed to load one or two Commissioners who spent too much time at personal shopping in the common market. When a second crane appeared, Bathists were not in the least perturbed. ‘It’s for the enlargement process, silly. Anybody can see what’s going on.’
The Bathists had another argument. It was a clean machine. Not only could everybody see whether Mr Prodi’s band had anything to hide, but those in the tub also had an excellent view of everybody else outside.
Then intellectual opinion and inquiry took another sharp turn with the interaction of a group of sociologists. They arrived in Brussels from faraway parts and were much influenced by their studies of New Guinea aborigines, cut off from civilization as we know it. These natives believed in a Cargo Cult. The core belief was the mysterious arrival of treasures and gifts from the gods after storms at sea (when coincidentally, unseen, passing cargo ships might founder and their containers be washed ashore).
Drawing on their more global expertise and trendy jargon, these sociologists convinced a broad range of people, from civil servants in policy study institutes (motto: ‘We think’) down to many private consultants (motto: ‘I think, therefore I am paid’) and large multinational policy study organizations (‘we think therefore we are paid megaeuro’).
All of the thinkers came to the same conclusion. After the Santer storm, the mysterious cargo container on the roof was nothing else but a Think Tank! It was Big Think. The little thinkers would be the messengers from its port holes.
Intellectual debate has burned furiously. The media, often accused of taking a more trivial or superficial view in the great European debate, were fully drawn in. They all had some personal interest too:
Mr Prodi tell us the truth. Or if I may ask without, I think, revealing too much about my own views or identity: ‘Mr Prodi, please come clean!’ (Editor, don’t forget to pay me before you go on vacation!)
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