Chapter Three

Brussels and Theatre: Bureaucracy and Place

Planet Brussels

For observers of high politics, the European Quarter seems underwhelming: a peculiar place that mixes intergovernmental and supranational tendencies in ways that fit no models. Even Europhiles admit that the EU lacks a central theatre of political drama – “the words Brussels and theatre do not naturally combine” in Garton Ash’s (2005) pithy remark. Most accounts of the union pay little attention to the place, as distinct from the institutions it houses, treating the area merely as a container of bigger inter-state dynamics. Institutions are considered important as mediators of national interest but where these institutions are clustered remains incidental to analysis.

This popular association with dull bureaucracy is tacitly extended to the professionals who work in the European District. The term ‘eurocrat’ had appeared by 1961 already to refer to EU civil servants as distinct from their national counterparts. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, its connotations are “chiefly derogatory” as the term implies a group of “veiled rulers who are both difficult to call to account and also (we all suspect enviously) likely living the good life of privileged international junketing” (Western 2012, 1). To many outsiders, EU officials seem like “a species of disconnected rootless mutants” managing a political entity deprived of territory (Anthropology Today 2004, 11).

That image of a “veiled”, “rootless”, or “mutated” ...

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