Life of a European Mandarin –
Inside the commission
Author: Derk-Jan Eppink
Published by: Lannoo, 2007
Although one of the mottos of the European institutions is transparency, it is extremely difficult to find accurate descriptions of their daily activities. Of course, you can spend days surfing the website of the Commission or trawl the alleys of the European bookshop in Brussels, and you will find plenty of information on the processes and policies of the Union. You will, however, search in vain for an accurate picture of the political dynamics and intricacies that led to their adoption. The second challenge you will face is actually to get past the traditional euro-jargon and find such reading entertaining…
Derk-Jan Eppink must have seen the gap in the market and has successfully managed to remedy this unfortunate situation. A little bit like an impressionist painting, his book distils, with light touches, the stories and anecdotes that make up the daily life of Brussels. He has had the chance to approach the European institutions and their staff from different professional perspectives. His first encounter with the Commission’s machinery was as one of the few interns that are selected each year to serve for six months in the Commission. His description of the tortuous lobbying process necessary to secure the job is just a teaser for the rest of the book. After this first experience he served as an assistant for several members of the European Parliament before spending nearly 10 years as a political journalist in the Netherlands and in Belgium working for NRC Handelsblatt and de Standaard. His last experience, and probably the most interesting for the reader, was as a member of the private office of the Dutch Commissioner for the internal market, Frits Bolkestein, between 1999 and 2004, which provided him with one of the best possible observation posts into the intricacies of European Union decision making.
In this job, Eppink witnessed the last enlargement of the Union, which radically transformed policy making in Europe where no single country is now able to dominate and where issue coalitions have to be built on an ad hoc basis. He took part in negotiations with the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers on issues ranging from the enlargement of the Union to Turkey to the stability pact, without forgetting the notorious services directive. What makes the book an interesting read is not only the detailed review of these policies but how the interaction between all public and sometimes private interests shaped the final legislation.