A 'kidnapping’, a car chase and an underwhelming EU summit
Published 28/10/2011 | 13:06
WITH car chases and the "kidnapping" of a top financier, the eurozone summit was higher on drama than its underwhelming results suggested.
At just past 4am the summit ended, and it became clear a deal billed as a grand bargain to save the eurozone might not live up to the hype
In the early hours of Thursday, Belgian police finally lifted the security cordon around the summit venue after eurozone leaders headed for their hotels following 10 hours of talks.
Just outside Brussels, police officers were having a more eventful night when a car tried to evade a traffic stop in the Orne-Thyle area in the south-east of the city.
They gave chase and after a 150mph pursuit on the E411 motorway the driver was apprehended and, once breathalysed, found to be drunk. Subsequent enquiries discovered the unnamed motorist was a eurocrat, an EU civil servant. "Someone either got drunk celebrating the summit deal or had a few too many to try and make the time pass more quickly," said a Brussels source.
Summit talks, scheduled to last two hours, had stalled over an EU demand that private banks take 50pc haircuts on Greek debt.
At midnight there was the real prospect the negotiations would break down, threatening a market meltdown in the morning.
But behind the scenes, negotiations earlier that afternoon in a Brussels office across the road from the summit venue between Vittorio Grilli, a senior EU official, and Charles Dallara, the director of the Institute of International Finance (IIF), had apparently taken a slightly sinister turn.
"Dallara was playing hardball and walked out at one point," said a diplomat. "We thought it might be a good idea to invite him over to the summit venue rather than let him go home. We told him that it was so he could be consulted, but in reality we wanted him in our clutches. It wasn't really kidnapping – only nearly."
As the talks dragged on, Mr Dallara continued to insist "there is no agreement on any element" of a haircut. This triggered further "hostage" tactics and the IIF boss was taken off to the EU president's office.
"We put him in Herman Van Rompuy's office and mobbed up on him with Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and Christine Lagarde," said the diplomat. "He had nowhere to go. It might have taken a few hours but he cracked. It wasn't an offer he could refuse."
By 3am, the deal was done but the hundreds of journalists sat by their computers were not to know this as the clock kept on ticking with no announcements.
"Help. Approx. 500 journalists currently taken hostage by European leaders," tweeted Stefan De Vries, a Dutch journalist for BNR Nieuwsradio at 3.38am.
At just past 4am, the summit ended and within minutes, amid contradictory press statements, it became clear a deal billed as a grand bargain to save the eurozone might not live up to the hype.
Geoff Meade, Europe editor of the Press Association and a veteran of 32 years of EU summits, remarked: "It was a long wait for an underwhelming result. We all know this piecemeal deal won't work for long and we'll be back for another summit. Not a reassuring prospect."