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Sunday 4 December 2016

Cowen leaves his last summit as an object of universal pity

Emmet Oliver in Brussels

Published 05/02/2011 | 05:00

IT may not be the done thing in Clara, but Brian Cowen bowed out of top-level European politics yesterday by exchanging sloppy kisses and passionate hugs -- as if he'd always been a new man, but just never told the rest of us.

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While never likely to be a proper continental man, Mr Cowen seemed surprisingly tactile with Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who planted a kiss on the Taoiseach in a gesture few male (or even female) Irish politicians would be entirely comfortable with.

Thankfully for Mr Cowen (and Brussels-based photographers) British Prime Minister David Cameron avoided either embracing or kissing the departing Taoiseach.

The body language suggested that all the hugging and kissing was mainly driven by pity for the departing Irish leader.

The Irish were once popular in Brussels. For a time so were Messrs Cowen and Lenihan. But now, when Irish people join polite company in Brussels, everyone else shuffles nervously and tries not to mention the B word -- unless they are Greek of course.

This results in surreal conversations about the quality of the sandwiches in the press centre (not good) and what kind of tie French President Nicolas Sarkozy is wearing today.

Not that Mr Cowen himself spent his final EU Council meeting being shunned or dining out on stale ham sandwiches. Instead, he dined -- presumably rather finely -- with his 27 fellow leaders.

Before the lunch, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made it clear that certain countries (clue -- those with high budget deficits and broken banking systems) would have to think long and hard about a set of proposals she and Mr Sarkozy were putting before them.

One suspects their demand that Ireland give up its prized corporation tax rate may have caused Mr Cowen to splutter on his soup.

Irish Independent

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