Table of Contents
Chapter 26 part 1 appears
in this issue.
Chapter 26: Strasbourg, France
At ten o’clock a rather less than dapper Jean-Christophe Nallier walked up to the Carousel on Place Gutenberg and spotted once again the charming lady with the endearing smile.
‘Good evening, J-C. I trust you are well.’
‘I am well enough ... merci. But I must admit to being very tired, after the exertions of the past two days. And I wish to apologise for my appearance. I have come straight from my final ... ah ... rendezvous, and I have not had the opportunity to ... well, to make myself as presentable as you deserve.’
‘Oh, Jean-Christophe, you are addicted to flattery! But I will graciously accept your apology, which anyway was not necessary. Now ... enough of such flirting! Let us take a little ride together on this delightful entertainment ...’
Then, once the carousel was moving round, Carla embraced her Frenchman for the last time, and disappeared. No-one was watching closely enough to notice ...
We meet once more, Jean-Christophe.
‘Ah ... bonsoir, Quo.’
I see you have worked quite hard for us again, Jean-Christophe. Please tell me what you feel you have achieved ...
‘Well, I was already otherwise engaged in Paris on the nights of Friday and Saturday. So I did not arrive in Strasbourg until Sunday evening. This did not matter ... I had not tried to make advance plans. I was not acquainted with any of the ten rapporteurs at that time, and I simply could not have found good reasons to telephone them and just ask for a meeting.’
A reasonable argument, I suppose. Pray continue ...
‘So, on Monday morning I obtained a weekly pass to the Parliament building, and for the last two days I have simply been wandering the corridors and seizing my moments. It has not been easy, and I was not able to reach all the rapporteurs. In fact, I only managed to meet up with four of them. But I was also able to get some time with three other good alternatives, including one on each evening. I have just come from the last of those. So, in all, I have seven rather surprising results for you.’
Thank you, Jean-Christophe. A fair effort. As it happens, the results do not surprise us quite so much. But then we do have the advantage over you! Yes ... as you have observed at first hand, there is a significant truth delta across the full set of results, and several occurrences of inversions.
‘Do you mean there is considerable dissimulation, Quo?’
An elegant summary, Jean-Christophe. An elegant summary.
You may now relax, monsieur, and return to you normal affairs. You will forget everything that happened in Paris, and all that you have discovered in such a privileged way here in Strasbourg, and you will lose the power to gain such insights in the future.
May you maintain your new-found political integrity, Don Juan ... excuse me, Jean-Christophe ... and may your soul remain forever calm in the face of its own moral dilemmas.
Carla left Nallier to dismount from the carousel on his own. With plenty of time to spare, she took a little break before moving on towards Hilde’s apartment block and her eleven o’clock rendezvous with her colleague investigative journalist.
* * *
As Carla was taking her final leave of Jean-Christophe, Toni was deciding to climb down from his barstool, which he could have sworn was beginning to revolve rather like the carousel. He walked rather nonchalantly back to his hotel to collect the CD player, then grabbed a taxi, got out at the John F. Kennedy Bridge, and made his way along to Hilde’s apartment block. The fresh air had sharpened him up ... a little.
He prepared the Abba CD, and waited.
* * *
‘Hiya, Carla. So ... good session with sweet lovin’ man J-C ...?’
‘Just a good session, Toni. We obtained some more results — that’s what matters.’
‘Cool! Hey ... I had a really great time too ... let me tell you about it ...’
‘No thanks, Toni. Is the music ready? Right — shape up, and ring the bell!’
Hilde could be heard approaching the door, so Toni started the CD player.
The incongruities of a Swedish group performing Waterloo on that particular evening, in that particular city, and for that particular audience escaped his normally keen historical mind. And Hilde had no opportunity to enjoy the ironies. Ignoring Toni completely, she caught Carla’s dazzling smile and was putty in the Finder’s hands ...
Carla pointed Toni at the kitchen, while she and Hilde moved into the living room and sat down together on the sofa, like two long-lost school friends suddenly reunited and with an abundance of news to exchange.
‘You may turn down the volume, Toni!’ called Carla. Then she reached out to their latest candidate for empowerment ...
Hilde, I am honoured to know you at last.
‘You have the advantage over me!’
I apologise. Please call me Quo. I wish at once to reassure you, Hilde, that there exist, in fact, absolutely no conspiracies against you — at least, none of which we are aware! That story was a necessary pretext, to allow us to make your acquaintance with minimal delay.
‘I am very relieved to hear it, Quo. But I do hope your other promise was not also false!’
I regret that indeed it was, madam. We bring no specific insights into the subjects which most concern you. On the contrary ... we are here precisely to establish what those subjects are. So, would you be kind enough to explain for me the essence of your renowned political motivation ...
‘The essence? You’re asking me to make a very short speech, aren’t you? That won’t be easy. Long ones are much simpler! All right, I’ll have a go ... we Dutch will try anything once!
‘I am a recently elected Member of the European Parliament. I am a well-educated, well-respected, professional woman with very high ideals. I try to be a woman of equally high integrity.
‘I am extremely dismayed at the overall state of affairs in the European Union. I am frustrated that I cannot personally improve anything very quickly. I am incensed by the partisan pressures that try to prevent me from freely publicising all my concerns.
‘I have spoken out in general terms about many things — inefficiencies, restrictive practices, social injustices, and so on ... often against the general line of my party — but I have to admit that I have not, as yet, chosen to attack any specific major issues directly. I am awaiting my moments ...’
Will you be more specific with me, please Hilde?
‘Yes, Quo, I certainly will.
‘I have serious concerns across a whole range of subjects.
‘I am frightened by the excessive and growing active power of certain States in the Union. I equally abhor the spoiling tactics adopted by certain States on international issues.
‘I feel personally affronted by the vagaries of policy which I observe across the Union; for example, in areas such as agriculture, budgetary deficits and monetary union, to name just three!
‘I am convinced that the over-rapid enlargement project which is currently underway, aiming to adopt into the Union many new Eastern European and other states, will cause huge organisational and financial problems for the Union, and will not bring benefits to any single state or to the whole for a very, very long time, and will instead reduce its cohesion still further.
‘I observe great human weaknesses in the making and changing of policy. I already have my suspicions of corruption in several specific areas, and I am amassing some good evidence, which needs to be watertight before it can be exposed. I was truly hoping you would be offering me something in this area ...
‘I believe that party politics are far too prevalent at the European level. This should be the stuff of the national parliaments (as it always was and is!). Decision-takers such as myself in the European Parliament should be far more independent — much more able to reflect what their constituents want and need, and to do it more dynamically, without all the extra baggage of one or other party to hold them back ...
‘I feel intimidated and almost powerless in the face of the increasingly dominant influences that masquerade as Corporate Public Relations. The continent is run by the corporations! Maybe that’s the way it always has been, for centuries even ... but it is not the way it should be. If this is allowed to continue, the power of a few technologically superior, ruthless, and arbitrarily fortunate commercial institutions will one day be insurmountable!
‘And finally (you asked for the essence, Quo, and that is what I have given you), I deplore the increasingly “presidential” style of the political leaders of the most powerful European States. Politics and government here is being turned into a channel-hopping pastime, a scramble for the best-rated soundbites, a “Reality TV” game of survival, a subject for humorous on-the-spot reportage slotted in before the football footage. Do you think I’m joking? Try to imagine what further varieties of dumbing-down media might evolve from TV, the Internet, and the picture phone! I dare not think how our great national publics will actually select (and flippantly discard) their leaders in fifteen years’ time, let alone fifty!’
Thank you, Hilde. A compelling speech! I conclude that you are indeed a woman of great integrity, for I am able to observe that there is a near-perfect match between what you truly feel and believe, and anything you have ever stated in public.
However, your equally great morality, as you have said, still awaits its day. It is strikingly clear to me that, on the many subjects which you have just enumerated for me, and on which you feel so very strongly, you have not yet committed yourself publicly in any way.
I suspect that on most of these issues you will sooner or later will have to speak out, or burst. But up till now, you have not broken silence ...
‘You are quite correct, Quo. But do you hold me in some way guilty for this?’
I do not know, Hilde. I really do not know ...
What I do know, however, is that our anticipation of finding a politician who may one day qualify also as a saint has been rather over-encouraged by the reputation that has proceeded you. You have done harm to nobody, Hilde; you possess the strength of character to speak out when you dare; and your instincts are purer than most. You rate very highly in our Truth Delta Analysis ... you have rarely, if ever, actively presented even a minor Untruth. But there are so many issues of note on which you have chosen simply to present no position at all ...
‘I need time, Quo.’
Do not let that monster slow you down, Hilde. Be brave, and be brave soon. And take no prisoners.
Now, madam, to our second reason for engaging you tonight.
We are fully aware that, tomorrow morning, the European Parliament will conduct its formal debates on the applications of ten countries to be admitted to the Union.
We note that you will not only be attending the full debate, but that you are expecting to have the floor, albeit very briefly, during the final hour, which is allotted to individual Party Members’ speeches.
Perhaps you have a mind to speak out strongly on this issue for the first time. But that is not our concern. We require from you a different contribution, as I shall now explain ...
As soon as Hilde had been released from Quo’s intellectual hold and Carla’s electronic grasp, she jumped up, hurried into the kitchen, and apologised profusely to Toni for having left him sitting in there.
‘I don’t know what came over me!’ she said. ‘But quite honestly, I really can’t remember much of what we’ve been talking about. I must be very tired. It’s a hard life, governing a whole continent!’
Toni laughed politely at her joke, picked up the CD player, and ushered his companion towards the door. Hilde van Wostraap shook his hand, then turned to Carla — but the Finder’s hand was already safely stored in her coat pocket. So Hilde merely smiled and nodded, and Carla said ‘Goodnight, my friend. Thank you for all your help — and I wish you luck for tomorrow ...’
* * *
As nine o’clock approached on the morning on Wednesday 9 April 2003, an uninvited and unobserved guest pursued the stream of MEPs proceeding into the chamber of the European Parliament. And Carla then took up a ringside seat for the entire debate that followed.
First, the overall report on enlargement was presented.
Next, one after the other, the ten nominated rapporteurs summarised the owning committee’s recommendations on the application of each candidate new entrant to the European Union.
Then, after various formalities, came the turn of the Members to speak. Carla waited with a radimote’s equivalent of some trepidation.
When her moment arrived, Mevr. Hilde van Wostraap of the Netherlands rose to her feet.
Her speech was short, but impassioned, and she did indeed dare to go a little further than ever before in her criticism of certain EU institutions and procedures. But on this very special occasion she would have little time or opportunity to expand her arguments. As her own allotted deadline approached, she turned to embrace the entire assembly in her gaze.
‘So, my dear colleagues, as we proceed towards these momentous decisions, I ask you simply to look into your hearts, in silence, for just a few short moments ...’
In the extended and highly pregnant pause that followed, as all eyes were fixed upon her, Hilde smiled a most reassuring smile. And she then rapidly recorded in her own mind the true views, on the issue of enlargement of the European Union, of every one of the five hundred and forty-three other MEPs seated in the parliament’s chamber on that historic morning.
At twelve noon, the debate was concluded and the formal votes were counted. The results were very different from those of the Doman straw poll taken only minutes earlier ...
* * *
Toni had slept in very late that morning. He had finally emerged for a light breakfast in a nearby café just before eleven o’clock, and then strolled aimlessly and quite happily around the city centre for two hours. Then he had discovered the special business lunch menu at the Au Dauphin restaurant, and enjoyed, for the first time in his life, a wonderful fillet of zander fish, followed by a superb apricot tart.
Then he had followed the instructions issued by Carla the night before, and taken a taxi back out to the north-east.
By two o’clock he was standing beneath the serried flags outside the Parliament building, alongside the many other people who had come there to recognise, in one way or another, the huge significance of this day for the whole of the European continent ...
* * *
Quo had allowed Hilde an uninterrupted lunch this time. So the MEP waited until precisely two o’clock before again making her excuses to the colleagues at her table and hurrying off to the ladies’ room. Carla pursued her closely and unseen.
Just as Quo had instructed at the end of her previous engagement, Hilde went straight to the basins and washed her hands. Then she turned around. Carla was sitting, smiling, inside one of the cubicles. Hilde stifled a laugh, walked across in silence, and closed the door behind her ...
Thank you, Hilde. Your performance in the debate was admirable, and your mission for us was completely successful.
‘I am rather surprised at what I appear to have discovered, Quo ...’
The understatement of a cautious politician, Hilde! I would expect most people to find the results quite chilling. However, they have not surprised us. In terms of Truth Deltas and Inversions, they are closely in keeping with all of our previous findings ...
But I do not wish to burden you with this knowledge any longer than is necessary. So it will now be removed completely from your mind. You will return to your lunch with no greater insight than any other fellow MEP into the true feelings of this parliament on the issue of enlargement.
We thank you sincerely, Hilde, and we humbly encourage you to continue your saintly ways.
‘Saintly? My goodness, Quo, I am no saint. I simply try to take guidance from my own heart, and inspiration from those whose integrity I most admire ...’
Oh? May I be so bold as to ask you to reveal the source of your greatest inspiration?
‘But you are teasing me, Quo! You have of course already observed this, have you not? Although I have never met or even corresponded with the gentleman in question, I have, for a long time, held the Prime Minister of Spain in extremely high regard ...’
Yes, I can indeed see that ... and it is a fascinating insight. I thank you once again, Hilde. Go now ... and may you find your peace with the world before it is too late.
* * *
Carla joined Toni under the fluttering flags.
‘Right, Toni. I have a short meeting to attend. Can you get a taxi straight back to the hotel and wait for me in your room? I shan’t be long ... and I suspect I might bring back some rather special news for you!’