Updated: Mar 9
Listen to the Episode
The Mechanisms and Function of the European Union Going Forward into the 21st Century or Quid Pro Euro? - This is a European Videos Production.
We're nearly at the end of 1995. A year for the history books! But what's next for the EU when we leave this decade, this century, and this thousandry? In this series, we’re going to find out. Today: Services.
Madrid, the twilight city. Where not everything is as it seems. Where water flows uphill. Where faith is pledged in shadow. Where Monday stopped following Tuesday when Tuesday lowered the red umbrella.
In Madrid, the twilight city, where the moon is out in the day, where the air is perfumed by the quince trees spraying it with little bottles of perfume, where songs are currency, where absolutely nobody is called Hugo, in that Madrid, Paloma Pujol begins her working day.
Paloma Pujol is a site manager for Suiza Construction, the efficient and affordable construction company who are improving the lives of ordinary madrileños across the city. At this site, they have cleared away a disused ice rink and are building a community farm! Community farms are very European, well, the clue’s in the name!
But how can this construction company, who are registered in France, work in Spain? Why do the enormous white blood cells, you know the ones, you’ll have seen them on holiday or perhaps on the television: they’re about the height of a dog, they line the roads of Spanish motorways between the petrol stations, they’re featured on all the postcards, I always see them when I’m in Spain buying roadside ceramics for my plants, why do those enormous white blood cells not simply engulf this foreign body of a construction company and eat it?
The answer is Freedom. Or rather: freedoms, plural.
Freedoms Plural was the Glasgow-based campaigner and daughter of the crime novelist William Demosthenes Plural, who led the fight to enshrine the European freedoms. The European Union is built on eight freedoms, sometimes called the eight pillars of Europe, named after Pilar Libertalia, the Figueres-based campaigner and daughter of the romance novelist Guillermo Seneca Libertalia, who led the fight to preserve buildings with columns.
The eight freedoms of Europe are: the free movement of capital, the free movement of people, of goods, of ideas, of teenagers who teach either swimming, skiing or tennis, the free movement of driving licenses, free movement of your diary (to publishers), and the free movement of services.
But what are services?
A service is an action performed which gives value to someone else. For example: weighting tables is a service. This is in contrast to goods which are physical things. For example: table weights, those are goods.
It’s 3AM, the 3PM of Spain, and Paloma Pujol, who lives in a cabin on the construction site, is awake. She’s just come home from a midnight showing of a film called Babe. Ordinarily, she would be climbing into her bed, which is shaped like a cement mixer.
But something has distracted Paloma. Instead of jumping into her pyjamas and revolving to sleep, she is outside in a corner of the site where the ice skate hiring booth has been demolished to make way for a wellington boot hiring booth, wearing a high visibility jacket and shining a torch.
Wellington boots were named after one of the founding fathers of the European Union: Jean Monnet.
What’s that noise?
This lecture hall is in the University of Applied Sciences in The Hague. And that is Isaac De Vries, a popular lecturer in criminal law. He’s just finished his class and the students are filing out. The middle aged man who is greying at the temples, putting on a macintosh and picking up a briefcase is approached by a very similar looking man but who also wears a hat. What a nice hat. A very nice hat. Here’s a close-up of the very nice hat. Oh, no, it’s moved out of shot. The man with the very nice hat was sat at the back of the lecture hall. Now that the students have left, he has approached Isaac De Vries to have a quiet word.
What could they be talking about?
Whatever it is, Isaac looks enthused. He signs a piece of paper and follows the man with the very nice hat. It looks like Isaac has been recruited. But for what? And where is he going?
At a mystery location, somewhere in the European Union, this U-shaped table and the people sat around it are kept in their room until their service is needed, with the lights and radiators turned off to save on bills.
They pass the time by trying on each other’s glasses.
Very fetching, sir, you look good in tortoise shell.
After an uneventful railway journey, Isaac and the man in the very nice hat have arrived: here, the headquarters of the European Office for Services on the Boulevard Anspach in Brussels, just underneath the Virgin Megastore, accessible by approaching any Virgin Megastore employee and using the code phrase “Hello, please can you direct me to the little spy’s room.” Isaac and the man with the very nice hat are pointed to the correct staircase. It’s the one that goes: down.
Below, they find another sixty or so men, greying at the temples, wearing macintoshes and holding briefcases. The men are working in pairs. One half of each pair wears a nice hat.
The hatless men stand at blackboards mocked up to look like they’re in a university lecture hall. Their partners sidle over and have a few quiet words. If the bare headed men are convinced, they sign a piece of paper, and then swap over, taking the nice hat with them. Occasionally a particularly promising candidate is sent out into the wider world to test their skills for real. At the bottom of the stairs, they exchange their nice hat for a very nice hat.
Congratulations Isaac, you have been recruited to help your union as: a recruiter.
Back in Madrid:
Do you hear that? What’s making that noise, Paloma?
Just there. A shape in the dark. Some sort of… is it a disc?
Is it... a satellite disc? It is a satellite disc. Well that shouldn’t be there. And nor should the attached radio setup. That should be the wellington boot mould! Where’s the wellington boot mold! Why is it a radio! Alright, it might be a galvanised rubber radio but it is still a radio, and one that is attached to a satellite disc! This is outrageous. Where did it come from? What is it transmitting? And what are you going to do, Paloma?
Paloma is going to make a telephone call.
In the room under the Virgin Megastore in Brussels, what a commotion! The news of the satellite disc has spread. It’s the number one topic of conversation among Virgin Megastore employees!
The would-be recruiters quickly fold up their blackboards and create a guard of honour on either side of the room. Oh, other side Isaac! That’s right. Look, there’s a spot for you. From the floor rises up a horseshoe-shaped table with seated and dusty senior European officials who are swapping back their glasses.
And who is this, standing at the top of the stairs, silhouetted by the glorious Virgin Megastore strip lighting which is reflected by thousands of compact dishes? Is it the floor manager? No. The floor manager is greeting new customers with balloons. Is it the store manager. No. The store manager is riding through the air in a balloon. Is it… him?
It’s him! Him is the daredevil entrepreneur of Europe: Barracuda!
Barracuda, who doesn’t wear ties (because he doesn’t have a neck), is always at the ready to sort things out. Could there be a fly in the European ointment? Perhaps an unexpected satellite disc? Barracuda is the friendly spider in the Union bathtub.
And who’s this he’s brought with him? Why it’s his youngest and brightest child: Silver Fox. Oh good. We can all feel safer. Together, Barracuda, Silver Fox, and a horseshoe of fresh European officials, will come up with a strategy to protect the Union as we go forward into the twenty-first century whatever the threat may be!
A twenty first-century which is increasingly safe and well ordered, a century we can all enjoy without having to spend too much time worrying about, well, anything. Barracuda doesn’t do what he does because it’s his job. Not because it’s his duty! But because it is his: service.
The next morning in Madrid, where the leaves fall from branch to other branch, where the ham sellers bless their customers with ham, where the bells ring out when new friends are made, Paloma Pujol has closed the construction site. Here she is, knee deep in a hole she’s dug around the satellite disc.
What’s that? There. On the side. Some sort of symbol. Perhaps it will tell us where all this came from. It’s... a rectangle. Red. With a white cross. And next to it, in a typeface which is both pleasing and legible, that’s a familiar name.
Suiza Construction. Swiss Construction.
Oh dear. :D
This has been a European Videos Production.