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Parkinson's Law
Requiem for a Dream

After an abysmal year, the EU has just opened a bright, shiny new headquarters—and not even the New York Times can avoid noticing the glaring irony:

Britain voted in June to leave the bloc, and the willingness of the other 27 member states to play by rules decided in Brussels is being tested in ways scarcely imaginable when the project was given the go-ahead a dozen years ago. Europe is being swept by populist fury, much of it directed at the European Union — at its centralizing tendencies and its often ineffectual results.

National leaders have failed repeatedly to reach consensus over how to manage the debt crisis in Greece that nearly sank the euro several years ago. They still are quarreling over how to handle a mass influx of migrants from the Middle East and Africa. That crisis could resume if a delicate deal with Turkey restraining the flow collapses.

At best, the new building might represent a fresh start for the European Union, along with its architecturally charmless neighborhood, known as the European Quarter. At worst, European leaders might end up meeting in their eye-catching new headquarters just as they reach the nadir in the struggle to determine the future of their troubled Continent.

The description of the $340M building is almost perfectly parodic:

A cube-shaped, see-through facade that encases the orb serves as a visual hymn to the European Union’s motto, “United in diversity,” Mr. Samyn said. The facade’s 3,750 panes of extra-clear glass have been mounted in refurbished oak window frames of different sizes, which were obtained from demolition sites in each member state.

The meeting rooms are laid with carpets and have ceiling coverings in 60 different colors, producing a mildly psychedelic effect. The square and rectangles motif, designed by Georges Meurant, a Belgian artist, acknowledges the importance of color to national identity while avoiding patterns that recall any individual member state’s flag.

The bloc’s leaders will sit at a round table rather than the one with sharp angles that is currently in use in the Justus Lipsius. That means they will no longer need to use video monitors some of the time to see who is speaking, making the atmosphere more intimate, Mr. Samyn said.

Longtime readers will know that we here at TAI are fans of Cyril Northcote Parkinson, the sardonic British bureaucrat and essayist whose collection, Parkinson’s Law, presents such timeless maxims as, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” It turns out that Parkinson had a theory on headquarters. He held that “lively and productive” institutions flourish in “shabby and makeshift surroundings,” while:

[P]erfection of planning is a symptom of decay. During a period of exciting discovery or progress there is no time to plan the perfect headquarters. The time for that comes later, when all the important work has been done. Perfection, we know, is finality; and finality is death.

One illustration from from Parkinson’s “archaeological and historical” research into this ‘rule’ ought to be particularly chilling to the mandarins in Brussels:

Just such a sequence can be found in the history of the League of Nations. Great hopes centered on the League from its inception in 1920 until about 1930. By 1933, at the latest, the experiment was seen to have failed. Its physical embodiment, however, the Palace of the Nations, was not opened until 1937. It was a structure no doubt justly admired. Deep thought had gone into the design of secretariat and council chambers, committee rooms and cafeteria. Everything was there which ingenuity could devise— except, indeed, the League itself. By the year when its Palace was formally opened the League had practically ceased to exist.

Perhaps we can add an addendum to Parkinson’s chapter, saying that another sign of finality comes when the New York Times acknowledges a liberal-internationalist dream is in trouble. Their headline was, “As Hopes for European Unity Dim, New E.U. Headquarters Are Glowing.” The piece ended by comparing the new HQ to an urn.

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  • Disappeared4x
    • Ellen

      OK, but when was man created? On day 6. So, he couldn’t have made an omelet on day 3. On day 7, God took a rest from his labors, and the whole creation went kaput. The EU story of the last few years has been one big satire. I hope the elections in Holland and France this year will bring an end to this not very entertaining spectacle. And another hope: that Donald Trump will send the UN packing when he comes to power too. How about moving it to Senegal?

      • Disappeared4x

        ‘Whither the UN HQ?’ has spurred many online suggestions. The current location in Manhattan is a Bad Karma Reincarnation, from slaughterhouses to The United Slaughterhouse of Nations:

        “…in 1928 there were slaughterhouses to the east; most apartments were built facing the opposite direction because of the stench and filth that emanated. In the 1940s, the slaughterhouses were demolished and the United Nations Headquarters was built in their place.

        • Angel Martin

          If the UN is ever evicted from Turtle Bay, I suggest they move back to the Palace of Nations in Geneva. It is still there, and owned by the UN.

          • Disappeared4x

            Not so sure Switzerland wants, or deserves the punishment of hosting any more of this UN !

          • Venkat Rao Dasari

            New Zealand. They are a big supporter of UN. Also in the process of redesigning their flag. They could just use UN flag.

          • Disappeared4x

            NZ food and wine too good for UN HQ. How about Pishin, Iran, on the border of a divided, and illegally occupied Balochistan? Or, Waziristan, where the UN could learn a few things about the perils of “global governance”.

      • JR1123581321

        Careful mentioning God. Comrade Friendly Goat may get triggered and try to block you.

    • Nevis07

      Ugly. Very European. Has a certain air of smugness about it.

      • Angel Martin

        it looks like they forgot to take down the scaffolding…

        • Disappeared4x

          Yes, photos of new EU HQ in Brussels show scaffolding still up. The NYT article referenced in TAI post here started with “The new European Union headquarters, the Europa, in Brussels. Ministers will move in shortly after the New Year and European Union leaders are expected to hold their first meeting there in March”

          • Jim__L

            Kinda like the De Young museum in Golden Gate Park.

            Rusty scaffolding at that.

          • Disappeared4x

            Fun slideshow from 2015 of de Young at link below. Clad in copper, opened 2005. It does look like scaffolding, not sure if added since 2015 photos. The scaffolding blends with the weathered copper. Looks like an earthquake mitigation – an exterior cage support for the reverse cantilever tower.

            or to keep birds from crashing into the windows.
            Looks permanent, wonder about the photos of EU HQ in Brussels. Maybe that is a security grid, or bird deflector.


  • Observe&Report

    I wonder how many emperors, monarchs, and other despots spent the dying years of their reigns building magnificent palaces and other monuments to a glorious past they thought was still present.

  • Eurydice

    Ok, I’m just imagining the logistics of washing every one of those teeny tiny wood-framed windows (not to mention the cost).

  • ljgude

    It really is a dramatic moment of change as the established order falters. During the Reagan administration I was personally making my way from being a Harry Truman Democrat to being a sometimes Republican and conservative. When History ended – as Francis Fukuyama had it – I noticed that many of my former leftist colleagues doubled down on many of the very things that had failed in the Soviet Union and elsewhere. Equality of outcome, complete rejection of Capitalism as the primary problem facing humanity, privileging social goals over economic realities, the collective over the individual and so forth. And they did this sincerely and indeed some of the most sincere of them are highly visible today – Sanders in the US, Corbyn in the UK. And they were quick to reject those who sought to take on board the Thatcher Reagan critique and move the left on – that is, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. By 2016 the left had turned the center left into Oakland – there was no there there and Hillary kept falling into it. And the EU has followed a different but analogous course trying to create a unitary state – aptly symbolized by a big gilded ball in a box. – while pretending that real cultural diversity is a mental construct. No amount of driving trucks into holiday shopping cultural Christians will convince them otherwise either.

    • Eurydice

      Yes, cultural diversity is a wonderful thing as long as nobody clings to their culture, just wears it once in a while, like a Halloween costume.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Confederacies are unstable, and as with the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, the Euro and EU will eventually disintegrate.

  • FriendlyGoat

    I have an old recollection of a supposed quote from someone in the Saudi royal family telling Bush 1, “If you think you don’t like us, you will like the ones who come after us even less.”

    If we think we don’t like the EU, what are we to expect after an EU failure?

    • Observe&Report

      Liberal democracies (which at least one notable aggressor in WWI and WW2 was not) don’t go to war with each other. In any case, inter-generational German war guilt makes the chance of another Franco-German conflagration negligible.

      • Jim__L

        Germans are getting past the War Guilt thing nowadays. Not that they’re going militaristic by any stretch, but that’s not something to rely on to keep the peace.

        • Observe&Report

          I wouldn’t bet continental peace solely on German war-guilt, but I am comfortable betting continental peace on the fact that the Germans (and the French) can hire and fire their leaders.

          • Jim__L

            What about the leaders in Brussels?

          • Observe&Report

            I’m very comfortable betting that there won’t be an EU left for Brussels to lead in ten years’ time, except perhaps in name only. Given the deteriorating state of Italy’s banks, Italy could be forced to leave the eurozone before the UK leaves the EU. If that happens, I give the EU less than five years before its authority evaporates completely.

    • f1b0nacc1

      An interesting observation. Like everything else, the quote was likely stolen by the Saudis from Madame Pompadour (apres moi, le deluge), which strikes me as unusually appropriate in this case. Unasked, I will offer a reply….

      We will like some of them, and some of them we will dislike. Some we will befriend, and some we will not. This certainly is an improvement over what we have to deal with now. For the most part the EU is irrelevant and senescent, perhaps if (when?) it disintegrates, we can cherry pick the useful bits…

      • FriendlyGoat

        There is nothing to be gained by the USA from Europe in a mess.

        • LarryD

          Unless you are arguing for iron fisted conquest of Europe, I don’t see that there is much we can do about it. And I’m dubious about how much we could do even having conquered the place.

        • f1b0nacc1

          You are arguing that the only alternative to the EU’s soft despotism is ‘a mess’, while you offer no real evidence that this is the case. There are some European states that have some viable future, and others that are hopeless. What evidence do you offer that they can only face disaster if they don’t join hands and walk into the grey tyranny of incompetence together?

          • FriendlyGoat

            I don’t think Mississippi can be much of a country without New York or California. Keeping Europe in little unequal factions is not a great plan.

          • f1b0nacc1

            As any European would tell you, Europe is not the United States, and European countries have a very long history as separate states. Do you honestly believe that the long history of Europe is a disaster? The last thousand (or more) years? If so, could you be a bit more specific about what constitutes a disaster in your mind?

            Mississippi might in fact not be much of a country without New York or California, but then again, neither would New York or California without any number of other states. As a quick example, CA would be a barren desert for the most part without water it gets from other states, and a New York without the rest of the nation would not be able to sustain itself as a financial powerhouse.

            You still haven’t really done much other than make assertions, and offered no real argument to support them. The point of departure in this thread was that what will come after the EU is not necessarily better than the EU, and there is certainly a case to be made for this…though you have not made it. We are about to see your theory put to the test as Brexit unfolds and the European project disintegrates in the south. So by all means….put your money where your pixels are, and show us what to expect so we can see if your reasoning stands up to the test of events. I am happy to do the same if you wish…

          • FriendlyGoat

            A disaster is an excess of warring. Europe has had plenty in its past and could have more in the future. For what?

          • f1b0nacc1

            So wars are your concern? Given the pathetic state of most European military establishments, and the Eloi-like behavior of their military-age males, I suspect that you have little to worry about! One could easily argue that the US taking over the adult responsibilities for Europe has had as much (or more) to do with the lack of conflict there than anything that the EU could claim credit for. Of course, the last ‘long peace’ in Europe was in the 19th century, an age of great fragmentation and rampant nationalism….

            You are declining my offer to demonstrate the usefulness of your analysis with some predictions? Or is ‘an excess of warring’ (no time frame, etc.?) the best you can come up with?

          • FriendlyGoat

            I am a fan of unity and cooperation. I am not a fan of fractures and perpetual carping. I “get it” that immigration is a major driver of Brexit and other movements which may tear up the EU concept. I don’t cheer for any philosophy of “let the strong prosper and to heck with everyone else”. So, I don’t think we should either cheer for the break-up of Europe or imagine it is a good thing for the USA when free nations have family feud. As for predictions, you should seek a bolder pundit. I don’t do windows, as they say.

          • f1b0nacc1

            So, just to be clear (and I am not being sarcastic, I appreciate that you have given a serious answer here), your concern is about your person preference for unity and cooperation? Nothing more than that?

            As for predictions, sorry you won’t play….here is your chance to prove your point, after all…

          • FriendlyGoat

            Everything in a comment section is opinion and all of it is based on personal preference. We are in the 21st century and are supposed to have learned something from history. Looking back at such is why I think we should give unity the benefit of every doubt. Disunity is both costly and painful, after all, whether it’s families, workplace factions, tribes, ethnicities, religions, nations or competing street gangs.

      • PierrePendre

        I don’t wish to be pedantic but just in case AmInt is being read by some impressionable under-70s, that was said by Louis XV.

        • f1b0nacc1

          My understanding is that while some have attributed it to Louis, it was Madame Pompadour who actually made the remark.

          Either way, you are hardly being pedantic…let us simply agree that the quote is apt and agree to differ as to the source!

          • PierrePendre

            Always willing to agree where possible…..

  • JackOlson

    Here is a photo of Romania’s Palace of the Parliament. At one time, its construction was consuming 40% of the GDP of Romania. The Romanians understandably shot the man who commissioned its construction, Nicolai Ceausesu.

  • PierrePendre

    What the EU needs is a Dullesian “agonising reappraisal” of its function and future in a world that was beyond the imagination of its founders.

    Globalisation, the economic rise of rival Asia, the arrival of Islam in Europe via mass immigration to renew depleted native populations, the gradual ouster of Judeo-Christianity as the foundation on which Europe’s liberalism rests; none of this was foreseen in the 1940s and 50s. The rule of experts has led to excessive bureaucracy at the expense of democracy, consent and freedom of expression and to huge, unmanageable projects such as the CAP, Schengen and above all the euro which is a politico-economic curse.

    A suffocating transnational EU political class of like believers and encompassing both Left and Right has emerged to enforce all this. Diversity is the great liberal battle cry of European liberals except in the matter of the EU whose single-mindedness and exclusion of dissent would have impressed Brezhnev’s Politburo.

    The EU’s biggest bet, that it could abolish the nation state and invent a European identity that would replace nationalism, is it’s biggest and most hubristic failure. The cultural incompatibilities of its northern, southern and now eastern blocs have proved insuperable and are potentially destructive. If it all had to be reduced to one word, it would be sclerotic. It will take more than a new palace in which to be sclerotic to fix that.

    To survive, the EU will have to be leaner and more responsive to its citizens, curb the power of the unelected Commission, return sovereignty to governments and accept that what it does requires the consent rather than coerced acquiescence of its diverse peoples. Trump and the rise of protest parties across Europe mean that the liberal experiment with the exercise of top down power has reached the limits of public tolerance for the moment at least. Time to retrench.

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