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European Council starts in Brussels

Thursday 22 November 2012

It's a beautiful, sunny day in Brussels as member states' leaders are filing one by one into the Justus Lipsius building, where Herman Van Rompuy, the master of the house, receives them for one-on-one talks known as confessionals. (They're not quite one-on-one this time around: José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, is also in the room.)

The 27 leaders are pleading 27 special cases. President A wants to cut the overall size of the multi-annual financial framework but insists that farm aid to his country must not go down. Prime Minister B wants to keep proposed caps for regional spending in place but is seeking an exemption for his country because it would be hit hardest by new caps. 

Yet another leader is fighting  to preserve the size of his country's rebate but wants all other budget items to go down. 

And so on it goes late into the afternoon. 

(A 28th leader, Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic of Croatia, is also attending but is more of a spectator since Croatia will only join next July.)

The idea behind the confessionals is that leaders will be more outspoken about their core demands and red lines with Van Rompuy than in a room full of their peers, where showing one's cards too early can mean certain defeat. This privileged knowledge, the theory goes, should or might enable Van Rompuy to make just the right concessions to leave everyone, or everyone who counts, roughly equally unhappy, and to strike a deal. 

The first plenary meeting - a working dinner - is scheduled to start at 8:30pm tonight, and diplomats expect to get a first feeling of whether there might be a deal toward the end of the day. That might then be followed by another night session where the nitty-gritty would be discussed. 

The weather forecast for tomorrow (23 November) is suitably gloomy, with rain predicted to set in around 6am. 

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Toby Vogel

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