Trains and automobiles become the choice de jour for EU elite

It looked like the revenge of the downtrodden.

As EU finance ministers reluctantly debated how to make the banks pay for their own mistakes in the future, the world around them ground to a halt.

The thick cloud of volcanic ash that was gradually imprisoning people throughout Europe, was spewing from an unknown volcano in the country that best illustrated the need for greater controls on banking.

Iceland is also an EU candidate, having whacked in an application for membership last year as their economy collapsed around their ears.

Britain and the Netherlands demanded the 316,000 Icelanders refund the British and Dutch who had lost money in their banks. The plucky Icelanders have refused, of course, and we will have to wait to see what happens next.

In the meantime Eyjfjallajokull continues to belch out its cloud of dangerous dust and vapour that continues to waft over the EU, prompting one British diplomat to quip: “We said cash, not ash”.

As one airport after another shut down it quickly became apparent that the only countries that could still fly were the PIGS – the other baddies in the eyes of the EU: Portugal, Italy (taking the place of Ireland in this instance), Greece and Spain.

The Irish contingent didn’t manage to make it to Madrid at all, leaving the country’s say in the hands of the ambassador to Spain.

On Saturday morning finance ministers rushed to finish their two-day meeting in Madrid and make the last flight home where possible.

France’s Christine Lagarde gave a lift to fellow countryman and Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier but they could only reach Marseilles airport.

The hapless Greek finance minister headed straight to Athens to make sure he was there before the IMF arrives today. The Italians fled back to Rome and the Portuguese got to Lisbon where they almost ran into the German Chancellor Angla Merkel en route from Washington.

Lisbon was the only sure airport she could land at, the air control authorities advised. So from there the leader of the biggest and wealthiest country in Europe had to bus it to Berlin.

She was not the only one.

Rapidly the humble bus became the only means of escape and six commissioners and their staff climbed on board one in Madrid bound for Brussels.

Spare a thought, however, for the Swedish and Finnish ministers who would be little more than half way home when they reached Belgium and faced another 12 hours before they reached their capitals.

Some rushed to rent cars and in Madrid the rental companies quickly ran out of vehicles –– even at €2,000 for 24 hours, the price for a vehicle that was going to be returned to a different location.

Those who had missed flights and taken overnight trains to the meeting discovered they had to find a different means of return since the Spanish train drivers were striking yesterday.

And the French train drivers, as part of their on-going row with the state, were on strike for nobody knows how long – perhaps April 25 according to some reports.

When journalists lifted their heads for long enough from writing about the plight of others, they too realised that they could be marooned in Madrid. Not a bad place to be stuck, but panic set in as the volcanic cloud spread south, closing airports in its wake, and rapidly approaching Madrid.

For the press corp too the only option was a bus and reluctantly about 100 reporters and camera crew boarded two for the 20-hour trek to Brussels.

In the meantime the Russian and German presidents took old-fashioned propeller-driven helicopters and planes, flying at low altitudes to attend the funeral of the Polish president killed apparently after he insisted the pilot land in dense fog despite three failed attempts.

Communications, like economics, can be a tricky business.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2021

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