The worst idea in the history of the world ever

22-12-2002

A few months ago I was listening, as I often do, to the BBC World Service, when I heard something absolutely alarming. The Beeb's correspondent in Brussels was moving on to pastures new, and was summing up his feelings about the city, which of course is where the headquarters of both NATO and the European Union are located. Nobody likes Brussels, he said, it's dirty and boring and doesn't have much character. Or he said something like that - I wasn't listening too closely until he dropped the bombshell.

When the EU takes in 10 new members in two years time, said the BBC's man leaving Brussels, it would be a good idea to move from the unpopular (at least with many journalists and diplomats) capital of Belgium to somewhere further east - specifically to Prague. This was the first time I'd ever heard this notion, and - as I lay in bed on that Sunday morning - it filled me with horror.

One reason Brussels is said to be so lacking in character is the fact that one quarter of the city's population are diplomats and other people who work at the EU. It's an EU city, in the same way that the town of Hershey in the United States is a 'chocolate town'. The idea of thousands upon thousands of well-paid Eurocrats moving to Prague disturbs me profoundly because they would change the city profoundly. Prague is way too small to absorb that kind of impact. Rents would increase, forcing moves on both locals and blow-ins at the lower end of the pay scale, like your correspondent. There would be more expensive restaurants and shops - the Eurocrats would quite simply colonise a large part of the Czech capital. They would change the city so much, and in such a bad way, that I would honestly consider leaving what has been my home for the last decade.

What I say is if the EU really want to move their headquarters further East they ought to choose a big city, like Istanbul. Just kidding about Istanbul, but please leave our Prague alone!

I told many people about the BBC correspondent's worrying suggestion, but then for some time heard nothing more about it, and hoped it was just wishful thinking. Until, that is, a week or two ago when I heard an interview on the Czech BBC's slot called "Interview". The guest was the Social Democrats' presidential candidate Jaroslav Bures. Mr Bures said that if he were president, he would invite some EU bodies to move to Prague, specifically the office connected with the enlargement process. Can't really argue with that I thought. But then, Mr Bures said, after that he would be glad to see the whole EU HQ move to the Czech capital. That was the first time I'd heard any Czech official float this idea, and I sincerely hope that it will be the last. It's some comfort that Mr Bures is said to have a snowball's chance in hell of becoming president. But still, I say, it's time to bury this ridiculous idea for once.

22-12-2002