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The real power map of Brussels – POLITICO

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Brussels, haunt of spies, home to so many clandestine deals made in smoky rooms – despite all the clichés about the hidden corridors of power, much wine and dining takes place, more or less, in the open air .

Of course, you can stake out the Berlaymont or wander the corridors of Parliament in search of the EU’s top leaders, or chat with their aides in the bars of Place Lux and Place de Londres. But catching the real power players and negotiators, faceless bureaucrats and shrewd diplomats, requires a bit more finesse.

Here is POLITICO’s guide to the real centers of power in Brussels:

Exki Schuman

EU diplomats joke that the quickest way to message Russian or Chinese spies is to sit and chat in the Exki branch of the European External Action Service. The walls of Exki have ears, they say.

The implication that the cafe is being bugged, according to an official, stems from an intelligence report circulated in Brussels. When top EU intelligence official José Casimiro Morgado canceled a trip to Taiwan after his top-secret preparations were apparently leaked to Beijing in advance, some diplomats said conversations at this Exki restaurant could to be the source of China’s knowledge.

Exki did not respond to a request from POLITICO about whether a bug check had already been done.

The Devil’s Corner

“The Devil’s Corner” is a Belgian bistro that looks like an English pub in the heart of the European district.

Located on Rue Stevin near the European Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters, it offers a variety of heavy Belgian beers and non-stop meals from noon to 10 p.m. It is also a stone’s throw from Avenue de Cortenbergh, a road that houses several EU embassies, including those of Portugal, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Romania and Cyprus.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a great place to spot officials and diplomats enjoying a drink (or drinks!). If you’re really lucky, you might find Dutch Ambassador to the EU Robert de Groot or Irish Permanent Representation to the EU spokesperson Alan O’Brien holding a drink there.

Ramo Verdee

Big business is being done at this chic but unpretentious Italian restaurant.

A Western diplomat who asked not to be named said it was over lunch at the Ramo Verdee that he managed to convince his counterpart at the table to support his country’s line on reduction targets shows. “And I didn’t even need wine,” the diplomat stressed.

You can find many EU officials sitting at the tables here, including Claire Raulin, France’s ambassador to the EU’s Political and Security Committee, a body that deals with security and defence. Greece’s former ambassador to the EU, Andreas Papastavrou, was a regular guest.

LeMerode

At just one year old, the social club TheMerode has already achieved the impossible: merging several different Brussels bubbles.

In the 16th-century mansion, you’re as likely to bump into female startupers in the workspaces as you’re to find the Australian ambassador and her entourage having a drink in the avant-garde art-adorned lounge. Despite its location just outside the European quarter, TheMerode is already in the heavy rotation of EU policy roundtables and trade association receptions. Individual subscriptions start at €1,200 per year (€850 if you are under 35).

To Meli

If you don’t want to be seen talking to reporters, don’t go to To Meli.

The Greek charcuterie just off the Schuman roundabout is the new favorite spot to meet your real-life Zoom contacts for the first time, or take some time for yourself and pistachio pastries with Commission bureaucrats – especially since the pandemic-era demise of Italians’ favorite Caffé Vergnano.

Incidentally, this place, now called Papillon, is also Greek, marking a significant power shift in the Schuman cafe scene.

Aspria Arts-Law

You have to be a lawyer, lobbyist, or tax-exempt expat to pay membership fees at this luxurious European Quarter gym; again, you may be able to deduct it as a business expense.

Located almost exactly between the European Parliament and the Belgian Federal Parliament, Aspria is known to attract Brussels dignitaries in every direction, from European Commissioners to Walloon Minister-President Elio di Rupo.



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