“You should not slap your neighbours without asking their permission first”highlights a rather fine piece of whimsy on Ollie Rehn's website, all about his abiding love for saunas. Oddly Mr Rehn makes a great play about the segregated nature of the traditional Finnish sauna, a segregation that despite rules changes back home he maintains whilst whisking himself and ameanable neigbours in the Berlyamont's de luxe sauna operation.
The manifesto of the centre liberal party in 1989 demanded that chauvinistic structures like the Finnish tradition of negotiating in a sauna be torn down. I'm all for equality of the sexes but this was just pushing it too far. Preparing the manifesto was my responsibility, but when I lost the sauna debate I left the meeting, slamming the door behind me. This way I also had time to watch the opening match of the Finnish football season. A few of the ladies who opposed me at the time are ministers today, and I promise not to invite them to the Commission sauna.Of course this isn't the only form of segregation in the Commission saunas. far from it. Not only does the Finnish Commissioner baulk at the idea of women in his sauna, he doesn't have to deal with underlings there.
In Finland the tradition of the sauna is one of that countries great egalitarian tradition. Just as we are all equal in a pub, and just as the village cricket is said to have played its part in stopping a revolution in late 18th century England as all classes mixed at the game, so the sauna has no class division.
But not in the EU institutions.
Officials of the commissioner, heads of cabinet and directors-general will have access to Sauna No 1, others can only rest on the benches of Sauna No 2. Commission officials who do not work in the Berlaymont will have to ask for permission first.So if women don't use it, and only high grade officials can use it, how many people actually use the Commission's gilded Sauna No.1?
(The picture is a mock up of serious negotiations regarding the Baltic Sea Strategy)