I am in Valetta today (I flew in at midnight yesterday) for a meeting of the Presidents and Secretaries-General of all the national Economic and Social Councils in the European Union. We meet up twice a year, with the Councils taking it in turn to preside and host the meetings. I am the new kid on the block and I have a big speech to make this afternoon. But it is not a daunting occasion by any means, for we are all involved, in one way or another, in the consultative function, advising political or governmental authorities from the point of view of organised civil society, and so we’re kindred spirits. On our agenda are some important themes: the current economic crisis and its consequences will be high up on the agenda, but we’ll also be discussing the impact of legal and illegal immigration on the labour marets and the implementation of the services directive. Plenty of meat, in other words. I like Malta and I like the Maltese. I find their language, with its mixture of Arabic, English and Italian fascinating and redolently symbolic of the way this island has historically stood between two continents. This morning I sneaked in a quick visit to the Co-Cathedral of St John’s to gaze on the two Caravaggio masterpieces there; the beheading of St John the Baptist and St Jerome. Both are truly extraordinary, but the beheading scene, with the apparent indifference of the onlookers and the sense of haste, as if the executioner had been asked to wring a favourite chicken’s neck and get it over and done with quickly, is so very cleverly done. You really do get the impression that all that will be left in a few minutes’ time is a drying blood stain in the dirt and a couple of ne’er do wells gazing aimlessly out of a window at the street.