BRUSSELS -- With all of Europe’s focus on productivity, competitiveness and conforming to a globalized world, it still manages to keep its tradition of switching off in summer. In reality, Europeans are taking shorter holidays than the old days when families would spend all of August at their country home, hotel or campsite. The average grandes vacances of the summer have fallen to two to three weeks from four weeks a decade ago. Yet, the rituals of the European summer remain unchanged, particularly in the corridors of the European institutions in Brussels. Even if some officials are hard at work -- particularly those focused on security (see my previous blog entry), foreign affairs and aid workers in Lebanon, most European Union (EU) officials (in the Commission, Parliament and Council) are off duty from end of July until la rentree in the last week of August. The European Commissioners have taken a six week break away from Brussels and will only meet again on Wednesday, August 30th. No EU major decisions/laws will be taken or adopted in their absence. The streets of Brussels around the European institutions are mostly empty and quiet-no European civil servants or lobbyists around here. Even the best weekly newspaper on EU affairs, The European Voice , takes off the month of August.The great European summer may be a bit of an illusion, since many Europeans take no summer holiday and a majority is at work for most of the summer. Yet the pretence is healthy. People slow down and are happier. Europeans are mostly more civil and everyone takes a little more time to enjoy life. This even applies to the upper reaches of the business world in major European cities which have adopted the 24/7 mentality of the US — including breakfast meetings and no lunch-breaks. In London or Frankfurt, they pretend to keep up the normal pace. Some minimize their absence and put in extra hours to cover their break. But, in Brussels, in the capital of Europe, it is still okay to take some time out with the family and see a little sunshine-outside of Belgium, of course.