The hotel lobby is all white marble flooring and semi-uniformed staff. Much posher than the one I'm staying in. I find the bar where I recognise Bob Graham and join him and two others. He stands, shakes my hand warmly and introduces me to Mike Hagen, another Brit, and a young Italian guy whose name I don't catch but tells me he's doing a degree in Brussels funded by Chemtura.
"What would you like to drink?" Bob asks me. "We've got an hour before the restaurant."
"Any Belgian beer," I say.
Mike is younger than Bob, good-looking, rugged, sun-tanned. I learn that he was a firefighter but is now retired from the fire services, like Bob. He runs a fire advisory service called the Fire Safety Platform.
The beer is very good and I like their company. One of the things I enjoy about my job is meeting people who've spent years on the front line, literally fighting fire in this case.
We have a couple of beers then move on to the restaurant. It's small and cosy, run by a somewhat eccentric Belgian chef. There is only one menu each night but it's always excellent they tell me.
There is a certain camaraderie we share that is based in a UK against the rest of the world feeling. Tomorrow we will be doing all we can to convince the non-UK delegates that they should be taking up the same high level of fire safety provided by our Furniture Regulations. We will be taking part in a meeting to discuss a proposal put forward by the UK MEP, Emma McClarkin, which she's hoping will attract enough support from other MEPs to put it to the European Parliament formally.
Emma wants two things: first, that the rest of Europe sets up fire statistics as good as the UK's; second, that the rest of Europe also adopts furniture flammability measures as tough as the UK's.
Bob tells me they're paying for dinner tonight and I vaguely suspect this means the flame retardant industry is stumping up. After all, Bob is employed by EFRA, the European trade association for the flame retardant industry. At this stage, this doesn't strike me as particularly contradictory. EFRA has long campaigned for better fire safety, just like the UK. I've been to meetings in Brussels where the European Commission has argued for UK-like flammability rules with briefing supplied by EFRA.
After more drinks, I surprise them with the news that I'm a science fiction writer. Bob then talks movingly about the Manchester Woolworth's fire in 1979 that killed 10 people. He was a fire chief in attendance and still has nightmares about the charred bodies of those who could not escape from the restaurant because a freak fire in the furniture department on the floor below had thrown up a wall of toxic gas. That and the desperate arms trying to force their way through the bars on the windows of the restaurant. This incident put Bob on the road of campaigning to bring in tougher legislation for furniture.
Years later, I'll look at the Woolworth's fire with different eyes and begin to suspect that it was quite possibly not an accident at all.
For now I say, "I know we've got the best fire regs in the world but I'm wondering if they isn't a way we can also reduce flame retardant use. It's what's blocking the rest of Europe coming up to our level, after all."
They seem to agree, tell me that sounds like a good policy, providing we don't reduce fire safety.
"Why do you two think the Germans and the Swedes are so reluctant to improve furniture flammability?" I say.
They laugh. Bob says, "Flame retardants prevent fires taking off."
Mike's smiling. "And the Germans don't want to prevent fires," he says. "They want to put them out."
"I don't get it," I say.
They share a knowing look. "The German fire services get very good government funding," says Bob. "They've all got these big new shiny Mercedes fire engines."
He raises his eyebrows, encouraging me to get it.
"Sorry," I say.
"They want to keep their snazzy equipment," says Mike. "So they need to be putting fires out, not supporting measures that prevent them happening in the first place. 'Don't worry' they say to the people; 'we'll get there in minutes and save you'."
We all laugh. This makes perfect sense in a UK view of the Germans kind of way. Many years later, when I reflect on this, I'll see it's utter nonsense.
I'll also remember once again who was paying for dinner that night. And note how naive I was not to see that my position in tomorrow's meeting was absolutely pivotal.
Before the meeting I have a talk with Emma McClarkin. And the young guy from Chemtura. Seems like EFRA is funding the event and that gives them access to the politicians.
She is a young, attractive woman; intelligent and apparently genuinely concerned about the fact it's only the UK that appears to take domestic fire safety seriously. She tells me about a terrible house fire in her constituency back home that has informed her decision to make this proposal. I glance at the Chemtura guy but his expression is opaque.
I reassure her that we are working to bring the UK Furniture Regs up to date while maintaining fire safety, and mention that we're looking to reduce flame retardant use in the process but she doesn't really respond to this.
The meeting proper takes place around a very long table. There are about forty people present. We all introduce ourselves. Bob and Mike are there of course; also representatives from a European burns victims association; a couple of other European fire fighters; someone from IKEA that I've seen at other Brussels meetings; a man from the Commission's consumer safety unit; and a woman from something called the Green Science Policy Institute in California.
Emma kicks off, explaining what her proposal is all about; then others say their piece. Bob talks about the important role of flame retardants in fire safety and is challenged by the woman from California. This is a little embarrassing and I feel sorry for Bob.
Then it's my turn. I stand up and say a little about the successful history of the UK's regulations; how we're updating them and so on. Then I say that while we're thinking about reducing flame retardants, there's no evidence that they're harmful. This produces protests from the IKEA and California women. But I'm not sure why.
The moment the meeting finishes, the two women head straight for me and instinctively I hold up my sandwich plate by way of defence.
"There's tons of evidence against flame retardants," the California woman says; and Ms IKEA agrees.
On reflection, I guess a normal civil servant at this point would have said something about how we'll look into it, suggest they write to the Department, and generally avoid the issue.
"How do I find it?" I say.
California woman promises to send it to me. She also says that her boss, Arlene Blum, will invite me to a conference next year, in San Francisco.
After the meeting, I have a discussion with the man from the Commission. His department has always supported the UK regulations and made huge efforts to bring the rest of Europe in line. But now he tells me quite bluntly that, in light of the evidence, the Commission is no longer going to promote the UK regulations to the rest of Europe. Unless it can be done without flame retardants.
These two discussions are a turning point for me.
Later, I will see why Bob and Mike (and the guy from Chemtura) took me out for dinner that night. Even later, I will see that the flame retardant industry's plans to block the new match test begun almost as soon as the Brussels meeting finished.