04 March 2018

The European Union, explained to geeks

I've started describing the EU to geek-friends as a set of services built over decades.

  • You need to coordinate energy supplies across the company departments (nations)? We built a service (ECSC) that does that. Worked great, no more fighting over the last bit of coal!
  • Need atomic development? EURATOM service. Worked great, again.
  • And so on and so forth...
  • At some point somebody said hey, we need a management tool for all this stuff! "European Council" service, with a set of dedicated subthreads for the real work (European Commission).
  • But that service will run amok at times, let's add some monitoring and security checks! EuroParliament service - took a few rewrites to get right, nobody really likes to work on monitoring tools; but like systemd on Linux, the EP service should eventually take over anything that talks to real world I/O, so it's pretty important.
  • Now all this stuff needs to communicate, with common formats that avoid parsing and reparsing umpteen different types of data back and forth, and ways to look up the right service for a given job - so we created a "CommonMarket SDK", optionally turbocharged with options like Schengen. When exceptions are thrown, the SDK will automatically invoke the ECJ service to resolve matters; and it will self-update by talking to the management services. Once everyone adopts the SDK, then it should be easier to make more radical changes through that (ECB, Euro, common fiscal policy...). But in the end nobody likes change, it's always hard to break backward-compatibility.

Now, across the company/continent, various departments/nations have adopted some or all of these services, but most of them ended up relying on the SDK one way or the other, so it became basically mandatory. At one point we had to give a name to the whole framework, and "EU" it was.

It's definitely not a monolith, but there are so many moving parts that the management services are now essential. Some departments have renounced their Write access (Iceland, Norway, Switzerland...) and some were never granted that privilege (Turkey); some departments were forced to change their processes to suit the framework (Italy, Greece, the Eastern countries...). Things are still pretty shaky, developers are still very much at work, but it's getting better with time. It's making more and more services possible and even *easy* to bootstrap (EMA, EFSA, Erasmus...). Bugs creep in and out, we keep adding more and more fault-tolerance, the workload is not yet distributed fairly, etc etc; but it's accomplishing some very heavy tasks that are absolutely mission-critical, if we want to keep the company running and competing with the big boys.


Then, one day, a department said they'd like to go back to pen and paper. Except for a few services, for which they want to hand-craft packets individually, but those services should just assume the data is still as good as before, and never throw exceptions - they will ignore any response from the ECJ service anyway. Some of what their department does depends on another department, which has no intention to go back to pen and paper, but they say they will somehow give them bits and receive paper, without anyone actually doing the transformation, and without any friction at all. And they'd like to retain write access to the management services too, thank you very much, plus veto powers, so nobody can change SDK formats without consulting them.

Cue facepalming.