Chirpy chirpy cheep cheep

According to the Open europe blog, I am “extremely chirpy” – does this count as them saying something positive about Europe? They also say I use too many exclamation marks – a fact of which I am well aware (I also use too many hyphens and brackets as well). Still, nice to know someone’s reading! <– HA!

Was at the launch of the NT’s Watch This Space festival on Friday. It started with a meeting with all the cultural attaches of the different member states and people from the UK’s various arts councils, which was really interesting. For the launch, we watched Tango Sumo and then headed back to the Deck area at the top of the National for the reception. Angus had lined up two of the acts – Mala Sangre, a flamenco group and a couple who juggled and danced. Sounds weird, but was amazing. Highlight of the evening for me was meeting Nicholas Hytner, who directed the best thing I’ve ever seen in a theatre, His Dark Materials. More being starstruck, after Thursday.

Weekend was fun, with the goodbye party of the people whose house I will be renting on Saturday, so I met loads of new people, then recovery and Wimbledon final on Sunday – what a game! I was just so glad I didn’t have an emotional investment in either player, cos I think I would have expired long before the end.

Got in early today as I’m leaving early, so I did the daily video-conference with Brussels. Found out that we are negotiating with the UK Government so that people can write to the Commission on Scottish Gaelic and Welsh, like we already have with the Spanish government for their non-Castilian languages. Also some nonsense written by Terry Wogan of all people about an EU directive on how many holes salt-cellars have to have. I can only assume (hope?) that it was a piss-take, but the way it is written I’m sure there are people who will believe it is true.

I also followed up a comment written on Mark Mardell’s blog about the healthcare plans, when someone wrote that “Not once in their 50-year history has the EU Commission ever proposed to return a power previously acquired by them back to the democratic arena of the nation-state”. Not true. The marketing standards for fruit and veg is a recent example. Today we proposed a block exemption which would return a lot of state aid decisions to the Member State level. We have undertaken a whole bunch of simplifications, recasts and repeals of legislation to decrease the administrative burden on business in particular. And that’s just a morning’s work – I’m sure there are many other examples to be found.

Totally starstruck

Back in the office after the trip to Liverpool. And what a trip it was! I got up there on time to make sure the cars were there, before the President and his entourage arrived. we drove to Liverpool and once we had all checked in and put our stuff in our rooms, a few of us headed down to Albert Dock. it was about 10.30 by this time, but still worth it – the regeneration that has gone on there is amazing. Still, it was quite a long walk, particularly in heels!

The next morning we headed over to the university for the honorary graduation ceremony. There was a journalist from the Liverpool Post and the Europe by Satellite team, so they got all the preparations. There was all the usual pomp of a graduation ceremony – in fact it was his honorary degree but also the graduation of the Masters and BA students from the Department of Social and Environmental Studies, so loads of politics students. After the ceremony was over, we walked to the Metropolitan (Catholic) cathedral and there were quite a few students doing their graduation photos over there – several came up and asked to have their picture taken with the President and one guys mother ran down the street to get him to sign the graduation book, saying how pleased the guy had been to have the President there for his graduation. Really nice to see people being so positive.

Once the ceremony was over the day got REALLY fun. First we headed off to the Vice-Chancellor’s Lodge for a very nice lunch. The day’s other honorary graduand was there, so I can now say that I have had lunch with Elvis Costello and Diana Krall! After lunch we headed down to the Liverpool Tate, where we were met by the Gallery’s Director and various luminaries from Liverpool’s City of Culture including Phil Redmond! We visited the Klimt Exhibition and then some of the 20th Century Art collection. All very impressive. I did lots of PR for Lewis’s book and in fact Phil Redmond had already bought it on the recommendation of the Chairman of the North West Arts Council, so Lewis has some heavyweight fans! After a cup of tea and a biscuit at the gallery while the President talked to the city leaders about the renaissance of Liverpool (and the role played by EU funding!), we did a short press point outside, then back in the cars and off to the airport. It was a great day all round. What really impressed me, and the President I think, was the way that the whole city has embraced the City of Culture – there was even a City of Culture prayer in the Cathedral! I was talking to the local media people and they were saying that the biggest thing it has done is made people elsewhere in the UK appreciate what Liverpool has to offer, and get beyond the “jolly scouser” or “scally” stereotypes. I guess it shows the link between culture and economic development – that there’s more to doing these thigns than pleasing the elite – it actually brings something to a city or region. Hopefully we can get that message through to some of the people in Brussels as well!

Your right to get treatment in another EU country

A crazy day today, with the announcement about the proposal to clarify an individual’s rights to get healthcare in another country. We came in this morning to find it was front page of the Daily Mail – positive EU coverage on the front page of the Mail!! An expert in the issue had come over from Luxembourg – an old friend, Nick Fahy – who did a great briefing for the press. We had quite a few people there, from the big papers, BBC Online and a specialist journal. It was very helpful for me if I end up having to answer any questions about it, as he really covered chapter and verse. The thing to remember if you are reading this is that these are rights that exist already – the directive will just codify and clarify them as set out in a series of European Court of Justice judgements since 1998. So you don’t have to wait the three years or whatever for it to come into force, if you want to exercise your right to go elsewhere (though you might have a bit of a tussle with your healthcare system!).

Off to Liverpool this afternoon, which will be my first “representational” trip. Quite looking forward to it, particularly as it is so focused on media and culture (European City of Culture!) so right up my street.

Got the new housemate coming in to sign his lease as well; I signed mine last night. I also found out yesterday that I will complete my house purchase in France on Tuesday – had to do a power of attorney for my father to sign the “acte authentique” as it is called because I wasn’t going to be able to get away. So home-ownership is but a few days away.

And if you’re wondering where all the hayfever whinging has gone, I have fabulous new pills which actually WORK! They’re called Aerius, prescription only and I cannot recommend them highly enough. The beneficial side-effect is that they really don’t mix with alcohol, so I’ve stopped drinking. It’s worth it to be able to function as a human being for most of the week!

Pif Paf Pof

It’s in the Scottish papers today that Alyn Smith MEP is starting a campaign for Scotland to have its own entry to the Eurovision song contest. There’s quite a lot to be said for that (ie it might have a chance of doing well!). But actually the first year’s entry is already written – don’t know who remembers “The High Life” but one of the best episodes was their Eurovision entry. You can see the song here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rhrX7aYeNk

I’m still giggling.

Happy birthday booze cruise

Today is the 40th birthday of the Customs Union. One of the things I find when you talk to people about the EU is that some of the benefits have been around for so long that people take them for granted and only look at the immediate (true of anything I suppose). But without the Customs Union, that great British tradition – the booze cruise – would never exist. You would have to pay much more in Sainsbury’s for that nice Rioja that you had on holiday in Spain, or that smelly French cheese (yum!). You’d have to pay duties on anything over a certain level that you brought back from Europe – I know from being on rue Haute in Brussels on a Sunday that there are a lot of antique buyers that come over from the UK. The Customs Union goes further than that though – there’s a strong fight now against counterfeited goods. This may bring bags and clothes to mind, and seem inocuous enough, but it also includes things like medicines or toothpastes, where counterfeits can be very damaging to people’s health.

So happy birthday to the booze cruise and many happy returns (hic!)