Links 29 March 2010

I thought Joshua Chaffin wrote a sensible piece today on the departure of Commissioner Ashton’s spokesman.

In the meantime, take heart that Lutz is not leaving the Commission, but going back to DG Trade, where one suspects his lofty skills will be better appreciated.

Nosemonkey gets it spot-on: No-one understands the EU. I guess I would just add “and when they do it’s pretty dry and technical”

But the EU is not a single, harmonious entity, and cannot be simply explained. It is made up of 27 individual member state governments (who all still have to agree unanimously on all major decisions, despite being made up of political parties of all stripes), plus the European Parliament, plus the commission, plus the numerous other bodies that hang around the fringes.

If “the EU” decides to act, it is never for just *one* reason. It is for *at least* 27 different reasons. Unlike with national politics, where policy decisions can often be explained in just a sentence, every EU decision is vastly complex – with large chunks of the decision-making process having taken place behind closed doors in languages that you don’t understand.

New media often get a bashing, so it’s useful to be reminded of the huge potential for good that they embody.

Disasters focus the mind in ways that longer-term problems do not, but this crowd-sourced crisis response movement has lessons far beyond disasters. They are helping us to understand the circumstances that can rally the wisdom in crowds into a powerful force for solving the problems of the 21st century.

Charlemagne suggests to European leaders that they talk less. Good luck with that…

I think Europe’s over-representation is not sustainable in the long run. That said, am I about to urge the British government to allow France to speak for the City of London on financial regulation? Ahem, no. No more than the French would allow Britain to speak for them.

And finally, I was in Edinburgh this weekend and had two great meals, particularly our Saturday fine dining experience at Wedgwood with one of the loveliest bottles of wine I’ve ever had in a restaurant.

Working for a living

This week is clearly careers week. I don’t think I’ve done a single careers talk since I arrived, and I’m doing two this week. On Monday we had someone from EPSO, our recruitment service, in the Rep holding open sessions for graduates (or soon-to-be-graduates) on the new round of recruitment and the new system. I was there to give a bit of a personal view of working in the Commission, describing my career path, and of course answering questions. The experience of new aspirants to an EU career will be a bit different from mine, as they will be taking tests designed to test competence and not knowledge. So no more questions about how many traffic accidents were there in the EU, or what is the weight of printer paper (both terrifyingly examples of questions in past competitions!). I was only at the final session of the day, but it was striking how many of the people who came along were from other Member States. Apparently this was less the case earlier in the day, but it raises yet again the issue I mentioned at Abingdon about the spectre of a loss of UK influence within the EU institutions.

Tonight I’m going to City University to talk to their Sociology MA candidates about possible careers for social science students. Given that I did a social science Bachelors and am starting a Sociology MA at City in September, it seems a shoe-in for me to do!

So, if I’m having to stand up in front of people and encourage them to consider a career here, I have obviously have had to think about what makes it a career I enjoy. So here is a purely personal look at the main things:

1) I love being able to use languages on a daily basis (and so that’s something I really miss here). As a spokesperson I got to do interviews in French and English, brief journalists in those languages and German and improve my minor languages by reading the press cuttings. Really made all those years of language learning worth it.

2) I’m a bit of a butterfly (5 different posts and 4 houses during my 15 years in Brussels), so working for an organisation with such a broad range of subjects means I can imagine about a lifelong career without worrying about getting stuck in a rut.

3) Leading on from that, there’s something for everyone. If you’re a really technical type, whose life revolves around widget regulations, then you can spend your whole career on widgets. If you want to move around a lot you can. There are many jobs giving an overview of a broad policy area, and many that are highly specialised.

4) The calibre of people you work with, both within the Commission/other institutions and their broader ecosystem of trade assocations, think tanks, law firms etc is very high. So intellectually it’s an amazing environment to be in. Like university with better food…

5) There is a strong element of idealism. I came to the view when I was a teenager that it is in our continent’s best interests to work together, and I was happy to be given the chance to work daily to make that happen.

I’m sure if I sat down for a beer and talked about this, more would come up, but that’s it for the moment. If any of this strikes a chord with you, why not apply for one of the recruitment competitions coming up? If you’re on Facebook you can follow developments via the EU Careers fan page.

Links 23 March 2010

The RSS feed wasn’t really throwing up very much today, but Twitter has been a much richer source!

If the EU matters to you in the upcoming election, Cosmetic Uprise has done the work for you on the parties’ manifestos. From the perspective of the EU being a good thing, I should add. as she puts it:

My EU bias is apparent but wouldn’t even eurosceptics deserve to know more about why the parties’ policies are for or against something and what they intend to do about it?

Some discussion points on the European Parliament by Peter Mair (incidentally, one of my lecturers when I did my Erasmus term at Leiden University)

Perhaps ironically, however, this steady accumulation of these various powers and resources has been accompanied by a steady decline in its popular standing, support and legitimacy. In other words, more powers for the Parliament have been associated with more widespread popular disengagement from the Parliament.

Going to the birds

There’s a saying, isn’t there, about not pleasing all of the people all of the time. But when you work for the European Commission, there are certain people you can never please. I wrote a while ago about the Daily Mail bashing us for having rules on fruit and veg and taking away rules on bread sizes. There’s another one on this today. We have come in for years of criticism on the issue of discards of fish caught by fisherman that are over the quota and so have to be thrown back, even though they are dead, or will not survive. This is an issue we are very concerned about, and trying to tackle.  It was covered on BBC Countryfile last week, and the Daily Telegraph has of course covered this criticism several times. Yet in today’s Daily Telegraph Scotland edition (can’t find it on-line), there’s an article that says:

One of Britain’s most popular and instantly recognisable seabirds could be threatened by a proposed conservation measure to ban fishermen from throwing unwanted catches overboard…[Experts] are now concerned that EU proposals to halt the disposal of unwanted fish…could lead to a decline in gannet numbers.

So we’re bad if we force fishermen to throw away dead fish and bad if we seek to limit the practice. Another example of just not being able to get it right for some people…

Smalltown girl

A big thanks to the members of Abingdon European Society who welcomed me so warmly to their meeting on Saturday. I was there at their request to talk about recent developments in the European Union. I had quite a moment when the chairwoman introduced me saying I would talk for “about an hour”, knowing that I had a very short slideshow and a tough challenge to make the EU an interesting topic for as long as it would take to show that, never mind an hour! I already felt I was on a losing wicket, being up against the final match of the Six Nations and a concert of Russian music in the nearby church. But it seemed to go very well. I kept the presentation very light – no-one’s looking for an in-depth exposé of the co-decision procedure on a Saturday night – and there was a good range of questions. A bit of a discussion got going on the whole issue of measuring the wealth and state of a nation: our shorthand is “Beyond GDP“. Maybe they should consider having a separate meeting on that, as it really is a fascinating issue. A lot of interest in the whole situation regarding language-learning in the UK and its knock-on effect on UK influence in the European institutions, as Brits are on the whole lacking the required language skills to get in. Several people said that Britons are at a disadvantage: they don’t need to learn foreign languages as so many people speak English. That argument is debatable: Cardiff Business School research suggests that the UK loses £9 billion of business a year due to our poor language skills. The other problem we face here is that people who speak languages tend to study languages – what we are lacking are the multilingual lawyers, scientists and administrators that come out of other countries’ education systems.

Doing the Boo

I was at the London Wetlands Centre this morning for the launch of a new animated series called My Friend Boo, which is designed to be both informative and entertaining, in the best tradition of children’s TV. As it was part-financed by the European Commission’s LIFE+ financing programme (though we had no influence over content and creative direction), we were invited to say a few words, alongside the project partners, which include WWF and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. The best bit was when a class of 7 and 8 years old came in to watch the three programmes that deal with Water (it being World Water Day and all…) The programmes clearly struck a chord with the children, who were all humming along with the theme tune by episode 2, and there was almost a riot when the project leader said they’d all get their own copy to take home!

I also got a few minutes for a bit of bird-watching over the Wetlands and in just the few moments I was there I saw cormorants, a lapwing and what I think was a Red-crested pochard, never mind many ducks, geese and moorhens. On a day like today, it was difficult not to totally fall for the place! And even better, I have discovered this fabulous widget on the RSPB site to help you identify birds you see – perfect for a novice twitcher like me. They even have a mobile version.

Coming week to 26 March

As promised, here’s what might be of interest next week. Please note, other events notification services exist (!) and I am selecting what seems important or relevant to the UK, so if I’ve missed something, it’s probably not intentional and certainly not any attempt to hide anything!

22 March

London: launch of My Friend Boo, a cartoon series to raise awareness of environmental issues.

Brussels: Tony Blair, representative of the Middle East Quartet, meets Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs

London: Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht gives a speech at the LSE

London: UACES hold event on Communicating European Citizenship

London: Careers day event being held at the Representation by EPSO, the EU’s recruitment body

23 March

25th anniversary celebrations of the European Capitals of Culture, events in Brussels

Brussels: Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki meets Rupert Howes, Chief Executive of the Marine Stewardship Council

Brussels: Economics and Finance Commissioner Olli Rehn meets Mark Hoban, UK shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury

Brussels: Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier meets Sir David Tweedie, Chairman of the International Accounting Standards Board

24 March

Budget day in the UK

Brussels: announcement expected on plans to make rules on divorce clearer for international couples

25 March

Brussels: European Council – meeting of Heads of state and government. Continues on 26 March

Brussels: Prize ceremony for winners of Juvenes Translatores competition.

Statement by European Commissioner Potocnik on bluefin tuna

We are disappointed with the outcome of the CITES meeting as regards the EU proposal for a listing in Appendix I of bluefin tuna. The EU proposal was a strong commitment towards a sustainable future for the bluefin tuna and for fishermen. We regret that other Parties were not convinced with the merits of such a listing. We remain convinced that stringent measures are needed to ensure the recovery of Atlantic bluefin tuna. The European Union remains committed to the objective of safeguarding bluefin tuna stocks and we look to ICCAT to take its responsibility to ensure that stocks are managed in a sustainable way. If action is not taken, there is a very serious danger that the bluefin tuna will no longer exist.

Update: I put this here as I wasn’t sure it was available on the internet, but it is now, and you can find it here.

Links 18 March 2010

Is this going to be the Internet election? Or is it going to be the election where everyone talks about it being the Internet election? Here’s some evidence that seems to suggest the former, while not ruling out the latter!

There is a pressing need for open debates in which ordinary voters can test candidates’ views and characters. Hustings in dusty churches and echoey halls may now seem consigned to the past, but that is all the more reason to cheer ingenious schemes to fill the gap by electronic means.

The Independent on civil service purdah

The solution is a sharper codification of purdah (on precisely when it applies and which institutions are bound by it) and a move to fixed-term parliaments. The concept of civil service neutrality is too precious for it to be abused in this fashion by unscrupulous politicians.

The story about someone trying to poison the soup at Stowe school has added piquancy for me (much like the soup, boom, boom) as my brother works there. Like the Independent though, I did have a wry smile at the idea of carrot and coriander soup being served at a boarding school. Good on the school and its systems though for catching it before it could do anyone any harm.

The Big thinkers blog at the CoI reports on an interesting project using mobile phones to support literacy.

I can’t help wondering if the discussion about a hung parliament is a little bit like the discussion about an “internet election”. But this leader in the Independent is quite interesting, not just  for what it says, but also the discussion after it, which for a newspaper comments discussion seems to be quite sensible! I do wish they had linked to the survey they refer to though, so we could have seen for ourselves. Comment is Free over at the Guardian seems to have got that element of online comment a bit more sorted.

Links 17 March 2010

I know this has been around a while, but it truly is a genius idea. A folding plug.

I liked this article about Macedonia for the author’s example of what makes him feel English 

Having been in England since the age of 11, I have a foot in both camps – or, more accurately, find myself foreign in both places. I used to speak no English, then accented English, then accented Macedonian, and now I struggle to remember Macedonian words. This duality is no hardship to me – I’m equally happy to apologise when someone steps on my foot as I am to go around the house closing windows to avoid promaja.

Reminds me of a time when I stepped on a woman’s foot putting my bag on the overhead rack on a Eurostar. As she was British she said “Oh, I’m so sorry”. I said, “I stepped on your foot, I’m the one who is sorry”. “No, no” she insisted, “I should have made a noise.”

An interesting issue, whether to take your husband’s name when you get married, that is slightly on my radar at the moment. I think I’d have bothered less if I’d got married at 24, say, than now. Then, I didn’t really have a sense who Antonia Mochan was. Now, I’ve really got used to being her, and would find it really difficult to relate to Antonia Boyle. Having said that, I’m not going to get all upset if someone does call me Mrs Boyle once I’m married, but I don’t think I’ll change it.

Some ammunition to counter those that say that Britian is historically a white place – evidence that Roman York’s highest social strata were multiracial.