Category Archives: The General Public

Green cities

Are you living in a “green” city? Then this might be of interest to you:

The European Green Capital Award (EGCA) promotes and rewards the efforts of local authorities in improving the environment. It is to be given each year to a European city with a population of more than 200,000 that is leading the way with environmentally friendly urban living. Four out of five Europeans now live in towns and cities so their environmental performance is becoming more and more important. Most of the environmental challenges facing our society originate from urban areas but it is also these urban areas that bring together the commitment and innovation needed to resolve them. The deadline for submitting applications for the 2010 and 2011 awards is 1st October 2008.  If your city qualifies, then you can get more information on: www.europeangreencapital.eu

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!

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!)

London is a village

I’ve already discovered how small London can be due to various overlaps with people – Hannah and the architecture festival, for example. But it was literally a village on saturday when I met my friend Kathryn and we took her some to the Holy Trinity Fete on Clapham Common. It was all a traditional English village fete should be – tents selling fairy cakes (and not an over-zealous EU food inspector in sight…!), dogs wearing rosettes from the dog show, a series of vegetable monsters that had been judged and prizes won, plus tombolas, raffles, games and even a brass band. And best of all, a Pimms stall! It was great, just like the fetes you remember when you were a kid.

In the evening I headed up to town, where Exhibition Road had been closed for music day and the beginning of the London Festival of Architecture. it was also the celebration (10 days early…) of the beginning of the French Presidency. I walked up exhibition road where there were bands on the street corners and loads of cool architectural exhibits. Then I headed to the Albert Memorial, where there was a stage set up in conjunction with the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue. As my luck would have it, I got there as some Germans who had listened to too much Kraftwerk were twiddling knobs, but it was good to be on the stall for half an hour and interact with people. It’s funny – far from what I would have expected – but I really get the feeling that the British public aren’t as EU-sceptic as they’re painted. Various things over the last few days are highlighting this – comments left on the BBC website, letters to some regional press, conversations with people who are from outside the “establishment”, EU or UK, who are fed up of only ever being given one side of the story. Maybe my work here will not be as hopeless as many are leading me to believe!!

Back in Brussels

I’m in Brussels at the moment – I have to get the house sorted out for the move, get quotes etc, and I’ve been asked to take part in an event tomorrow about communicating Europe, organised by the Committee of the Regions. It’s been nice to be back. I went into the Commission today for the press briefing – the issue of the straight cucumbers that I wrote about a few days came up! seems to have really fired the imagination – apparently news 24 were asking people if they would buy knobbly veg. The irony is that they probably said no…! The other irony is that apparently these regulations came in at the request of…the UK when they joined in the early 70s! Shame this story is so big today and not on Friday, when it might have shown some of the Irish voters that we can be about deregulation as much as anything else. I saw some of the UK and Irish journalists today and one of them (the Irish) said that the story about the EU banning dogs from B&Bs could have made the difference in the referendum. Thinking about it, that’s probably what the motivation was for running it then. I was going to muse whether the media realise the power that they have, but I strongly suspect they know very well and are prepared to use it in such instances. It does make me quail a bit at the task ahead of me – what can I do against the might of Fleet Street? But I think that sometimes cynical people underestimate the power of naive idealism like mine. I’m not a committed European because they pay me a nice salary or because I want there to be a European federal super-state with all powers concentrated in Brussels. I’m a committed European because I believe that our future is more secure if we work together. And I hope that some of my enthusiasm for and belief in that will be communicated to people while I am in London.

Coo, that was a bit heavy. Sorry about that! If you’d like to do something fun and educational tomorrow, head down to Trafalgar Square, where UNHCR are setting up a refugee camp. It will allow people to see what it is to be a refugee in somewhere like Sudan. Head over to the European tent if you’re there and see how we give considerable support to organisations like the Red Cross working in some of the worst human disaster zones in the world.

Hunting for the perfect house

It’s all about the house-hunting today I’m afraid. Excited as I am about getting out there and describing to people what the EU does for them, I need somewhere to live and no-one is going to help me with that! So evenings this week are spent trailing around estate agents and visiting places. I was down in East Greenwich yesterday and back there again today. I’ve also hatched a plan with the people where I am lodging about renting their place, if I can find someone to share with.  So a few irons in the fire and I hope that before too long I’ll have something sorted out. I seem to be a difficult customer for two reasons – I’m looking for an unfurnished place and so much seems to be furnished and also I have the cats, and very few landlords want pets. I can understand not wanting them in a furnshed place, but I don’t see the issue in an unfurnished place – after all it’s my furniture they’ll be scratching. So the search goes on and my best hope is a cat-loving landlord (which is the bonus of the houseboat).

There are some great EU stories around today. As someone trying to bring pets into this country, I’m becoming very familiar with the pet passport scheme, which is now being extended to horses. There have been rules in place before (there need to be for all those Irish racehorses to come over here and win all the major races!) but now they will be based on a microchip, like for cats, dogs and ferrets, rather than a hand-drawn outline. There’s also a food safety aspect to this, less in the UK because we don’t eat each much horsemeat, but they do in lots of other countries. I’ve never had horsemeat, and I suppose I should try it one day, just not to make a snap judgement, though I can’t say it appeals.

Another story I liked was that Love Hearts, refreshers and Double Lollies, among other things, will soon be free of e-numbers as Swizzlers Matlow are going to stop using additives that are not EU-approved. As a bit of a fizzy sweet addict, I think that’s a move in the right direction. There’s no reason that sweets shouldn’t be as natural as possible – frankly, they taste better when they are and it does mitigate the guilt a little!!

I’m off to a meeting this afternoon for the national end of the “For Diversity. Against Discrimination” campaign. There’s A nice circularity about that meeting – my first press conference as a spokesperson was the launch of this campaign in 2003, when Commissioner Diamantopoulou was photographed with the crash test dummies used in the launch ads. The thing that this campaign has got right is the emphasis on national differentiation. So often (generally because of resources) we organise a campaign centrally, usually focused on Brussels, and that just isn’t the way to get to people. Media and advertising are so different from one Member State to another. In one, humour might work well, where as that might put people off in another. Something we always have to keep in mind.