Category Archives: Youth

Headless chicken

It’s been a bit of a bonko day today, with me running around like the proverbial headless chicken. Tuesday is planning day, when we have our regular team meeting, so I spent the morning trying to work out what would be happening in the next week or so, which Commissioners are coming to town and what the good stories are, or the ones we need to be ready for if people are negative. I had lunch with a BBC journalist that I had met on Saturday night at the French reception at the V&A. I actually first met her years ago when she did a piece on the Commissioner I was working for at the time, so it was nice to reconnect with her. We just talked about some of the big topics in the European sphere at the moment – the treaty of course, but others like energy, biofuels, GM. Nothing concrete is going to come out of it at this stage, but it’s all part of the job – keeping the fires smouldering so that when something becomes a hot topic, the knowledge is there (if that’s not too mixed a metaphor!). We also had a meeting with the Foreign Office communication team and the British Council about an idea for the future – a mock EU Council. It has been done for a few years in Northern Ireland and we’re looking at doing it more widely. I think it should be fun – takes me back to the horsemeat quota exercise during my civil service induction training, when we all had to take the role of certain Member States trying to finalise the allocation of horsemeat quotas for a particular year! Add to all of this trying to write an article on tomorrow’s proposal for a “Small Business Act” and fierce hayfever, and you can see a) why I have been decapitated poultry and b) quite how varied this job is!

Yesterday was differently fun – during the afternoon we got a request for Commissioner Wallstrom, who was here to attend a Committee at the House, to do the lead interview on Channel 4 news. She had been at a demonstration about the terrible situation in Zimbabwe that morning and so C4 wanted to have her on. Great stuff! It meant liaising with Channel 4 about times, getting the low-down on the latest situation from Brussels, briefing her, taking her to the interview, which had to be done by the tube because of difficulties getting a signal round the office and then getting her back more or less in time for the interview she had agreed to do earlier. Anyway, it all worked out in the end, and it was quite fun. I’ve had quite a bit to do with Mrs Wallstrom over the years – she covered for Anna Diamantopoulou as Employment Commissioner when I was Spoke while Anna was doing the Greek elections – and it’s always a pleasure. And the interview came out pretty well when it was shown later that evening.

Anyway, tonight will be nice, because I’m heading down to South Croydon to have dinner with Alexia and Alan, friends from Brussels from way back. It’s their daughter’s second birthday, so I hope I will get away in time to see the kids before they go to bed. Better try to get a wee pressie as well.

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.