Monthly Archives: August 2008

Emerging from the August slumber

It’s clear that people are gearing up for the “rentrée” on Monday – my diary is filling up with meetings after several quiet weeks. And it’s also obvious that with the prospect of a general election looming, and EP elections next year, we’re going to have a lot of work on our hands over the next few months. Just this week, the acre story has reared its head again (am I allowed to say that there’s some irony to be found in Conservative MPs talking about the awfulness of the EU getting rid of the acre, when all the EU decision does is recognise the status quo in the UK, a measure brought in by the last Conservative government…?). We had the cakes. We know that we have pesticides and electronic tagging of sheep coming up. Who knows what else is waiting there for us?!

Off to Brussels this weekend, which will include watching the Challenge Cup Final with some friends. If you need a laugh, read Jon Wilkin’s analysis of the Saints team. The man is a comedy genius. Also getting my hair cut, finally, so will no longer look like the evil lovechild of Leo Sayer.

I tried out for a band last night, but I’m not very hopeful – I had made clear that I was looking to do this for fun, not as a career choice, but they do want to do a lot of gigs and festivals and things. Loved their music though, so I can only wish them the best of luck!

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Beagledors looking for a home

This site has been found several times by someone using the search term “beagledors” which is picking up on my visit to Stowe in June. Two of the puppies I saw then are looking for homes, so if you’re interested and a serious person (these puppies have been messed around a lot already in their short lives) then get in touch!

Here’s a picture of them in June – they’re not this small and cute anymore but who could resist anyway?

Beagledor puppies at Stowe School

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Taking the biscuit (and the scone, cupcake, fairy cake…)

Euromyths are funny things. They can be because one individual inspector gets heavy about something. They can be because EU rules are usually minimum standards and a country has chosen to go further when putting them into national law. In a few cases the myth itself is that they’re a myth, when we accept that the rules say what people say they do, even if we want to change them. And sometimes they are just total nonsense, which with 5 minutes checking would never make it out there. We had one of those this weekend, with the “news” that EU rules are stopping people eating the cakes that they enter into cake-baking contests and the like at village fairs. I will quote directly from the guidance that we issue to the national authorities that implement these rules:

Operations such as the occasional handling, preparation, storage and serving of food by private persons at events such as church, school or village fairs are not covered by the scope of the Regulation. This is made clear in recital 9 of Regulation (EC) No 852/2004. The second sentence states that: “Community rules should only apply to undertakings, the concept of which implies a certain continuity of activities and a certain degree of organisation”. The term “undertaking” is integrated in the definition of a “food business” (in accordance with Article 3(2) of the General Food Law (Regulation (EC) No 178/2002), a “food business” must be an “undertaking”).  Somebody who handles, prepares, stores or serves food occasionally and on a small scale (e.g. a church, school or village fair and other situations such as organised charities comprising individual volunteers where the food is prepared occasionally) cannot be considered as an “undertaking” and is therefore not subject to the requirements of Community hygiene legislation.

So the European Commission’s view is that cakes prepared in the framework of local fairs should not be subject to the requirements of Community hygiene legislation. Which I’m very pleased about, because I love the cake stalls at fairs, particularly in the light of my cupcake problem. (The best I have ever had, for the record, were in Grand Central Station, New York. Mouth still waters at the thought of them!). I’d be interested to know how this idea made it into the Scottish Rural Women’s Institute or any other groups, because it clearly isn’t part of our rules.

 

 

 

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Silly season

There’s been a story doing the rounds a bit during “silly season” that’s actually pretty interesting. It all comes from a piece in the Sunday Times about how there is a dearth of quality English native speaker translators and interpreters in the European institutions. While there may be some nuance that was missed, the article has started a more general reflection on UK language skills. A recent report shows a dramatic decrease in numbers studying French and German. Having said that, there do still seem to be a lot of people taking languages as a module. That’s the route I took – one language at A-level, one improved during my year off and both taken as modules in another type of degree. But I do believe that having languages at my disposal greatly improved my employability. Certainly in terms of the jobs I got while I was at university – shops in touristy areas in London, marketing, English language schools: all using my languages. Never mind the fun you get meeting new people, going to new places and surprising people by being a Brit that can talk something other than English. Given the importance of multilingualism to the European Union, it’s an issue we take an interest in, even if we don’t have any direct involvement. And we provide support to those that promote language learning, with the UK doing pretty well there, as recent awards show.

Hasn’t it been great watching the Olympics! I was looking forward to the Velodrome since the Commonwealth Games, where we gave a real hint of what was to come. And boy they didn’t disappoint. Just amazing, and also displaying real form for the future, with lads like Ross Edgar and Jason Kenny. I just feel so bad for Cav and I hope his four stages of the Tour will compensate to some extent for missing out. And then the sailors, swimmers, rowers, runners, jumpers, riders and kayakers…so exciting. And hopefully there’s more to come! I love the chance to watch the sports that don’t usually make it to the screen, which is why I can’t really get excited about the football and tennis – they have their chance. The Olympics for me is about archery, weightlighting, fencing, modern pentathlon and all the other sports that people around the world are dedicating themselves to, not for money or fame, but because they love it and they get a buzz from being good at it.

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Enjoy the silence

*weird, this got caught in the out tray. Still, here it is for the record*

Sorry for the long break – I was in France for a few days for my father’s 60th birthday, then Brussels sorting out moving all my belongings out of the house there and into the one here. The stuff arrives on Friday this week, so that will be a few days of graft getting it all out of boxes. Moving is a great time to clean up your life a bit and there were 35 bags of rubbish outside my house on Wednesday – most of them recycling bags I hasten to add. I’ve also got loads of stuff that I’m trying to give away to the Sally Army or something, if I can arrange for someone to pick it up. Got to go back one more time for the final tour through the house and transfer of utilities meters, but I’ll be staying with Abi (and my cats) then, as I was the few days I was back this week.

Abi stayed with me in Balham on Friday and we had a really nice night (watched Little Miss Sunshine, which is absolutely hilarious!). Saturday I met Hannah, someone I knew in Brussels, and some of her friends and we had a great day – late lunch at Tate Modern, drink at the Oxo Tower, then joined in a trance party on the river beach by the South Bank! We ended up in the ICA bar, which was great. Sunday I just watched Olympics for most of the day, which is no hardship with Team GB going so well. I’ve particularly been enjoying the velodrome, as always – how crazy are the events there??!! Just looking forward to seeing what else our lads and lasses can achieve!

So back in work, and as is usual in August, it’s all very quiet. Actually August is even quieter here than it is when you stay in Brussels, or maybe I’ve just always chosen bad summers to stay! Let’s see what happens…!

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Making the most of our research funding

More science news – you didn’t know this was a science blog, did you…! We’ve made an announcement today about a pilot project to make the results of EU-funded research more available. Basically research groups that receive money from the EU’s Research Framework Programme will be required to put any articles or reports into a depository, which should then be openly available after an embargo of 6 to 12 months, depending on the research area. This embargo gives time for the results to be published in peer-reviewed journals, but ensures that potentially useful information is not then locked away where people who could really use it don’t have access to it. This is a delicate area, where you have many interests vying – the publishers want to maintain their revenue streams, the scientists want to make sure the peer-review system remains credible, the Commisson wants to make sure that tax-payers ultimately see a return on the public investment in science. By having varying embargo periods during this pilot phase, we can gauge just what the effect is on journals and scientists alike, and by opening up, we hope that smaller businesses that could build on information coming out of research but that they can’t afford to access when it’s only available through specialist journals. It’s an issue we’ve been looking at for a while, with a policy paper brought out last year, after a lot of discussion with people across the spectrum, and looking at examples of open access, such as the Wellcome Trust.

Was out last night at the Royal Festival Hall with the Stitch and Bitch London crowd. Really fun night – it’s amazing how empowering it is doing something a little strange in public with lots of people… Going to eat Southern Indian food in Tooting tonight with The Housemate – if anyone has any suggestions of the best place to go, I’d love to hear them.

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