Monthly Archives: September 2008

What’s the difference between kiwi fruit and bread?

Sounds like a bad joke, doesn’t it? Well the answer, if you’re the Daily Mail, is that the EU is crazy to have rules standardising the former and crazy to take away rules standardising the latter. Does that make sense to you? I have to admit that I’m baffled. Personally, I think doing away with standard bread sizes is a marvellous idea. In Brussels you could buy a half-loaf and even then I used to be upset at how often I had to throw several slices away. I think in these days of many more single-person households and rising food prices, it’s a common-sense thing to do. I’m sure Daily Mail readers will assess the issue on its own merits, rather than thinking we should have something just because it was in the Magna Carta. Anyway, the Daily Record are happy, which I think might be a first!

I’m going to be in Brussels next week for the meeting of Press Officers from across all the Member States. It’ll be nice to be able to catch up with people while I’m there. It’ll be my first Eurostar trip since the fire, so I hope things won’t be too crazy. I was supposed to be going away this weekend to Bedford to watch the Brussels theatre group, but what with just getting back from Manchester and then heading off to Brussels and from there to France, I had to knock it on the head – sometimes you just have to admit that you can’t do everything you want to do. Still, very exciting that I’ll be moving my stuff into my little house and finally getting installed there, 3 months after completing the sale.

I’m also planning to take advantage of a bit more of London, particularly in dancing terms. Already booked a workshop at the Barbican and a try-different-dancing-styles night, in addition to fitting in Ceroc classes when I can (with more sensible shoes than last time…)

Thought you might like to see this little video. My aunt’s friend Kinny, who has known me since the day I came into the world, runs this great theatre company which does shows for kids, accessible to both deaf and hearing kids watching together. The video gives you an idea of what they’re about and I think it looks lovely. Kinny used to run a puppet company with my aunt, and was Riff-Raff in a tour of Rocky Horror. He’s the one who got me into the musical Chicago as well, as he lived with my parents in East Bergholt while he was appearing in the show in Ipswich. A while ago now though…we moved out of East Bergholt in 1991 and it was a few years before that! Scary…


Filed under Culture, Living in London, Media, Personal

Commission takes measures to protect European citizens from products with melamine-contaminated milk from China

Just so you know where we are on the whole milk question in China.

The Commission will adopt safeguard measures to protect European citizens from melamine-contaminated milk products from China. These precautionary measures are in addition to the existing ban on the import of milk and milk products into the EU from China.

The European Commission will impose an explicit total ban on all products originating from China for infants and young children containing any percentage of milk (infant formula, follow on formula and other products), in order to ensure that such products are not imported under any form.  According to food operators, such milk products have not been imported into the European Union.

Other measures provide that all imported products from China containing more than 15% of milk powder will be tested upon entry into the EU while random testing on such products already on the Union’s market will be carried out.  The percentage has been fixed at 15% taking into account the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) statement on the possible risks from the presence of melamine in milk products from China. EFSA identifies a worst case scenario according to which children with high daily consumption of composite products containing the highest possible level of milk powder could potentially exceed the tolerable daily intake (TDI) of melamine, which stands at 0,5 milligrams per kilo of body weight.

In 2007, the EU imported from China about 19,500 tonnes of confectionary products, such as pastry, cake and biscuits and about 1,250 tonnes of chocolate and other food preparations containing cocoa.

The Commission has discussed the situation today with the Member States in the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH) and intends to officially adopt the safeguard measures tomorrow.


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Straight back down to earth

Back in the real world after the heady political junkie-ism of Manchester. My appearance on BBC News 24 got bounced to much later in the evening due to Gordon’s speech running over time, so I first went to the reception given by the Irish Ambassador. Met some interesting people there. That was really the point of being in Manchester – all the people I met from all sorts of areas – media, industry, lobbying, academia. I think we’re coming back with some better ideas of how to get our message across. And of course it’s always nice to spend time with the people you work with in a non-office context.

We were sitting in the bar of the main conference hotel last night (I was having a G&T to recover from doing a live interview on national TV!) when the Brown cavalcade swept into the lobby, Gordon glad-handing and Sarah wearing a very nice red dress (much better thank what she had worn that afternoon in the conference hall, if I can be Trinny and Susannah about her for a moment). Then they swept out again with lots of acolytes swarming around them. You might have thought that the conference-ites would have been less star-struck, but everyone was clearly very excited to see him. I saw several people wearing “I heart GB” badges, which I thought was some sort of jingoistic statement, until I realised who rather than what GB was!

So, as I said, back down to earth with a bump. I’ve got a crazy day tomorrow, with wall-to-wall meetings, including the Double Club, interviewing the propective new admin assistant and meeting what seems to be the only other UK Eisenhower fellow!

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Continuing at the conference

You couldn’t do this too often – your liver, waistline and synapses would all suffer from the excess of snack food and alcohol and lack of sleep. But it has certainly been fun. I’ve attended some interesting debates on the fringe, met more useful people in 3 days than in the previous 3 months and also caught up with old friends (including the Director of the Fawcett Group, who was in my year and on my course at university. And who recognised me, which is always nice!). I made the mistake of going to Fringe events that were interesting, where the real old hands know to work out which venues have the best food (Radisson wins that one here) and which organisations provide the most drink. Some events are “turn up and gorge” whereas some are the hot tickets of the night – there was no getting into the Guardian party, though I wonder why it seemed to be the one to be at, which it seemed to be men in suits standing around talking, just like all the others…

Gordon is on at the moment. He really should smile more, he looks so much more human when he does so. He’s only mentioned Europe once so far and weirdly it was to pledge support for the Temporary Agency Workers’ Directive. I’d have thought that he might have focused on a global issue like the financial crisis or that old chestnut that even I am beginning to think is getting a bit tired – climate change.

Have been doing the day job while here, with the text and data roaming proposal coming out of the Commission today, so doing several interviews. In fact, I’d better go, cause I’ve got to talk to the BBC. Watch for me on News 24!

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Panic on the streets of London…

Panic on the streets of Manchester… well maybe not panic, actually the atmosphere has been much better than you might have thought. Maybe it was because the sun was shining. It’s gone now, and there is a much more sober feeling to today, though that might have something to do with my slight hangover after drinking too much dodgy Chardonnay at the European Commission reception last night! Still, it did its work, as I met loads of people, including the editors of the Politics Show and Newsnight and John Pienaar. I’ve been stalking Jim Murphy and David Miliband at fringe events – one or the other has been at every one I’ve been to, but as they’ve all been on European issues, that’s perhaps not so surprising. Jim Murphy in particular seems to be “one of the angels” as my father would say, but I do wish that some of the pro-European rhetoric was followed through by some pro-European action. It’s all well and good to say that it’s self-defeating to blame Europe for the bad things and not share the credit for the good ones when credit is due, but some of his ministerial and civil service colleagues don’t always seem to share that view of things.

I’ve bumped into loads of people that I never expected to – like Steve Morris, who was in Brussels years ago and Ed Owen, who used to work for CORDIS, and of course ones that you would expect, including Robert Evans MEP who was patron of the English Comedy Club’s 90th anniversary celebrations 10 years ago. Ironically I saw him the night that they were having the 100th anniversary dinner in Brussels, which I missed because of the conference.

Anyway, I’d best head off – I’ve been asked to find a European flag for an MEP: the things you find yourself doing!

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Off on my travels

After a few years of seeing the world with Janez (Japan and Russia on ITER, US for the world’s biggest science gathering, Prague for the Descartes Prize ceremony, Turkey and Macedonia to negotiate their entry to the EU’s science programme) I have come down to Earth with a bump. So now it’s Liverpool and Manchester that are my destinations. Not that it’s a bad thing – I had a great trip to Liverpool, as my own version of Mrs Trellis of North Wales will know, and man, I’m looking forward to going to Manchester. Because it’s for the Labour Party conference and can you think of a more exciting time for a political junkie to be at the gathering of the ruling party?! I’ll try to write from there and record the atmosphere. Looking for Europe debates on the fringe has been a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack, but there are a few, and somewhat presciently they tend to be about the global financial crisis, so should be pretty interesting.

Off to the South Bank now for the DancEUnion festival, which looks like being pretty well-received. I don’t think I’ll be able to stay for all of it, as I have to pack for 5 days away, which is a real shame, but J told me it’s sold out, so they don’t need me there anyway. How encouraging that there is such an audience for quality contemporary dance.

Best of luck to the Ryder Cup boys. It’s the only way I can bear to watch golf and it’s nice that there’s one sporting event out there with a European team!

And the last thing – Strictly starts this weekend!! I am so excited I can hardly think about it. Even if I will be watching the first one in a hotel room on my own, it’ll be GREAT!

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Filed under Culture, Media, Personal, Sports

Britain in Europe

I went to the launch today of a report by Chatham House on “A British Agenda for Europe“. Whatever your views on the subject, any politics graduate would be excited about being in a room with Shirley Williams and Helen Wallace. Well maybe excited is a bit much, but it was still great. The document has been put together by a very knowledgeable group of people. They made it clear that they didn’t always agree about everything, but the report shows what they did agree on. It supports the point, one that I truly believe, that far from there being a zero sum game between what’s in the “national interest” and the “EU interest”, very often our own interests are best served by taking an active, leading role in Europe, shaping it with our pragmatism. The more we are seen as reluctant partners, the less influence we will have and the more detached we will become from what’s going on. That is what will be damaging, not taking an active role in shaping Europe’s future.

We’re all gearing up for the Labour conference next week. The Political section have attended all the major conferences, whereas we in Media are only going to Labour as it’s the one where we have an event. For me personally I’m hoping to use it as an opportunity to meet a lot of the political journalists, as I haven’t really done so yet. There are also going to be loads of people from various pressure groups, think-tanks and so on, from Brussels and here, so it’ll be a good networking event. There are also some really interesting fringe events going on, though in the best tradition of conferences, all the sessions that you find most interesting are held at the same time… My previous Commissioner, Anna Diamantopoulou will be there. I hope we manage to find 5 minutes to catch up, as I very much enjoyed working with her all those years ago (well, 5).

It’s so great being back in London. I mean, I miss my friends there so much. But being in London itself is just a joy. Last night was late-night opening at the National Gallery and I went with two friends. Just being able to wander in after work and gaze at some of my favourtie paintings – what a buzz. I also had loads of fun on Monday when I got on the wrong train, ended up in Wandsworth Town, so got a bus to Clapham Junction and realised I was near a Ceroc venue on the night it was on. So I just bowled up, and had a great hour and a half dancing away. Given I haven’t done any Ceroc for about 5 years, it wasn’t too bad, though I didn’t have the best shoes on, so couldn’t manage any longer as my feet were screaming for mercy. Such good exercise, and I hope that when the crazy couple of weeks coming up (Manchester for the conference, then Brussels for the press officers’ meeting, then Gascony to set up the house there) are over, I’ll be able to start going more regularly.

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How much do you know about the EU

I mentioned the quiz yesterday. Fancy a shot yourself?

1) What is the source of the EU anthem?


     a)      Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

     b)      Mozart’s Magic Flute

     c)      Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique



2)      How many stars does the EU flag have?


     a)      6 – representing the founding members

     b)      12 – traditionally the symbol of perfection, completeness and unity

     c)      27 –  one for each member state



3)      What do you see on each of the 7 different Euro notes?


     a)      Presidents and kings

     b)      Famous poets and composers

     c)      Bridges and windows



4)      Which one of the following words originates from the Czech language?


     a)      Hotel

     b)      Robot

     c)      Internet



5)      The EU has declared 2008 the European Year of…?


     a)      Intercultural Dialogue

     b)      Sports

     c)      Equal Opportunities for All

Good luck!

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Kevin is safe

Several papers carried pieces over the weekend about an EU ruling putting small garages out of business, because they won’t be able to get information about cars from the major manufacturers. This is all about something called the “block exemption” which has allowed agreements to have been made between car companies and independent garages. There are concerns that if this exemption is removed, smaller companies will no longer get this information. But we need to look at the big picture. Alongside the block exemption (which basically means that if companies work together they won’t get accused of operating a cartel), we also see that the Commission has actively required car manufacturers to provide information about how their cars work outside their own distribution network. To the extent of taking car manufacturers to court. These measures are much more forceful and enforceable than the block exemption and so will give a solid basis to the means by which independent garages can continue to operate. So Kevin the mechanic from Coronation Street (the example given by the Daily Express as a mechanic that will go out of business…could someone please tell them that it’s NOT REAL!!!) will still be able to ply his trade and in fact there will be much tougher enforcement if the car manufacturers try to stop him.

Had a lovely time at the weekend, manning a stall at the Thames Festival, within the New Europe Village, which was showcasing the new Memebr States. We handed out publications and people could take a quiz to test their EU knowledge. Even when all the freebies had gone (I’m not *totally* naive about these things) we had a lot of people picking up publications: several mums keen to support their child’s language learning; a woman who said to her boyfriend “we have to take this, it’s really interesting”; loads of people who sidled up and snuck a few brochures away as if they were going to get caught and an alarm would go off: “Whoop whoop, possible Europhile alert”. Very encouraging really, at the heart of what is supposedly the most Eurosceptic country.

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We have a TV in the office, which we have on during the day, so we can watch press conferences from Brussels and keep in touch with the news. For much of the day, we have BBC News on. I’m going to start a BBCWatch (like Colemanballs but with loads more people). Gems today:

Our fuel bills have doubled by 100%

Can you say what this means for McCain’s campaign in ways we can’t yet predict?

Plus Jon Sopel outing himself as a Eurotunnel geek. I’m sure there will be many more. (Still I’m sure if I went through some of my past live intereviews there would be some duff moments, so maybe I shouldn’t be such a pedant.)

One big story of the day is of course the fire in the Channel tunnel. I was in Brussels last time it happened (to my horror that was 1996 – where did the last 12 years go?!) You could tell the Brits in the subsequent days by the terrified look on their faces – “how am I going to get back?”. It always seems to happen just before a weekend.

Course, the big issue today, as it will be for a long time, is the 9/11 commemoration. When I was in the US for the Eisenhower Fellowship, we visited the Flight 93 site. It was amazingly moving. Whatever you think happened, whatever you think about what it led to (Iraq, Afghanistan), a lot of people lost their lives there and that deserves remembrance.

It’s like the many times in my childhood when we visited Commonwealth War Graves in Northern France. We visited many of the major sites of the D-Day landings and also some of the major battles of the First World War, following the diary of my great-grandfather, who was at the Somme, and also honouring other major battles, like Vimy Ridge. In some places I saw graves stretching in every direction as far as the eye could see, with ages of 16, 17, 18, 19 on the headstones. Others were tiny, on the outskirts of villages with perhaps 5 or 10 graves, people lost in one particular attack. If you needed to pinpoint a moment when I became convinced that working together in Europe was a good thing, that was it. I think a few rules about the marketing of vegetables have been worth it to avoid a repeat of that.

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