Monthly Archives: September 2008

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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Filed under Euromyths, Living in London


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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Filed under Media, Personal

First item on the 6 O’Clock News

Blimey, we’re top story on the BBC tonight! They decided to run our economic forecast as the top story, more because it suggests a UK recession than anything else I would suspect, but still pretty important. I don’t think I’ve ever seen EbS footage used by the BBC. Usually they insist on having their own shots done, and indeed won’t show on Tuesday anything they showed on Monday. I remember when I was covering trade during the summer of the “bra wars” a crew came every day, even when I made it very clear that I had nothing new to say compared to the day before. Strange… It was one of the fun things about doing the job I did in Brussels, and now: seeing how differently media operate across Europe. As I said, the British media needed fresh footage, if not fresh ideas; the swedes and French love their cutaways and you spend as long walking away from and towards the camera as you di giving the interview. A crew from pressTV the other day were very interested in filming my hands and they ended up in the final interview. Maybe I should have drawn a face on them like we did when we were kids and they could have given the interview instead!

I’ve also loved that the biggest global story of the day has been the switching on of the Large Hadron Collider. Science story? Yep. Showing the value of international collaboration? Yep. Risk of world ending? Hmmm… They even had a female scientist talking about it in the Beeb (though from the footage I saw of the control room, they must have had quite a time finding one).

Can’t get over the news about Lance Armstrong taking up cycling again.  I mean, why? He’s already won the world’s biggest cycle race so many times, what does he have to prove? Still, I’m hoping the Tour will go past my house in France again soon, and it would be great to see him, even if they do pass in a blur and whirr of wheels. I love the thought of sitting up on my little hillside sipping G&Ts while they whizz past!

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Filed under Media, science, Sports

Joining the 3.5m

I joined one of the biggest civil society organisations in the UK yesterday – the National Trust. 3.5m members, which is the population of Britain’s four biggest cities after London. I got in my car and headed out of the city, which was just great (and one of the reasons I got the car of course). It’s astonishing how quickly you’re in the countryside, especially from Croydon – it’s barely half an hour from there to Westerham and serious Kent landscape. I visited Churchill’s home, Chartwell, joined the Trust and then came back via a garden centre. I’m trying to find a composter that I can have in the back yard, so that vegetable peelings and so on get used. But they’re all so big! If anyone knows of a good urban composter, please point me in the right direction.

There’s been a lot of discussion in the papers about the EU banning sexist adverts. It’s amazing how a report by an MEP adopted by a Committee, which says national laws should be used to counter stereotypes then becomes a “ban” “backed by EU chiefs”. The best take on it had to be Charlie Brooker – I wish I had that man’s rantability! There’s another gender issue which has got me a bit riled though. There was another report out last week (what did we talk about before all these reports…?) about the glass ceiling. All the discussion about it that day and subsequently has focussed on childcare issues and the role of motherhood in women’s careers. But here’s a newsflash: not all women have children and not all women are going to. Women in the workplace is NOT the same as mothers in the workplace. Even those of us who aren’t mothers and aren’t going to be are affected by the glass ceiling. So stop fudging the issue with an attempt to guilt-trip mothers in senior positions and look to tackle some of the serious social issues that contribute to the pay gap and the glass ceiling.

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Busy bees

Is life (or rather work) just much better when you’re busy? After a surprisingly slow start to the week, things got going mid-week – kind of feels like we’re hitting about 40 on the speedo and accelerating. Quite a few newspapers and media organisations have been in touch as they’re interested in what’s going to be forthcoming from the Commission in the next few months, which is encouraging – they are coming to us! We’ve got a Commissioner over at the beginning of next week, Leonard Orban, who deals with multilingualism and he will be talking about the problems I mentioned a few weeks ago, that Brits are losing out in terms of jobs and business because of their lack of language skills. I’ve had to start taking on some of the responsibilities of a head of section (eek…) in terms of planning our priorities and budgets for 2009 – new stuff for me, but one of the reasons I came here, after all, so I just have to suck it up.

Went to the Museum of London last night for their Late night opening which was great fun (you’ll remember I won a competition and they played my music choices during the evening, which was fun for me, but probably not for the friend I was there with as I kept saying “this is one of mine”!) It was really well organised, with sort of treasure hunt round the musuem and them some fun stuff like making plasticine models of the exhibits. B (the friend) continued the winning theme with her model of a fish amulet, walking away with a book and some other goodies from the shop. The place itself was pretty unprepossessing from the outside, but certainly worth a wander around if you’re in the vicinity.

The BBC is running a piece tonight on efforts to develop a universal flu vaccine. We’ve been financing research on this at European level since 2006 – we did a press briefing in 2007, which was very well attended and was really interesting. I’m not sure whether the projects are linked or not, but it’s got to be good news if we can move more quickly towards such a vaccine. Speaking as someone who can’t have the flu vaccine because I’ve been allergic to eggs…

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Filed under Management, Media, Personal, science

Small World

I was at Embankment Tube yesterday waiting for the Northern Line, on my way to Kentish Town to see Gomez. I sat on one of those seats and then thought, I think I know the guy sitting next to me! I looked (surreptitiously) and thought, he looks like Anthony Browne, who used to be Times correspondent in Brussels. The tube arrived, he got on and I didn’t, and seeing him face on I realised it was indeed Anthony, but it was too late. When I came in today, I thought I’d google him to see if he is still at the Times, but it turns out he’s just started as Policy Director for Boris Johnson! So if you’ve got a web alert set up for your name, Anthony, and it spews up this post – congratulations on the new job and it’d be nice to get in touch!

It was a day of renewing old friendships. As I say I was at the gig where Gomez played their Bring It On album, which won the Mercury Music Prize in 1998. Hearing each song was like rediscovering an old mate. Appropriate, because I was there with Jane, who I was at school with and until I moved back to London, hadn’t seen for about 15 years!

I’ve signed up to man our stall at the Thames Festival for a few hours next Sunday. Sounds like a fun event – as long as the weather holds. At least I’ll be under cover!

Just for information, I’ve started an events page – we support a lot of cultural events and I thought it would be good to let people know what is going on. I’ll do my best to update it regularly.

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Filed under Living in London, Personal, The General Public