Monthly Archives: October 2008

It’s the end of the world as we know it

Or is it? Loved Charlie Brooker’s take on it. Like one of the people who commented, my spending all my spare cash on holidays and having a good time is beginning to look like a sensible decision – at least I’ll have some lovely memories to keep me warm. Part of the problem with the whole discussion is that buying a house is treated as a purely financial decision. I mean, of course there is a large financial element, but why should we expect buying a house to be a money-making exercise? I could have bought in Brussels when I arrived 13 years ago, and would probably have made on it, but then I wouldn’t have gone to Fiji, Madagascar, Morocco. I wouldn’t have visited so many places in Europe. I might not even have done my OU course. And all that is worth more to me. Never mind the fact that I didn’t end up staying in Brussels, the main reason I didn’t buy anyway.

I promised you anything written about Verheugen’s interview on Friday, so here it is. It’s always interesting to see the process through from start to finish. If you’re interested, these are the various steps in a case like this:

We find out a Commissioner is coming.

If there is room in the programme for doing media, we find out from the people in Brussels what there is to talk about that would be of interest to journalists (this is the crunch bit and often the most difficult, trying to convince people that some conference isn’t (usually) going to float anyone’s boat)

We identify journalists that might be interested in that issue and pitch the interview to them. If we think we can get a “big fish” along, we can offer them an exclusive interview.

We may be involved in the briefing process, letting the Commissioner know who he or she will be talking to, what they have written about in the past and what sort of issues they have flagged up to us. The Commissioner may want to talk about X, but the journalist will sometimes come along because they want to talk about Y, so we have to make sure that everyone is prepared. That’s a difference we have with government: Commission portfolios are pretty clearly defined so Commissioners will often be reluctant to talk about something that’s not their area. So if we have the Commissioner that deals with widgets here on a particular day and the big EU story is about sprockets, then he may not be prepared to talk about sprockets and so there’s no coverage of that Commissioner.

Finally, one of the team will often sit in the interview, especially if the Brussels-based spokesperson hasn’t come. That way, we have a record of what was said, if there’s any comeback. We get a first-hand idea of what the Commissioner thinks, which always makes it easier to brief the press. And also we are known to the journalist if any follow-up is needed.

Final step in the whole process is to monitor the press for the interview and make sure the Commissioner and his/her team gets the final product. In some European countries, the convention is for someone to get a chance to comment on a draft of their interview before it goes to press. That’s certainly NOT the convention with UK journalists, so we often have to explain that to the people at HQ.

Anyway, just thought it mighjt be interesting to see what’s going on behind the scenes.

 

We’ve been having a lot of stick from the Royal Mail in various ways over recent months, as they (ably supported by UKIP) blame the EU for post office closures in rural areas. (On the contrary, the EU rules say that every household and business should get delivery at least once a day 5 days a week and that deliveries must continue in rural, remote and urban deprived areas. EU rules allow the UK government to support rural post offices financially.) But they’re taking the biscuit today. If you can believe it, they’re trying to blame the fact that there is only one delivery a day on EU rules limiting the speed of lorries! I know we’re a bit of an Aunt Sally, blamed for all sorts of wrongs that we aren’t responsible for, but that’s one of the worst I’ve heard. Maybe the PR guy who came out with that line was working at British Rail when they blamed the “wrong kind of leaves” for train delays?!

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Knitting, talking and dancing

Something strange has happened to me since I arrived in London. I have started talking to people I don’t know. Not in a crazy-lady kind of way, but if there’s something to say. And you know, it’s really working well. Take last night. I was on the tube travelling back from an event in the centre of London (which, as an aside, had Brendan Cole at it, who came over as much less arrogant than he does on the telly, I have to say) and I decided to get the Bakerloo to Elephant and Castle so I’d be on the line down to Balham, rather than changing at Waterloo and then again at Kennington. DOH! Because we waited for aaaages at waterloo and then again at Lambeth North. The woman next to me seemed to be getting quite irate, so I asked her if the Bakerloo was always that slow. We talked about the tube system a bit and then she asked me if I had anything planned for the weekend. I told her that, at the risk of her laughing at me, I was going to the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace. Turns out, she’s really keen to learn to knit and while she can’t make the Ally Pally think, she might come along to Stitch and Bitch. So you see, get talking: you might find yourself taking up a new hobby!

The event last night was an opportunity to learn a few new dance steps – we did a bit of Lindy and Mambo, and the really great thing was that i found out where all the swing dance classes are. So might try some of those, especially as one is in Balham!

We had Vice-President Verheugen in town today and I was there while he was talking to the Observer. Very interesting to hear his take on the impact of the current stock market turmoil on what everyone seems to be calling the “real economy”. Which must make banking and finance the “fake economy”… Will link to any article that comes out of the interview on Monday. He was supposed to do an interview with a German radio station but infuriatingly the ISDN line seemed not to be working again. We’ll need to get the technicians in, because it’s just embarassing when that happens.

Otherwise not a particularly busy day, just answering calls, providing people with links to information and doing the things you can do in slightly quieter times, like filing and clearing out your e-mail. Glad it’s Friday – I plan a very quiet weekend at home, apart from the above-mentioned trip to Norf London.

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The Beagle has landed (sorry)

I think I’ve mentioned that my parents are taking in Bailey the Beagledor (half beagle, half lab). A chill must have gone through them when I sent them the link to this video, which turned up on my favourite website, Cute Overload. Isn’t it great!

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Cornish pasties and Cumberland sausages

I did an interview today for the Politics Show about next week’s Green Paper on agricultural quality. Basically, we will be asking for “contributions and views for developing regulatory measures to facilitate production and marketing of products having particular qualities and characteristics”. Apparently. What that means is, do the various certification schemes and geographical protections work. This ranges from using phrases like “traditional” or “free-range” to only allowing Melton Mowbray pork pies to come from Melton Mowbray, taking in marketing standards for fruit and veg (which appears here quite regularly) along the way. This comes out next week and I’ll include a link to the consultation when it does so you can have your say (if you have one).

Also talked to them about the pesticides issue – looks like that one is going to run and run.

We had the good bye for Reijo, the head of office, today. It’s such a shame to see him go. I won’t disguise the fact that working with him again was one of the major reasons for taking this job. Happily, now that I’m here, I find there are enough other reasons to enjoy it that his leaving won’t change my mind about it. But I will miss him.

If you read Dutch, you might find this article interesting. Dutch journalists seem to be very interested in the whole Euromyth phenomenon. I love (not) the Sun political editor saying that they don’t need to check stories with us because since when should journalists trust spokesmen? Funny how they don’t seem to have quite the same issue trusting Open Europe or UKIP spokespeople… I agree that no journalist should take what we say at face value without checking it. But I do think a story that starts “The European Commission will…” should indicate what the European Commission’s take on the issue is. As I frequently say, I’m not bothered about people writing critical things about us – that’s what journalists are there for. I just resent people writing unfair or inaccurate things about us, or only giving one side of the story.

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The financial storm

Reading this blog recently, you might wonder whether I’m even aware of what’s going on in the world at the moment. Naturally, the answer is “of course I am”. It’s just that it hasn’t had a very direct impact on us. These things are going on at a different level to an office like ours. But my colleagues in Brussels are certainly feeling it! When I was back there last week, it dominated discussions at our midday briefing, with several of my former colleagues involved: Jonathan on competition issues, Oliver on regulation of financial markets and Amelia on central bank coordination.

It’s a real challenge doing a job like this at a time like this, when there is only one real story on the news. Of course, we’ll often try to make the link with that story, or focus on issues that are relevant. But there will always be interesting things that go unnoticed that at another time might have got more coverage. An example today was the announcment on strengthening consumer rights. The proposals cover a whole range of issues of concern to consumers such as clear information on price, additional charges and fees before they sign a contract. They will also strengthen consumer protection against late delivery and non-delivery, and set out EU-wide consumer rights on issues such as cooling off periods, returns, refunds, repairs and guarantees and unfair contract terms. This isn’t just a consumer story though – it’s a business story too, because with a clearer system in place across Europe, there will be greater opportunities for selling Europe-wide, especially online.

Went to the National Theatre last night, to see The Year of Magical Thinking. A tour de force performance from Vanessa Redgrave, but I thought the play was a little too long for the format (a woman in a chair talking) and there were some directorial decisions that I would question (if an amateur like me is allowed to question David Hare!) I went with Irina, one of my fellow Eisenhower Fellows, and it was lovely to see her again. While there I bought tickets for Every Food Boy Deserves Favour, a new play by Tom Stoppard and Andre Previn, which has a full orchestra! Sounds mad. I’ll have to wait till January to find out what it’s all about though – tickets are for then.

We’re making progress on the Double Club’s trip to Brussels, which I hope will be a lot of fun for those involved. They’re going to visit a school, take part in lessons, play football with them, go to an Anderlecht game and then do lots of sighseeing. we need now to work on the Monday, which is the Commission/Parliament end of things.

The new stagiaire (intern) started today, and it’ll be great to have someone around to give a hand with some of the research that we find difficult to get done. Sometimes the difficult bit is remembering that you have someone there to ask to do things when you’re used to doing them yourself – always the first challenge when you get staff.

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Back in the hotseat

Sorry it has been quiet for a bit. I was in Brussels Monday and Tuesday of last week for a meeting of the people who do my job in all our reps across Europe. It was great to meet them at last – most of them have been just voices across the ether or very small pixellated images on the daily press conference. They had a better idea of what I looked like, so it was a little disconcerting to be hailed as an old acquaintance by people I didn’t know I knew! We also had a meeting with press officers from the European Parliament, looking in particular at next year’s European Parliament elections. It was of course very useful to talk about what we had in common in our work and what is so different. We’ve had the press officer from our Romania delegation, who was saying that a visiting Director-General did several interviews – we can barely get people interested in Commissioners!

I stayed on a day in Brussels to catch up with what was going on in the different portfolios of the Commission and talk over some upcoming issues. I also took the time to catch up with my friends from the Potocnik Cabinet, which was of course as delightful as ever. I do miss them all alot, though not sure I miss the work that much!

On the Wednesday evening I went to Paris and then caught the night train to Tarbes, as my furniture was being delivered to the house in France. My parents and I worked really hard over the next few days, first cleaning the house, then dealing with the delivery and then getting things sorted. I don’t have a bed yet (the packers in Brussels broke the one I took down there) but otherwise the place is looking pretty good. We had Sunday lunch in the little hostellerie across the river from the house – mine host comes into the dining room every 15-20 minutes and regales the diners with jokes and stories. Great meal though, in a French country restaurant kind of way (which is totally fine by me).  I feel so happy about the decision to get a place down there. It’s lovely to keep that French link, which I have been missing since I left Brussels (even spoke to the Francophone guy in Thorntons this mornin in French!) and the place is just so wonderful – life moves at such a relaxed pace you can’t help slowing down yourself. Twice driving to the house we got caught in a traffic jam caused by herds of cows walking along the road!

Last night I went to see Tricky at the Barbican. Amazing. Words used in reviews I’ve seen were “feral” and “unique” and that’s pretty much on the money. It was a one-off experience, totally strange, but mesmerising. He didn’t even sing on all the tracks, but you can kind of see why because it was so involving and hypnotic when he did, it almost would have been too much to have that for over an hour. Really glad I went.

So it was back to work this morning: the Northern Line had packed up so the train was mobbed, just to remind me that I wasn’t in Kansas now, Toto. Most of the day has been spent in just trying to catch up after more than a week out of the office and handling the backlog of e-mails. Of course, I missed all the Mandelson fun while I was out, and the pile of press cuttings about that is its own backlog. Today was mercifully a lot quieter on the news front, but there’s still quite a bit to do for the Brussels trip of the Double Club, the Mock Council and of course, quite a few admin tasks, now that I’m in a management position! In fact, we did a recruitment interview – seems longer ago than this morning!

Off to the theatre tonight with Irina from the Eisenhower Fellowship. Will be lovely to see her again.

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