Monthly Archives: March 2009

Magic Numbers

It’s a cliché to say it, but statistics are often really badly misused. People seem to accept figures about this or that without any verification or checking. A really good example was one that came up again this weekend with the Stuart Wheeler fuss in the Conservative party, and is often heard from Nigel Farage of UKIP: 75% of British laws come from Europe. The MEP Richard Corbett has written a very interesting piece (the Open Europe one) for the European Movement which includes this paragraph

As for the UK, two studies exist: one a paper by Edward Page in 1998, which analysed the effects of EU legislation on British law between 1987 and 1997 and a paper by the House of Commons library taking a similar approach between 1998 and 2005. Both papers take their figures from the statutory instruments passed with references to European legislation, with the library justifying this by asserting that “The vast majority of EC legislation is enacted by statutory instruments under section 2 (2) of the European Communities Act.” Page’s study produced a figure of 15.8% whereas the House of Commons library gave a final figure of 9.1%.

Now, of course I checked out the studies, and the House of Commons one is really interesting. Looking at the answers from departments, DTI (as was) and DEFRA are clearly the most affected, with their answers indicating around 50% of their legislation emanating from EU legislation. But several departments had no primary legislation and very little secondary legislation. So I suppose that’s what brings the average down to about 9-10% a year. Comments about the 50% generally refer to legislation that impacts on business, which makes sense given that the EU is still (whatever some people might think) predominantly an economic, trade and business union. But saying that the EU is responsible for 75% of UK legislation does seem to be over-egging the pudding. Unfortunately the Edward Page article is from a journal so I couldn’t read it, but as he quoted his own study in a book I did find on line and he said the figure was probably about 15%, I shall consider that as verification.

The EU in general and the Commission in particular is looked to for two things: regulation and money. Regulation above, so now I’ll show you the money – aid figures were announced today, which show that the EU (taken as the central budget and 27 Member States) is the biggest donor of development aid. We also announced the first financing decision to spend the Food Facility, set up to help those in the developing world who are threatened by food insecurity. Details on the Rep’s website.

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You Oughta Know

Day 2 of the European Citizens Consultation. They’re all wandering around the room at the moment discussing the various ideas that have come out. What I find encouraging and at the same time dispiriting is the thirst for information and the lack of access to it. The people here are a cross-section of the UK public and even the ones that are most sceptical (in the true sense of the word) about the EU are open to knowing more. One of the proposals being worked on was a freephone number to give advice about the EU. I stepped in and told them that this already existed. They were all suprised. I then went onto the UK government’s website for the public – no mention of it or even the European Union. Went to the contacts page. I had links to pages of devolved government, local councils, central government departments – again, no mention of the European Union at all. How can British people be expected to engage with an organisation that their government doesn’t seem to want to acknowledge as part of governance?

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I’m at the London event of the European Citizens Consultation today, filling in at the last minute because one of their “experts” dropped out at the last minute. It’s been a great event. You have 100 randomly selected Brits in a room, talking about what they want the EU to do. You might expect a certain amount of cynicism about the process, or hostility to the EU doing anything at all. But that really isn’t the case. One of the early suggestions was “join the eruo”! The atmosphere has been really constructive, and my biggest hope is that the people to whom this is directed, the European Commission and Parliament, take the outcomes as seriously as the people producing them.

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The Mighty Quins

I had my first taste of season-ticket-holding Rugby League this weekend, when I headed to the Twickenham Stoop to watch Harlequins absolutely walk all over Warrington Wolves – 60-8 was the final score and 4 of those came from a try that was an individual run longer than the length of the pitch. Good stuff. Given that my sporting event recent past has been World Cups and various games at the Millennium stadium, I seriously over-estimated the crowd – max 3000, pretty much all of whom were in the one stand. But there was loads of noise, and a great atmosphere. Certainly a family game and a much less intimidating atmosphere than the last football game I was at. So I’m looking forward to a summer of Rugby League! One thing though – why have Quins nicked and rewritten the worst chant ever? “We’re Leeds Rhinos, we’re Leeds Rhinos” is now done as “We’re Quins RL, we’re Quins RL”. They did have loads of good chants, so why nick the worst one ever in any sport?! I particularly liked “can we play you every week” and “are you Salford in disguise”? Not highly original, but still funny.

Back to work today and the big boss was in town, Commission President José Manuel Barroso. We organised a press lunch for him, with some of the leading political and economic commentators, which was really interesting. Best bit for me was the team spirit – Nik getting the catering sorted at very short notice, David heading to Number 10 very early this morning and all the work he did on getting these august people along, Anastasia the intern happily jumping in to do rubbish jobs like taking coats and photocopying, Albena dealing with all the daily work of the office as we all ran around sorting out last minute arrangements. It’s a great feeling to have such a good team. And Emilia came back from maternity leave – it’s lovely to have her back. Now we just need Jen to come back from holiday next week and we’ll be at full strength.

Terrible news from Madagascar. I have a particular interest there, as my father was British Ambassador during the last crisis, when Ravalomanana was elected and there was gunfire and explosions on Tana… It’s like history repeating itself, the mayor of Tana takes on the President. Though the difference this time is that the president was elected. It’s such a shame for that country, which is the most amazing place I have ever been. I’m hopefully going to the next meeting of the Anglo-Malagasy Society on 1 April, so will find out more then.

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Filed under Living in London, Management, Media

Come home

I was at the Royal Court Theatre last night, at the invitation of their Development department. I saw two things – Over There by Mark Ravenhill and Wall with David Hare. What a night – one of the best I’ve had since moving to London.

The two pieces were very different. The first is about identical twins separated by the Berlin Wall and then brought back together. I have to admit I went with a little trepidation, as I saw Handbag by the same writer in Brussels about 7 years ago and thoroughly loathed it. But it’s a good job I didn’t let that put me off. Because Over There, directed by Ravenhill and one of the Royal Courts resident directors, Ramin Gray, is a masterclass. What I love about it as an art form is its teamwork – no one person can do it alone. The director has to have a clear vision, but he or she can – indeed should – draw on the creativity, innovation and vision of the team around him or her. In this case the designer Johannes Schutz had done something amazing. The stage was a box – no wings, nowhere to go. Obvious symbolism in that, but it left the actors very exposed. They were wonderful – Harry and Luke Treadaway. They look like each other, naturally, but they were just different enough not to mess too much with the audiences heads! Because there was enough head-messing going on as it was. I left feeling challenged, invigorated, excited, slightly disgusted…but most of all as much in love with theatre as I ever have been. It was a sterling example of how theatre retains that power to shock, question, engage. It’s only on for another week, but I would highly recommend it if you get a chance to go. On the train home I picked up thelondonpaper and theire reviewer gave it 5 stars out of 5. I have to agree.

The second piece was totally different. It was billed as a “reading” by David Hare of a piece about the wall being built in Israel. It was directed by Stephen Daldry. It was just a middle-aged bloke in a white shirt and black jeans standing on a stage and reading. Though of course it wasn’t. The touch of the director was barely discernible, yet undeniably there, probably most of all in the moments when Hare wasn’t reading from the sheaf of pages in his hand, which he let fall around him as the piece moved on, but rather addressing the audience directly and seamlessly returning to his “reading”. Of course, with Hare (I directed The Blue Room as few years ago in Brussels) the words are king and are his strength. I saw The Year of Magical Thinking at the National a while ago, performed by Vanessa Redgrave and directed by him, and though it was a tour de force performance from her, I found it far too static as a piece, as well as 15 minutes too long – it had reached what seemed to be a natural end, and then seemed to limp on for a bit more. And yet last night, even though it was the same thing – one person on a stage – it didn’t seem static and it certainly didn’t feel too long. After the privilege of seeing Michael Nyman playing Michael Nyman, how great now to see David Hare acting David Hare. This is the compensation, really, for having left behind all my friends and theatre involvement in Brussels. It was like coming home.

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Filed under Culture, Living in London

Sisters are doing it for themselves

Nice to know I’m doing my bit for advancing the women’s cause, according to Rowenna Davies’ piece on “blogosphere or blokeosphere“. I also spent the morning getting the car MOTd, which involved some very tricky manouevring to back it out of the car port, which I managed to do all on my own, without a man telling me which way to turn the wheel. So there.

Just got the Today viral film via the Media Notes blog – they talked about it on the programme this morning and they’re trying to see how far it goes. It’s very funny (well, appeals to me) so I should think it’ll go quite a way!

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Posts are like buses…

and here’s the third of the day! Just wanted to post something I read on the BBC website, Stephen Fry talking about the web on the Analysis programme. I really liked the way he put this:

 This is an early thing I said about the internet at the time things like AOL were still huge. I said it’s Milton Keynes, that’s the problem with it. It’s got all these nice, safe cycle paths and child-friendly parks and all the rest of it.

But the internet is a city and, like any great city, it has monumental libraries and theatres and museums and places in which you can learn and pick up information and there are facilities for you that are astounding – specialised museums, not just general ones.

But there are also slums and there are red light districts and there are really sleazy areas where you wouldn’t want your children wandering alone.

And you say, “But how do I know which shops are selling good gear in the city and how do I know which are bad? How do I know which streets are safe and how do I know which aren’t?” Well you find out.

What you don’t need is a huge authority or a series of identity cards and police escorts to take you round the city because you can’t be trusted to do it yourself or for your children to do it.

And I think people must understand that about the internet – it is a new city, it’s a virtual city and there will be parts of it of course that they dislike, but you don’t pull down London because it’s got a red light district.

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I want to break free

Libertas have launched their UK election campaign today. It’s an interesting one. There are various things about it that strike a chord with me – a pan-European political party, aiming to respond to (or create?) a European demos, rather than focussing on national issues; a call to ensure that European institutions work effectively – it may be a surprise to some, but that’s something that pretty much all of us would want. But I do wonder where Libertas are going to fit. They say they’re pro-reform not anti-EU, but that’s a pretty limited audience in the UK. The people who are going to vote for a party with an EU platform are more likely to be anti. That’s one of the things here – the people who really seem to care are the ones who don’t like it. I did have to laugh (hollowly) at one line in their press release:  “Almost 80% of laws that change the daily lives of Britons come from Brussels, and those laws are drafted by unelected, unaccountable civil servants. ” What, as opposed to the elected, accountable civil servants that draft laws everywhere else?! I have no issue with criticism, but at least let’s be fair about it!

Writing this made me think about what it is that stimulates European Commission proposals for legislation. I know from my time in policy DGs that often we are asked to propose something by the Council (national governments) or European parliament. So I just did a very quick and admittedly non-academic test. I looked at all proposals from the Commission in the last month (9 February to 9 March) which propose legislation (Decision, Directive or Regulation). Of the 27 proposed in that time:

5 amend or correct existing legislation, 2 repeal existing legislation, 4 implement international agreements and conventions (i.e UN level), 3 are administrative (members of committees etc), 1 applies to 1 member state only, 9 implement bilateral agreements with non-EU countries, 1 is part of the legislative proposal (taking into account the Parliament and Council amendments), 1 is at the request of the European Parliament (and inspired by the European Council) and 1 is at the Commission’s own initiative.

Now I accept that this is one month and is hardly scientific, but it does show that this idea of all legislation that comes out being a result of fonctionnaires sitting around in offices wondering what they can do now is a crude and inaccurate caricature.

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Filed under European elections 2009, UK politics

Kuneva webchat – 13 March

To mark the 10th anniversary of European Consumer Day, EU Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva host a live webchat on 13 March 2009 (at 15h00 CET) with citizens from across the EU about their rights and their concerns as consumers.

Chatters from across the EU will have the chance to ask the Commissioner direct questions on the issues that are most important to them, including uncertainties as consumers in today’s economic climate, unfair sales practices or the safety of daily consumer products. Online visitors will also be told how to get help when they shop online, cross-border or when something goes wrong.

The webchat will be held in 12 languages – Bulgarian, Czech, Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Polish, Portuguese, Italian or Spanish.

It will be broadcast live on 13 March from 15h00 – 16h30 CET.

To join the live chat, visit:

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Nothing else matters

Like I think pretty much everyone in the whole wolrd except Michael O’Leary, I couldn’t believe the reports that Ryanair are thinking about charging for use of in-flight bogs. Is that actually legal? But there is a good side – the endless creativity and humour that people can bring to bear to these kind of situations – look at this great blog post. Also enjoyed Gideon Rachman’s piece in the FT on losing his euroscepticism (not that I ever had him pegged as one!) I also love the fact that I found out about both of these via Twitter. (and they’re easier to find when you’re not been bombarded by Tweets from Stephen Fry on a donkey somewhere…)

Reason for the title is that i saw Metallica last night at the O2. Great stuff, proper old-fashioned rock, with huge flames and lasers and generally ROCK silliness. I also realised that I clearly play my bass with my legs far too close together and my guitar far too high up my body. Not like Robert Trujillo at all:

What a rock bassist should look like

What a rock bassist should look like

Loads of stories today in that white noise way we sometimes have to do things. A new campaign to highlight the iniquities of the gender pay gap is being launched – an issue that really needs to be highlighted, as it’s only going to get worse with the recession, as the types of jobs that women are generally in (part-time, services) are among the first to go. Here in the rep we’re hosting an event bringing together the new round of Life+, environmental projects financed by the EU budget. More about that later, either here or on our website, as our new intern, Anastasia, is following the event.

Lots of admin on my desk though – tenders for media montoring, planning documents for our internal use and Brussels, and recruitment to replace Greta who left last week. Best get back to it.

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Filed under European news, Living in London, Management, Personal