Monthly Archives: November 2009

Thank you

I was at the Foreign Press Association media awards last night. The FPA is the organisation for all non-UK journalists working in the UK, and has been around since 1888 (same as Celtic Football Club…) which makes it the oldest such organisation in the world, they say. The awards recognised excellence in UK foreign reporting as well as the best reporting done by FPA members. As media outlets cut staff, this office’s role in liaising with press from around the world, not just the UK, becomes ever more important, as staff will often get cut from Brussels before London. Talking to people last night I realised that it has become a small but significant part of what we do.

 There were some really interesting issues among the prize-winners, including corruption in WFP deliveries in Somalia and abuse of women in Chechnya. The overall winner was Martin Hickman of the Independent writing about palm oil. I’ve sat on juries giving two journalism prizes this year and in both instances they were given to journalists writing for the Independent. Martin won last night. This does beg the question: where is the Independent going wrong? It clearly has journalists of quality, writing on issues of interest and merit. So why does it have the biggest losses in readership of any newspaper? Answers on a postcard.

The keynote speech was given by Prince Felipe of Asturias, the Crown Prince of Spain. He highlighted the intricacies of the UK/Spanish relationship. I have to say that I did not know that Spanish companies invest more in the UK than in the whole of Latin America. He said that Spanish is the third language of the internet (not a huge surprise) but what was surprising was that in terms of number of pages (not users) the second language is…German!


Filed under Living in London, Media

Doing the funky chicken

I’m a bit perplexed by the stories today about Viscountess Dilhorne, who was visited by Defra inspectors to look at her 29 laying hens for compliance with the EC Laying Hens Directive. Our Directive only applies if you have more than 350 hens, exactly to avoid this sort of thing. But these are minimum standards, and individual Member States can go further. I contacted Defra, but not having heard back, checked out the UK regulations myself, in case it was a classic case of “gold-plating”. And from what I can tell, they take the EU minimum of 350 hens. So why this lady had a visit from the Defra inspectors (and let’s be clear, all compliance, checks etc are done by the countries’ own services) is beyond me. But it certainly isn’t something required by the Directive.


Filed under Euromyths

Court of Auditors

After today’s Court of Auditor’s report, Open Europe have done another of their lists of “EU waste”:

Here’s a comment we have posted on their blog:

Indeed, here we go again. Open Europe’s “research” of 50 examples of EU ‘fraud and waste’ is a compilation of excerpts from EU project descriptions published by the EU, but then presented out of their context by Open Europe in a populist manner. However, the list has nothing to do with the findings of the Court of Auditors (but has already been misinterpreted as such e.g. by Mail Online). The reader concerned about the state of EU finances after reading Open Europe’s piece should rest assured: the 2008 EU accounts were signed off and the majority of EU payments were found to be correct.Why not check for yourself what the Court says at

Here’s some other coverage:

Auditors: EU budget spending improving []
EU auditors say management of the 27-nation bloc’s multibillion-euro (dollar) budget is improving. The EU’s Court of Auditors says, however, there are still too many errors in some programs.

Budget errors falling []
EU auditors find that level of incorrect payments is particularly high in regional support programme.

And for all you ever wanted to know about the EU budget (e.g. the difference between errors and fraud):

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Filed under European news

Domino dancing

You might have heard about the dominoes that will be toppled this evening in Berlin, which have been painted by schools. You may NOT know that one of them is from a UK school, Chosen Hill in Gloucestershire, and photos are showing that their domino is right by the Brandenburg Gate. If you click here, it’s the 5th photo down on the left, and their domino is a black wall with a red tree on it. Congrats to Chosen Hill.

20 years ago I was an au pair, living and working in Frankfurt in Germany. I had had the chance to go to Berlin, but in August 1989, when I made my choice, Berlin seemed to be a divided city, with no prospect of being otherwise in my lifetime. It’s so astonishing, even now, that just 3 short months after my arrival it was all so different. I was doing my homework in my room when Ute, my au-pair mother, came down with a glass of bubbly telling me to come upstairs and watch the television as the Wall had been opened. A few weeks later we packed all the kids into the car and drove to Erfurt in the GDR. I remember eating Gulaschsuppe in the visitors cafe at the Wartburg for a few Ostmarks. And everyone tooted when they saw a Trabi on the West German roads. I was amazingly fortunate to have had such a direct connection with the events of that year, actually living in Germany.

Last week I attended an event at the London School of Economics entitled “20 years after the collapse of the Iron Curtain: have our dreams come true” with some of the major personalities from that time, including Vaclav Havel. You can listen/watch the event from the site. What I found interesting was the fact that unanimously they felt that yes, their dreams had come true, and that many of them articulated that through their involvement in the European Union.

I think that those who see the European Union as a purely federalist project bent upon the creation of a super-state are stuck in the pre-Wall past. The collapse of the Iron Curtain changed the terms of the game.

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Filed under 1989, Youth