Category Archives: Management

The sound of silence

Sorry, have been very negligent in my blog-writing duties. It’s not even that we’ve been totally swamped with work. It’s been quite busy, but in a very bitty way, doing a lot of admin and financial procedures for the various events that we have coming up before the end of the year and doing a lot of planning, so we are on top of upcoming issues. It’s my mantra that it’s better to plan what you can and give yourself the space to deal with last-minute emergencies rather than being in a permanent state of stress because everything is being dealt with at the last minute. It seems to be working quite well, though as long as most people in Brussels operate at the last minute, there’s not much we’re going to be able to do. Which is what is nice about this job. We are dependent on Brussels for the majority of our work, but at the same time there’s a lot that’s in our own hands and so we manage that as best we can.

We’ve been meeting all week with providers of contact databases for journalists, as our contract is up and a new tender is underway. I’ve never used one of these before, so it has been interesting to see what systems are out there. Looking forward to sorting it all out and starting work with one of these systems, which will hopefully allow us to manage our contacts with journalists better.

The telly in the office has had unprecedented levels of pictures of Brussels on it. The summit was given practically blanket coverage on News24 – have you ever seen a Berlaymont VIP corner live on British TV? Great stuff.  My favourite moment was when they covered live Angela Merckel’s comments to the press as she went in. In German. Without subtitles/interpretation. Cue lots of confused looking people in the BBC studio, saying things like, well I have German O-level but didn’t understand a word. Heehee.

Took advantage of the lovely weather to go for a walk this lunchtime, over Westminster Bridge, along the river, back over Lambeth Bridge and past the Houses of Parliament. We bumped into George Parker, Political Editor of the FT and former bureau chief in Brussels, which is always a pleasure.

I’ve got the house to myself at the moment, as the Housemate is away on a work trip which he is turning into a long weekend. Not that I’ve got much planned. Tomorrow I’m going to go to the meeting of the Anglo-Malagasy Society, sort of representing my father, sort of for myself (looking forward to the Zebu sarnies…!) Sunday I’ll be round at my aunt’s for lunch. It’ll be great to catch up with her. Otherwise a very quiet weekend ahead.

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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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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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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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Our woman in London

I’m sitting in my office with the fan on, feeling like something from a Graham Greene novel! I lolve the warm weather, don’t get me wrong, but I do prefer it when I can lie in a garden overlooking the valley of the Neste river, or lie by a pool in Ibiza. It’s just not the same sitting in an office in Westminster!

Had a lovely weekend, with my first party at the house. Just a casual lunch thing on Saturday, with about 20 of us. No-one had met before, but everyone seemed to get on, and there were quite a few kids running around, from 7 months to 10. All great fun. A schoolfriend I hadn’t seen for nigh on 20 years turned up, which was delightful! Sunday I went to Clapham Farmer’s Market. Here’s a weird coincidence – Nafees who was on the Eisenhower Fellowship with me went to the Bonneville Primary School (where the market is held) for a short while when he was little. It’s a very small world…

It’s much more clear this week that the holiday season has started in Brussels – today has been very quiet. Still, gives me a chance to get on with some of the more long-term things we have to deal with, like helping a university that would like to give its journalism students a taste of “Brussels”, and tenders for this and that.

Also having some admin nightmares, not only on the personal front, with no-one having come back to me yet about my move, but also as I’m trying to recruit some new staff and have to wait until September for someone from Brussels to OK my choice. Given that I can only recruit people off a list drawn up after a recruitment procedure, I’m having difficulty seeing the logic in that…

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Having to be all grown up…

One of the “head” reasons I had for taking this job in London (rather than the “heart” ones that went: want to live in London! Want to show the UK why the EU is a pretty good thing on the whole!) was that it would give me management experience. The Commission as an institution isn’t very good at that – you get no chance to manage staff (except perhaps an intern) until you become a head of unit and then – bang!- you have responsibility for loads of them. In the smallest units maybe 10-12, some have fifty or even one hundred. So the chance to run a team, get involved in recruitment, allocation of tasks, day-to-day running, reports etc was too good to turn down. I might suck at it, but if I do, at least I’ll have found out before I can do too much damage!!

Anyway, all of that because today was a “management” day. We had the heads of our “satellite” offices here, from Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast, and I was asked to present to them an idea I have for a team-building with the press team here and those in the satellites. If anyone has any good ideas about how to do a team-building event on a budget, with people of all ages and physical abilities, then please leave them for me to crib! I also interviewed two people to fill some of the current or possible future vacancies in the press team. I had sent them a mock week of press releases and events and asked them to identify how they would use that to plan our week’s activities. Quite a useful exercise, certainly for me, but I think also for them, as it gave them a glimpse of what working here would really be about.

But in among all that “management” stuff, I got to do my first TV interview as UK Head of Media, for Meridian (South of England ITV) on the fruit and veg marketing standards story. Hopefully someone will see it somewhere!

On the personal front, a possible flatshare for the house in Balham came by last night. Seemed a really nice guy and quite compatible on the “sharing living space” front. Just waiting to hear whether he’s prepared to take it or not. If not, then it’s back to square one, as the houseboat is great, but needs some work doing and I’m not going to say either way until I’ve seen how it has been done. Don’t want to get stuck with some shonky patch-up job.

Had a lovely time in Brussels, though it does feel weird being there in this kind of limbo between living there and having left. With the cats there, and most of my clothes and all of my furniture, I haven’t left in my head, but I definitely felt I was visiting. I suppose it’s that issue of routine again – home is where the routine is…that’s a sad indictment of our existence.

Home-owning creeps ever closer, with the mortgage offer date of 23 June (the date I can signal my acceptance) approaching. Have hopefully got the power of attorney for my father to sign the papers all sorted out, so fingers crossed by early July, I should own a lovely little French house. I spoke to my parents today and they were up in that valley, checking out a rafting trip (…!). They commented again what a pleasant place it is, much nicer than the St Lary valley, which is the next one over, which is much narrower and more claustrophobic.

Off to the launch of the London Architecture festival now where hopefully I’ll see Hannah Cox from Brussels. It’s really a small world!

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