Tag Archives: Brussels

Turning virtual friendships into real ones

I was in Brussels for the last two days, and very nice it was too. On Wednesday I was speaking at an event on the use of social media in a European context, called Butterfly Europe. A video of the event is online, and Europasionaria has written about it. I have a slightly different take on it to her, because although I am a card-carrying EU GirlGeek, my geographical position means that I have connected with these people via Twitter, blogs and so on but I’ve never met some of them. So my trip to Brussels was a great opportunity to get to know them in real life. And what a pleasure it was! From the EU Girl Geeks for lunch that day, to the many people at the Butterfly Europe event, to the commission’s internal Geek network on Thursday morning, I had a lovely time taking my online personal relationships offline. It’s too easy to caricaturise people who use digital media as lonely geeks sat behind their keyboards in their underpants, but speaking for myself, it has introduced me to a huge range of interesting people, some of whom I’m proud to call my friends.

Update, midday 20 August

Toute L’Europe [FR] and Les Euros du Village[FR] have also covered the Butterfly Europe Event

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Filed under Digital/social media

Home or away?

I was in Brussels yesterday and the day before, with a group of visitors. They were all people who teach journalism in UK universities, most of them former journalists, and who were interested in finding out more about how the EU really works. The idea of the visit came out of approaches I had had from several of them, either asking for people from our office to come to talk to their students, or else looking for information about the EU and the accuracy of some media reporting.

On the first day they had some presentations on the institutional set-up of the EU – who does what, how decisions are made and so on because, by their own admission, they didn’t feel very well-informed. There was a look at political priorities for the future, and how the Commission organises its information and communication. We visited the audio-visual facilities made available to journalists accredited to the Commission’s press room, had a virtual tour round other services for journalists and spoke to various people about working in Brussels: a journalist, a Commission spokesman and a UK government spokesman.

Like most visits of this type, almost the best result was the networking among the group. There were 7 universities represented. Some brought  several people, one just one. Some had met before, some were meeting for the first time. But it was clear that new ideas emerged for their teaching and research. Certainly several indicated to me that the visit had really given them food for thought about the coverage of EU issues in the UK. Perhaps the main message that emerged was that the EU shouldn’t be treated as a foreign news story, but as the nuts and bolts of what happens at home (a view shared, I am told, by Nigel Farage!).

For my part, watching the presentation of what we do to the outside, with all my insider knowledge, it occurred to me that what we do is, for the most part, very dull. Very important, very useful, very relevant, and very necessary. But nonetheless very dull (conciliation process anyone? Comitology decision?). Maybe we should start making more a virtue of that…?

I also met some fellow-bloggers today, which was not only a pleasure, but quite useful. Watch this space…

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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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Filed under Living in London, Management, Media, Personal, Sports, Youth

What’s the difference between kiwi fruit and bread?

Sounds like a bad joke, doesn’t it? Well the answer, if you’re the Daily Mail, is that the EU is crazy to have rules standardising the former and crazy to take away rules standardising the latter. Does that make sense to you? I have to admit that I’m baffled. Personally, I think doing away with standard bread sizes is a marvellous idea. In Brussels you could buy a half-loaf and even then I used to be upset at how often I had to throw several slices away. I think in these days of many more single-person households and rising food prices, it’s a common-sense thing to do. I’m sure Daily Mail readers will assess the issue on its own merits, rather than thinking we should have something just because it was in the Magna Carta. Anyway, the Daily Record are happy, which I think might be a first!

I’m going to be in Brussels next week for the meeting of Press Officers from across all the Member States. It’ll be nice to be able to catch up with people while I’m there. It’ll be my first Eurostar trip since the fire, so I hope things won’t be too crazy. I was supposed to be going away this weekend to Bedford to watch the Brussels theatre group, but what with just getting back from Manchester and then heading off to Brussels and from there to France, I had to knock it on the head – sometimes you just have to admit that you can’t do everything you want to do. Still, very exciting that I’ll be moving my stuff into my little house and finally getting installed there, 3 months after completing the sale.

I’m also planning to take advantage of a bit more of London, particularly in dancing terms. Already booked a workshop at the Barbican and a try-different-dancing-styles night, in addition to fitting in Ceroc classes when I can (with more sensible shoes than last time…)

Thought you might like to see this little video. My aunt’s friend Kinny, who has known me since the day I came into the world, runs this great theatre company which does shows for kids, accessible to both deaf and hearing kids watching together. The video gives you an idea of what they’re about and I think it looks lovely. Kinny used to run a puppet company with my aunt, and was Riff-Raff in a tour of Rocky Horror. He’s the one who got me into the musical Chicago as well, as he lived with my parents in East Bergholt while he was appearing in the show in Ipswich. A while ago now though…we moved out of East Bergholt in 1991 and it was a few years before that! Scary…

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Filed under Culture, Living in London, Media, Personal

Enjoy the silence

*weird, this got caught in the out tray. Still, here it is for the record*

Sorry for the long break – I was in France for a few days for my father’s 60th birthday, then Brussels sorting out moving all my belongings out of the house there and into the one here. The stuff arrives on Friday this week, so that will be a few days of graft getting it all out of boxes. Moving is a great time to clean up your life a bit and there were 35 bags of rubbish outside my house on Wednesday – most of them recycling bags I hasten to add. I’ve also got loads of stuff that I’m trying to give away to the Sally Army or something, if I can arrange for someone to pick it up. Got to go back one more time for the final tour through the house and transfer of utilities meters, but I’ll be staying with Abi (and my cats) then, as I was the few days I was back this week.

Abi stayed with me in Balham on Friday and we had a really nice night (watched Little Miss Sunshine, which is absolutely hilarious!). Saturday I met Hannah, someone I knew in Brussels, and some of her friends and we had a great day – late lunch at Tate Modern, drink at the Oxo Tower, then joined in a trance party on the river beach by the South Bank! We ended up in the ICA bar, which was great. Sunday I just watched Olympics for most of the day, which is no hardship with Team GB going so well. I’ve particularly been enjoying the velodrome, as always – how crazy are the events there??!! Just looking forward to seeing what else our lads and lasses can achieve!

So back in work, and as is usual in August, it’s all very quiet. Actually August is even quieter here than it is when you stay in Brussels, or maybe I’ve just always chosen bad summers to stay! Let’s see what happens…!

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Hanging around in limbo

I was in Brussels this weekend, to work on getting the house organised and see my friends of course. It was Rachel’s birthday and so we had a lovely brunch outside the Orangerie in Parc d’Egmont on Sunday. Most of my closest friends were there, which was lovely, but it was really strange to have to leave them all to go and catch the train “home”.  I got an e-mail from Rachel apologising for not talking to me much, as she still doesn’t think of me as not living there! But funnily enough, I feel based in London, I just don’t have the community of friends here yet that I do in Brussels. I’m sure I will though! It’ll also help when the move is completed and I have my own things around me – I was crazy happy yesterday at having a few more of my own clothes hanging up in the wardrobe!

The office is pretty quiet today and the phones are up the creek, which helps! I found out I have to go to Liverpool later this week with the President. My first official engagement, if you like! It’s a whirlwind visit and we’re trying to set up a press point – if you’re interested, let me know!

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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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Filed under Management, Media, Personal