Tag Archives: eisenhower fellowship

We are(n’t) scientists

The Commission has put out a survey about young people and science. There’s some pretty encouraging messages about optimism as to how science can improve things, but, particularly for the UK, some pretty scary ones about interest in science. The UK figures show that young Britons are among the least likely in Europe to consider studying science subjects. When asked if they were considering studying science subjects, Britons gave a probable or definite no to natural science (86%), engineering (76%), maths (76%) and social sciences/humanities (66%). This is really worrying for the UK, which considers itself a power-house of European science, a fact borne out by the numbers of European Research Council grant-winners that are based at UK universities, even if they are from elsewhere. But we can’t rely on foreign expertise to drive our innovation. Where are the scientists of the future going to come from? Where are the science teachers of the next generation going to come from? I suppose it’s linked to the story on Today yesterday (see under 7.42) about how children want to “be a celebrity” as a career choice, without necessarily having done something to be famous for. Things like X-Factor are one thing – at least the winners can do something, and if you look at Leona Lewis’ past you can see that she and her family made sacrifices for her to pursue her singing dream. But anyone from Big Brother? People famous because of their parent? Because of who they go out with? Doesn’t seem something to aspire to really.

This was an issue I was looking at a lot when I was in the US earlier this year, and if you’re interested, there are some great examples of good practice on my Eisenhower Fellowship blog.

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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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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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