Author: Webmanager

Paisa and poetry

Yesterday evening I watched Paisa with my wife. We met in Bologna in 1980, which was when I last saw this film, at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. I was hit by a double wave of nostalgia. The first was for an Italy which I hadn’t known directly, but the flavour of which I gleaned from early Rossellini and Fellini films such as Païsa and La Strada. The second wave was for the Italy we knew in the early 1980s, at the end of the ‘years of lead’.

When I got home yesterday there was a lovely surprise. A poetry magazine, Poetry Now, wants to publish one of my poems in an anthology. Cool. It will be my first ever published poem. I feel ridiculously happy about this.

Today was spent in back-to-back meetings, including lunchtime, and now I am dashing for the second parents-teachers’ meeting… I am very heavily concentrated on financial and administrative matters at the moment and I miss a little the policy content side that was so prevalent in my previous job, as one of the Directors for consultative work. Tomorrow, though, I am off to Paris for a meeting of the EESC’s ‘NAT’ Section, where the reform of the common agricultural policy will be discussed in the presence of Michel Barnier. Plenty of policy content there, then, and this will be the second time in three days that I’ll listen to Barnier…

Monday (later)

The meeting went OK. Everybody survived, and I learnt a lot. If the Cyprus peace process continues to advance as we must all hope it will, we may have to consider the Turkish language sooner than some might think.

In the afternoon I went to the Committee of the Regions’ kick-off event for the European Week of Regions and Cities. President José-Manuel Barosso, Michel Barnier, Danuta Hubner and Luc Van den Brande were the speakers in the opening session, on the theme of  ‘regions and cities in a challenging world.’ I jotted down a few of the choicer soundbites. ‘Nation states are too big for the small problems and too small for the big problems.’ (Barosso) ‘A united Europe not a uniform Europe.’ (Barnier) ‘You can’t have a good budget if you don’t have a good policy debate beforehand.’ (Barnier) ‘Dans l’économie réelle il y des entrepreneurs, pas des speculateurs.’ (Barnier) ‘Democratie raisonable.’ Luc Van den Brande. Danuta Hubner skilfully exploited a running joke after Barnier declared regional policy to be ‘the most beautiful of Europe’s policies.’ But the most touching thing for me was to see the genuine affection and fondness Barnier had for his old stamping ground and his former officials in DG REGIO. I thought once again of Mandelson’s abrupt departure. Apparently, he didn’t even have a change of shirt or underwear when he went across to London. It can’t have been easy.

Coordination meetings

Today is coordination meeting day throughout the EU institutions. To use an organic metaphor, if you imagine each institution, each DG, as being like a heart, then these meetings are the pulse that sends energy coursing through the arteries of the organisations for the rest of the week. Having tended to specialise in horizontal policy issues, I have spent quite a lot of my career in these sorts of meetings. They can be deadly; unstructured and unforeseeable agenda points, long-winded participants, political point-scoring, meetings dragging on until gone one-thirty – I have seen it all. On the other hand, when the agenda is well-structured and the meeting well chaired, then these meetings can be a joy. If you get out of a good meeting you feel set up for the week. If you get out of a dreary one, then, well, you feel dreary. I am chairing my first Directors’ meeting as SG this morning, and I see the chairing of an effective meeting as being one of my first challenges. There are a number of variables that make it an interesting challenge. I am much aware of one of C. Northcote Parkinson’s laws; that the length of the meeting is a function of the number of people in it multiplied by the number of agenda points. And on the agenda this morning we have one major agenda point – the development plan for our translation services, which we share with the Committee of the Regions. The provision of interpretation and translation is one of the great conundrums for the EU. An interesting and challenging morning ahead, then.

Of Brel, Belgians and Boudin

Being married to a Bruxelloise, I get occasional reminders that I live in Brel land (he lived just around the corner from us in Schaerbeek). Yesterday evening we ate black and white sausage (boudin noir et blanc) for dinner, together with apple sauce and stoemp. ‘They used to serve this a lot in the Brussels’ bistros,’ said my wife. ‘It was called entre ciel et terre.’ (‘Between the sky and the earth.’) I could just imagine Jacques singing a song with that title.

Talking of singing, we got to Mamma Mia! this weekend. Piers Brosnan? Oh, well.

We spent the afternoon at a family bash, to celebrate the 80th birthday of one of my wife’s aunts. The event was held in a restored barn in Upigny. I like the Belgians immensely and such occasions give further evidence of all that is best about them: convivial, self-deprecating, good-humoured, generous, hospitable and, above all, friendly. I found myself sitting beside an interesting lady, Sandrine Dixson-Declève, who works on sustainable development issues – a policy field that has been dear to my heart as a Director in the EESC. We had a good chat about the provision of reliable and independent scientific advice. Later, there was slide show and we watched generations of the Bondue family – all beautiful – slide past.

Back home, I tried to help my son with his maths homework. My daughter had to help me to help him. ‘I think I overtook you in maths about five years ago,’ said she in that winning way that children have.

Saturday – death row and dog walking

I walked Clyde, our golden retriever, this morning. My daughter, Emily, joined me. We opted for the open fields around Bertem, an, area rich in birdlife. Clyde is wonderful but he has one drawback – he smells. No, he stinks. Worse, he never misses an opportunity to roll himself in something indescribable. This morning I took my eye of him at the end of the walk and… What a pong. I had to shampoo him in the garden when we got back but the smell still lingers faintly in my nostrils.

I spent the afternoon unpacking cases and wondering how the Commission will deal with Mandelson’s departure. The suddenness of it all must be quite a shock for his staff.

It’s been a grim week for my pen friend on North Carolina’s Death Row, Walic C Thomas, and his fellow inmates. A Superior Court Judge ruled a year ago that the North Carolina Medical Board had overstepped its authority by threatening to punish physicians for participating in executions. The Board adopted the policy early last year, arguing that the profession’s code of ethics should prevent physicians from taking part in an execution. The policy effectively triggered a moratorium on the death penalty in N.C., which has not executed an inmate since August 2006 (State law requires that a doctor be present during a lethal injection and a federal judge insisted last year that a doctor should oversee the process of putting an inmate to death). But now the High Court has agreed to hear the dispute, with arguments scheduled for 18 November. Nichola Glasse, one of the angels at Lifelines, informed us that: ‘Most of our pen friends will have seen the announcement on the television or their friends will have told them, so they might need more support. I thought it best that you know what is going on now in case your pen friends stops writing, or is more depressed than usual, as this will have a huge effect on the atmosphere on the row at Central Prison.’ I bet! It’s a ghastly process and an issue to which I shall be returning.

Mandelson and poetry

The news broke today about Peter Mandelson‘s return to the British Government. The Government had trailed this as a minor re-shuffle and the secret was well-kept. Quite a coup. ‘Brussels’ will now have to think through the ramifications for its own business.

To a poetry-reading session in the evening, at the home of a good friend, Lucy Elliott. Marvellous Polish hospitality, including delicious food. Lucy belongs to two different writers’ groups and she’d invited people from both, together with their spouses and partners. There was a great atmosphere, intimate but open. We could read out some of our work, if we wished. It was good fun. I am not a poet, but I do try to write poetry. You can read what I read out by clicking ‘Read the rest of this entry‘. Comments and criticism welcome!

Continue reading

Thursday decisions

I had to take my first tough administrative decisions today, but I went out of my way to explain them to the people involved. This also involved going before the EESC’s Communication Group. It was a bitter-sweet occasion because this was the last meeting chaired by Jillian van Turnhout, an Irish member (Various Interests Group) with whom I have worked very closely since 2003, when I first came to the Committee. Jillian somehow manages to combine a high profile job in Ireland (she’s chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance) with a highly active career in the Committee. I just don’t know how she does it, but I do know it frequently involves catching the first flight to Brussels and the last flight back to Dublin. The more I think about it, the more I find the commitment of our members (who don’t get a salary and have jobs back home) admirable. The occasion was bitter-sweet because the next Chair of the Communication Group, Irini Pari (Greek, Employers’ Group), is also an excellent communicator and a fully paid-up member of the ‘Plan D’ Club. As to my administrative decisions, they seem to have gone down as well as could be expected.

In the evening to a parents-teachers meeting at my son’s school, one of the European Schools. Schooling just seems so advanced in comparison with my own school days; or was I just not paying attention?

During one of the longeurs, with removals much on my mind, I calculated that, over the course of my twenty-three year career in the EU I have moved office eighteen times, involving nine different buildings (Charlemagne, Berlaymont, Breydel, Nerviens, Trèves, Van Maelant, Belliard, Ravenstein and Jacques Delors). It keeps one young, I suppose.

© 2024 Martin Westlake

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑