Forty years on, the dream has become a reality
May I be among the last to post the news of Barack Obama’s historic win? There were many moving moments over the past twelve hours; Senator McCain’s extraordinarily gracious and patriotic acknowledgement of defeat and pledge to serve being much to the fore. But the image that will stick in my mind is that of the Reverend Jesse Jackson amid that jubilant crowd in Chicago’s Grant Park, shedding tears of joy. Jackson was among the last men to talk to Martin Luther King on that fateful balcony of the Lorraine motel in Memphis forty years ago and few know better than he the long road that American democracy has followed to get to this point. His lucid views on all of that can be read here. And here, in Obama’s own words, is the challenge he now faces and the inspiration he brings:
‘Even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime – two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.
“The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep… But America – I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.” ‘
The Jacques Delors building
Long hours come with the territory. There’s no way out. The days are full of meetings (all of them urgent, of course), leaving only the early mornings and the late evenings to deal with the mountains of files and torrents of e-mails. So most working days are fourteen hour affairs at the moment. That’s fine, but I do admit to one poignant moment in the evenings. At eight o’clock sharp the air conditioning is turned off and suddenly this building, the Jacques Delors building, goes very quiet and I start wondering what I can postpone to the next day so as to make my escape. I remember similar moments when I was in the complicated depths of programme management in the European Commission, and the thought consoles me. Throughout the EU’s institutions, the air-conditioning is going off and people are thinking about what they can postpone till tomorrow!
Julien Frisch quite rightly took me to task yesterday for using the word ‘important’ too lightly. His simple point: the more the word is used, the less important the issues will appear to be. It’s a fair cop. The problem is that I am consciously writing for two audiences. One is the world ‘out there’. the other, though, is the world in here, in the European Economic and Social Committee. What I was writing about – the new President’s set-piece debate around his work programme – was undoubtedly very important for the Committee, and that is what I meant, I suppose. It’s always a little invidious to single out one speaker in a high quality debate, but I found Professor Maria Joao Rodrigues’s remarks particularly incisive. As one of the founding figures of the EU’s Lisbon Strategy, she knows better than most that, as she put it ‘the EU’s model is not sustainable unless its international partners move in the same direction.’ Hence also, I would argue, the importance of the EESC’s external activities; arguing the case for strong and healthy civil society organisations to support strong and healthy democracies. There – I’ve used the word ‘importance’ again! Sorry, Julien.
The youngest ever F1 champion
This evening I watched the second half of the Brazilian F1 Grand Prix at Interlagos. It was simply enthralling and a great advertisement for the sport. Hamilton needed to finish fifth or above to clinch the world championship. His rival, local hero Felipe Massa, dominated the 71-lap race from beginning to end, taking a well-deserved chequered flag and, for a few seconds, believing he had won the championship. For, coming into the final bend, Hamilton was only in sixth place. But in the last few hundred yards he overtook Timo Glock and finished fifth. Massa, understandably, was gutted. He had done everything he could, but it wasn’t enough. If these two can maintain the sporting rivalry next year then we are in for a feast.
‘Dimanche‘, a Belgian newspaper, today has the following wonderful story on its ‘Belgique’ pages.
Un braqueur déguisé
Bruxelles – La police de la zone de Bruxelles-Nord a été appelée vendredi soir à Schaerbeek. Un automobiliste roulant avec sa femme enceinte dans une voiture BMW a été surpris par un passant portant une cagoule et une arme, qui traversait la route. Sur place, la police s’est rendu compte que l’homme était déguisé pour la fête de Halloween en braqueur et qu’il s’agissait d’une plaisanterie. L’homme à la cagoule a expliqué à la police qu’il a voulu remercier l’automobiliste qui le laissait traverser en lui faisant un geste de la main armée. Il traversait l’avenue pour se rendre au café ‘L’ambience’. L’arme était un pistolet à air comprimé selon le parquet. L’homme qui était selon ses dires déguisé en ‘braqueur de café’ a été interpellé par la police puis déféré au parquet. Il a été relaxé après avoir éré reprimandé.’
You couldn’t make it up.
I’m just back from a few days in the north of Italy, in the mountains above Lake Como. It’s an extraordinary spot. On Thursday evening we walked up a mountain side in the twilight until we were above the snowline. We were rewarded witha close-up view of a magnificent wild boar, big and black against the snow.
My many avid readers will have noticed an absence of posts for quite a well and all I can say is that even Secretaries General suffer from IT problems occasionally. Fear not! I have scripted quite a few posts and will start posting them just as soon as….
Stop press (9 November)! I have just found a wonderful Flaubert quotation that sums up the region well: ‘tous les sentiments de la nature s’y trouvent réunis et le grand prédomine.’
I have to rub my eyes, but I have already been in the job one month. That means I only have four years and eleven months of my mandate left!