There was an extract in this morning’s Financial Times Magazine from Tony Barber’s blog about ‘my top 10 American moments’. Barber, the FT’s Brussels bureau chief, ranked as his N° 1 ‘Playing with a full set of American civil war bubblegum cards (1967)’. I remember those cards so well! On the way to my school, just beside the Windsor and Newton factory, there was a printing company that must have had the UK contract for those cards. We used to plunder their bins for rejects. Some of the offcuts were completely useless but occasionally you could find a fairly good card with only tiny flaws that could be swapped into the system. What was most impressive for me about those cards, bloodthirsty images aside, was the curious combination of ‘old-fashioned’ war – cavalry, horses, swords – and the mechanised variety, including machine guns and barbed wire. There’s that same combination in what I am now trying to write. Few remember that cavalry brigades played an important role in the opening stages of the 1914-18 war. Armoured tanks would not be used in any significant number until 1917. I wonder, coming back to Tony Barber, what, say, Barack Obama’s top 10 European moments would be.
The sheer heaviness of my agenda has obliged me to cheat again at the blogging game. Over the past two weeks I have composed a number of posts, some on paper, some only mentally, but I simply haven’t had the time to post them until now. I wonder how people do it. On which score, I was happy recently to get back in touch with Iain Dale. He is an extraordinarily prolific blogger. He’s also a complete politics junkie, and that’s how I know him. He used to run the best-ever politics-concentrated bookshop that has ever existed, Politicos. For as long as it did exist, I was unable to visit London without also visiting Politicos, a delightfully rambling shop where you could also buy political momentos, posters, manifestos, etc, as well as collector’s items of, for example, the Nuffield General Election studies series. It was an Aladdin’s cave for politics anoraks and it had so much more character and atmosphere than, say, Foyle’s politics section. The London launch of my Kinnock was held there, thanks to Iain. Charles Clarke, currently lying fallow (in political terms), gave my all-time favourite description of the biography on that occasion. He said it was ‘an important book because it shows why politics matters.’ I still mourn the disappearance of Politicos. Iain and I would certainly not see eye-to-eye on many political issues, but on that particular issue we are surely in complete agreement; politics matters. And that is reason enough to visit Iain’s blog here.
To the Beaux Arts to see Mariss Jansons conduct the Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest playing Wagner (Tannäuser overture and two extracts from Siegfried) and Shostakovitch’s 10th symphony (phew!). The Salle Henri Le Boeuf was full to the rafters and the Latvian contingent was out in proud force. Shostakovitch after Wagner is a bit like a cassoulet after a tartiflette (don’t get me wrong – I adore them both), so the conductor and his audience had a self-imposed challenge on their hands. Jansons did not disappoint. He puts a lot into his conducting, at times seeming almost to want to lift the orchestra physically through the force of the emotions he wants them to convey. The encore, the Adagio from Katchaturian’s Spartacus, was beautifully done and was perfectly suited to his conducting style. He was once quoted as saying “I want that every [one] of my concerts should be [an] event, for me, for [the] orchestra and [for the] public.” He succeeded in spades tonight. As we were leaving we bumped into a Latvian colleague who told us that we had just listened to the best conductor conducting the best orchestra. She may well have been right!
John Martyn died yesterday. There’s a newspaper obit. here. He was the classic tragic genius. He never really lived up to the promise of Solid Air and May You Never but I think I would have been happy as a musician if that is all I had managed. He belonged to my youth, just as surely as Kevin Coyne (his obit’s here). I saw them both on the student circuit in the early 1970s. Coyne, I’m sure, appeared at Harrow Tech. (now part of Westminster University, if you please). I don’t remember where I saw Martyn, but his performance was unforgettable. He was in his prime in those days, I suppose, but he was one of many acts I saw that seemed destined to go on and hit the big time. Well, he didn’t, and now he’s gone, but those who saw or heard him won’t forget the thrill of the performance and the thrill of the promise.
In the evening to La Monnaie to see a superb production of Death in Venice. The tenor role of Gustav von Aschenbach requires a continuous presence on stage. Ian Bostridge acted and sung the writer’s passionate decline convincingly. But this strength in the production was compounded by two others. The first was the combination of Deborah Warner’s staging and Jean Kalman’s lighting. With a few sparing details, Warner was able to create the atmosphere of Venice, its Lido, its canals and San Marco whilst the Adriatic light on sand and sea was also faithfully reproduced. The second was the dancing and, in particular, the part of Tadzio, played with great aplomb by Leon Cooke. My family saw him in the West End in Billy Elliot and were impressed with him then. We will see much more of this talented teenager, I am sure. The boys’ games and fights in the sand were excellently choreographed. All-in-all, quite a treat.
To the Committee’s Communication Group to discuss the draft 2010 budget. Communication is, quite rightly, a priority for all of the EU’s institutions, but the different tools and means have to be chosen carefully and weighed against the Committee’s overall strategic objectives. An important part of my mandate is to facilitate more strategic input from our members and, in that context, this was a very fruitful and encouraging meeting.
I was invited to give a round-up closing speech at yet another well-attended and deeply interesting conference at the EESC. This one, under the enthusiastic and dynamic chairmanship of our Vice-President with responsibility for communication matters, Irini Pari (left), brought together a set-piece opening session (with speakers including MEP and Chairman of the EP’s Constitutional Affairs Committee, Jo Leinen, Czech Republic State Secretary for European Affairs, Marek Mora, European Commissioner for Education, Training and Youth, Jan Figel, and Anna Terron, of the Committee of the Regions) with three themed workshops in which participants got down to discussing: how to communicate beyond borders and cultures; how to reconcile the national and European dimensions; and civil society organisations as a network to promote key issues. You can read all about the conference here.
Today the Committee held a one day conference about “The view of European civil society on nuclear energy.” At a time when many around the world are speaking of a nuclear renaissance, it seemed vital to take a look at how European social and economic actors view their nuclear industry and the opportunities and the risks involved in this type of energy production, not to mention their expectations regarding their involvement in the decisions leading to the construction and management of nuclear plants.
European civil society plays an increasingly important role in devising and implementing nuclear energy policies. The Committee’s conference aimed to stimulate dialogue on the key issues surrounding the future development of nuclear energy in the EU. Four roundtables considered: civil society perceptions of the economic and social impacts of nuclear energy; civil society expectations in terms of transparency over nuclear energy; Civil society involvement in decision-making over nuclear energy; and the role of the civil society in the implementation of the Aarhus convention. It was very well-attended and encouraged some animated policy discussions as well as some more technical exchanges. You can read more about the conference
The EESC President’s two-day conference on this theme is over. Given the gravity of the situation (jobs lost, homes re-possessed, shrunken savings) it would be inappropriate to adopt a congratulatory tone but, from the organisational and content point of view, the conference was a big success. It also generated considerable media interest. The conference press release can be read here. See pictures of the conference here. A summary record of the proceedings is being prepared. There were two common themes among speakers, no matter what sector they represented: we need more Europe (inter alia, a European regulator); we need more long termism (a paradox in parliamentary democracies with relatively short term electoral cycles). What I propose to do in the remainder of this post is bring you a flavour of the conference through a selection of ‘soundbites’ (see ‘read the rest of this entry’).
Mario Sepi, the President of the EESC, yesterday started a blog. Hurrah! You can visit it here. The first post is about the financial crisis and the Stability Pact. This afternoon and tomorrow, as it happens, the Committee is hosting a big conference about the consequences of the financial crisis and ways to rebuild the European social market economy (it is one of President Sepi’s flagship events). I’ll almost certainly write a separate post about the Conference proceedings. In the meantime, if you’re interested, you can find out more about it here.