What is the collective noun for a gathering of Presidents? I suggest a ‘pride’. In any case, there was a pride of Presidents on view in the European Parliament this afternoon. The occasion that had taken me there was the inauguration of two new buildings, the Jozsef Antall building and the Willy Brandt building, and the Konrad Adenauer passarelle that links them together and to the rest of the parliamentary complex. For the occasion all of the surviving Presidents of the European Parliament had gathered. In a touching speech (sadly, not available on his website), the EP’s current President, Hans-Gert Pöttering, pointed out that the three personalities whose names were being remembered and honoured in this way together symbolised the democratic evolution of the European Union: from the Basic Law, through Ostpolitik to the democratisation of Central and Eastern Europe.
To La Monnaie this afternoon to see a brilliant production of Ligetti’s absurdist masterpiece, Le Grand Macabre. The set was extraordinary. Clearly inspired by the hellish images of Hieronymous Bosch and Breughel, the centrepiece is a vast crouching nude, seen from all sides during the production thanks to a revolve. The back half very cleverly detaches to reveal hellish interiors and the singers sprout from every single orifice (and the nipples). Moreover, through clever use of projected light the figure’s face is distorted and contorted into various expressions of grief and desperation. One of the jokes in the plot, that Nekrotzar (death, the devil) gets so drunk he misses his own apocalypse, reminded me of Chaucer’s Nun’s Priest Tale, where four young drunks go out to kill death and end up killing each other. Good to see a brilliant young Brit, Leo Hussain, conducting. The Sunday Times published a review for those who want to know more (click here).
My better half was away for the weekend so I had to do a more than usually convincing imitation of a taxi driver: sleepovers, parties, sports, etc. However, there was one big consolation. All weekend a local radio station, Radio Nostalgie, played nothing but 1970s music. It was a wonderful aural trip down Memory Lane. The various hits and songs triggered all sorts of memories of my late teens and university years, but the feast also led me to realise just how extraordinarily rich and fertile that decade was in musical terms.
Agence Europe this morning carried a wonderful and touching story which (I am sure they won’t mind) I am cutting and pasting below.
While twenty-seven EU heads of state were attempting in Brussels to solve the challenges of the day (thankfully not related to war), a moving ceremony was taking place on a farm in eastern France, not far from Verdun, where the Robert Schuman European Centre (CERS in Scy-Chazelles in Mosel) was reading out a message of peace written by German soldiers fighting in the battle of Verdun, who were stationed at a farm in Fiquelmont. On 17 July 1916, when they left the farm, they left their message in a small bottle of Schnapps that they hid under a roof tile. This ‘message in a bottle’ was discovered by the farm’s owners and on Friday 20 March 2009, it was symbolically handed to a group of French and German schoolchildren. After reading out the message, written in French and English, the bottle and its consents were given to Jean-Luc Bohl, chair of CERS and Vice-President of the General Council of Mosel; Paul Collowald, chair of the Robert Schuman Association; and Richard Stock, Director-General of CERS, who will use the message during European events for young people at Scy-Chazelles which attract some 4000 visitors a year.
There follows an extract for the message by Karl Wahl of Leobschütz in Upper Silesia, Heinrich Peschel of Elsterwerda in Saxony, Willy Gissen of Krefeld, Corporal Franz of Altenroda Bad Bibra, Cavalryman Krahmer of Hamburg and Cavalryman Grünewald of Münster in Westphalien. ‘War is a brutally dangerous business and the communities of the occupied territories have had to endure horrendous suffering, such horrendous suffering. This suffering is generated by bitter hatred provoked by leaders, by the powerful. We soldiers do not share these ideas. We hate war and long for peace. The legacy for our grandchildren as the price of this senseless fighting, the legacy that must haunt the hearts of this world, in good times and bad, for some as a sign of what the future will bring and for others as a reality, a Utopia and a genuine Eden, whether people like it or not, the legacy of this war must be a Europe whose peoples are united with each other, a united Europe of friendship among the peoples and the realisation of the fact that we are all brothers.’
In early January I wrote an exercise for my writers’ group, ‘Curtains’ (see ‘more’ below), regretting the felling of a curtain of black poplars on one of my favourite walks around Brussels. In today’s Guardian newspaper, there is an article about how David Hockney encountered a similar tragedy (see here). In his case it was worse because he had intended to paint a beautiful copse of beech trees in each of the four seasons. He managed ‘winter’ and ‘summer’ before they were felled. Like me, he recognises that the felling was a perfectly ordinary part of the economic cycle of the countryside (indeed, the article led to a ‘response’ and a series of letters and the news that the copse would soon be replanted) but, also like me, he regretted the sudden and brutal disappearance of a thing of great beauty.
This morning we were treated to a fascinating and very pertinent analysis by Georges Ataya, Academic Director of the Solvay School of Economics and Management, on the theme of ‘IT governance and the management board.’ The IT topic is complex and crucial for both the EESC and our sister consultative body, the Committee of the Regions (IT being one of our joint services). We have many different end-users or clients (our members, our staff, our translators, the finance department, etc) and each has a different set of needs and priorities. Under the new cooperation agreement with the CoR we have put in place joint management structures but it seems clear to me now that, in the IT sector at least, we also need some sort of horizontal strategic structure. Time for a quick summing up of the seminar and a pep talk by yours truly, a bite to eat, and then it was back down to Brussels and an evening of penance with the backlog of files and e-mails. These directors’ seminars (we’ve decided to hold three a year) are a means to get us away from the daily grind and think about more strategic administrative issues. From that point of view, this one was a rich success.
A precious half-morning in the office and then up the motorway to Bruges for a seminar of the Directors. We kicked off over lunch with a pep talk delivered by yours truly. The roof of the terrace restaurant was canvas and rain rattled down on it as I spoke. Still, I made a number of observations, garnered from my many discussions with members, separately and together, about the need better to understand their attitudes to, and expectations of, the administration. In this context it is clear to me that we haven’t realised the full consequences of the last two waves of enlargement in terms of changes in administrative expectations and culture. After lunch, we were treated to Richard Olivier’s analysis of Henry V. I first saw this extraordinary performance (and it is a performance) last year at a strategic leadership seminar at Said Business School (Oxford). It is impossible not to be moved by the story nor by Richard’s analysis of the different types of leadership required in the journey from inception to heritage. If you get a chance to see Olivier (that’s right, son of Larry) doing this, grab it! Next, we had an internal discussion on the topic of a possible screening and peer review exercise. This spilt over into a more general discussion about procedures and processes and the optimal use of resources but was nevertheless rewarding for all involved, I felt. In the evening we had a lecture over our meal by professor Joos Vander Auwera, who is senior curator in the Royal Museums of Fine Art, Brussels, and lecturer in museology and cultural management at Ghent University. In a far-ranging and original account he spoke to us about the ‘economic effects of art’. His speech was intended as a spot of culture after a hard day’s work and in fact it was more than a spot!
I, together with two members, two directors and the head of human resources, spent the whole afternoon and evening, from two in the afternoon until eight at night, in job interviews. We’re starting to flesh out the new establishment plan that was adopted by the EESC’s Bureau on 2 December last year. It was tough work but I think everybody felt it had been done fairly and very professionally. The rules of procedure state that, for the appointment of directors, the SG makes a proposal to the Bureau, assisted by a panel. But the directors positions are such important strategic positions that I have declared I’ll only go if there is complete consensus among the panel. This might mean that we have to take a little longer, but we’ve got to get things right.
At last, and by a massive majority, the Committee’s plenary session today adopted the EESC’s Programme for Europe. This is, I believe, a genuinely historic initiative for the Committee. It is a strategic, long-term document on the current political debate and the challenges ahead. A Programme for Europe: proposals of civil society, lists a series of concrete measures and initiatives needed not only to overcome the current economic crisis but also to support sustainable growth. As such, it draws on the Committee’s previous and current work, with 22 one-page summaries covering five themes: the economic recovery, fundamental rights and the European social model, sustainable development, and governance. The aim is to feed the programme and its recommendations into the European elections debate but also to fuel the next European Commission’s reflections. The text of the programme can be found on the Committee’s website here.
In the late morning to the Chapel of the Resurrection for a commemorative service for the late Jacques Genton, the EESC’s first Secretary General, who passed away last November. My introductory words were about the role those pioneering Secretaries General played and the context in which they built not only the Institutions’ administrations but also the European public service. (The full text can be found after ‘read more’.) The other speakers, though, had known Genton, and through their accounts the man was brought to life: Guy Vanhaeverbeke (Genton’s first Head of Private Office); Adriano Graziosi (also a former Secretary General); Hubert Ghigonis (a longstanding EESC and French ESC member); and last but not least, Lidia Carissimo, who told us that Genton, a man of great culture, had published poems. Well, then; poetry is something that unites the first and the current SG!