Five years ago the European Union’s institutions agreed to establish a common school to provide training and development opportunities to staff at various levels and at various stages of their careers. The European Administrative School is already five years old and this morning the school organised a conference to celebrate its birthday. Unfortunately, I could not attend the whole conference but I was able to make it in time for the keynote address of Maros Sefcovic, European Commission Vice-President. He pointed to a number of challenges facing the institutions’ administrations. One of the most worrying is a demographic trend that will see the older institutions lose a vast swathe of their middle and senior management over the next ten years. The EAS and its sister organisation, the European Personnel Selection Office, will play key roles in rising to that challenge.
It was Bike Friday again this morning. This time the event took place in our Trèves building and a very interesting workshop was offered on how to improve your posture on your bike. I knew vaguely about saddle and handlebar height but what I hadn’t realised is that saddles can also be adjusted to be further forward or back because there is also an ideal distance for the arms to the handlebars. And did you know the Greg Lemond method? Saddle height = inside leg x 0.885, in case you didn’t.
Nigel Clarke’s piece for the Buizengen Brass Band, Earthrise, is going to be recorded soon and, as with What Hope Saw, they plan also to record the poem I wrote (with the same title) to stand alongside the music. It’s all very exciting. Meanwhile, a lady called Lut Mois designed a poster for the European Brass Band Championships and included the last line of my poem in the design; ‘and, just for a while, it seemed that man would think as gods thought.’ It’s easy to forget now, but when men first looked down on the earth there was a collective sense of optimism. They could see no boundaries, no frontiers, no races, and there was a sense – just for a while – that man could transcend himself. We are now sadder and wiser.
It’s the eve of the G20 summit in Toronto and this morning’s FT declares: ‘Scene set for battle on strategy.’ The strategic choice in question is deficit reduction versus stimulus. I confess to being thoroughly confused. I am not talking about the (pseudo?) ideological debate in the UK where, my Sunday newspaper told me, ‘free-market radicals sense a new opportunity to dramatically shrink the public sector’ and where even a neutral observer such as Philip Stephens this morning describes George Osborne’s severe budget cuts as ‘a gamble’. Nor am I talking about the very different approaches of the French and German governments (in an op ed article in yesterday’s FT Wolfgang Schauble wrote that ‘maligned Germany is right to cut spending’) – not to mention the Baltic states, where fiscal retrenchment is biting deeply already. Nor am I talking about the trans-Atlantic differences between policy-makers, with the Americans warning the Europeans not to tip the world economy into prolonged recession, nor what German Chancellor Angela Merkel described as a war between ‘politicians and markets’, with Georges Soros, speaking for the markets, criticising ‘excessive’ budget discipline. I am talking about the economists. There is a veritable cacophony of theorists and practitioners at the moment, spread throughout the media. For every economist who says that fiscal retrenchment is vital for sustainable medium-term growth you can find another who will warn about the risk of a double dip recession. I do not envy our policymakers. On what basis can they decide, with so many learned voices giving them contradictory advice? In any case, it is a subject where the more I read the less I think I know…
We had an information session for our staff this lunchtime on the theme of ‘our ecological footprint; how can we reduce it?’ Our guest speaker, Arianna Vitali, WWF policy officer, took us through the checklist: insulation, water use, transport, and so on. One of the more striking aspects of her presentation, however, was just how good Brussels is at encouraging its inhabitants, workers, businesses and other organisations to behave more sustainably and in a more environmentally-friendly way. If you live or work in Brussels, you might like to go to this site to find out everything that the Institut Bruxellois pour la Gestion de l’Environnement offers, from energy audits to a lot of very useful advice. My favourite is this; a themographic map of Brussels that enables you to see whether your house/factory/office is wasting energy through the roof or not. The only caveat is that the scan was done on 27-28 December, when quite a few people were probably away and offices and factories shut. Still, it’s a very useful tool. Well done, Brussels!
I have been quiet until now about the World Cup. In the case of the old European footballing nations there was much to be quiet about. But I can’t resist a post this evening. England had to win against Slovenia, and they did, though only by one goal. Later, Germany had to win against Ghana, and they did, though only by one goal. So the old rivals both go through to the last sixteen by the skin of their teeth. And who do they next have to play? Each other. It’s brilliant plotting. Will it go to penalties? Well, if it does, we know what happens next! For those not familiar with this wonderful sporting rivalry, wiki has a whole entry here.
I chaired another meeting of our renewal task force this morning. Thanks to my super Anna and the skill and commitment and good will of all colleagues involved these meetings are a joy to chair. We began with the latest statistics. According to the Treaty, the member states’ proposals are approved by the Council after it has consulted the European Commission. Twenty-four of the twenty-seven member states have sent their proposals to the Council. On the basis of those proposals, ninety of the Committee’s 344 members will be new as of October, which is a twenty-six per cent turnover rate. Having a quarter of membership entirely new to the institution will be a challenge, but the overall statistics hide some big variations. In the case of one member state there will be no change at all. In the case of another delegation, only two out of nine members will be the same.
Thanks to yesterday’s enlarged Presidency’s preparatory work the Bureau finished early enough for me to dash to La Monnaie for Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production of Verdi’s Macbeth. I was slightly apprehensive. I had been warned that the production was complex, and so it was, but I left the theatre having been deeply moved. In the first place, the singing and the acting were first rate. Carlo Colombara (Banco), Iano Tamar (Lady Macbeth) and Andrew Richards (Macduff) were all outstanding. Paul Daniel conducted the Monnaie orchestra with great passion and sensitivity. But Scott Hendricks’s interpretation of the title role was extraordinary both for his delivery and for his utterly convincing depiction of a decline into delusional paranoia. In the second place, Warlikowski plays very cleverly on the theme of heirlessness. The witches on the blasted heath become childlike figures with adult faces. Banco’s ghost becomes a number of dwarves with miniature Banco heads… In the third place, Warlikowski cleverly uses a small camera placed on the banqueting table to film the facial expressions of Lady Macbeth and Macbeth’s guests as his decline accelerates, and these grainy, graphic images are projected onto a massive backdrop. The production is far from perfect. The first Act’s depictions of the heath and the castle (telescoped into one another) are messy and confusing, with far too much going on and not all of it relevant. On the other hand, there can be no denying Warlikowski’s attention to detail. For example, Macbeth lights a cigarette at the beginning of the first Act. Once he has killed King Duncan, however, a flunkey insists on lighting his cigarette for him and by the time of the banquet he has progressed to cigars. This was a challenging production but an immensely entertaining one.
At lunchtime today I attended a special prize-giving ceremony. Seppo Kallio, Vice-President of the European Economic and Social Committee, was given the ‘Delegate of the Year Award’ by the Finnish language interpreters of the European Commission. The description about the prize is as follows. ‘Speaking one’s own language and cooperating with interpreters are cornerstones of successful multilingual communication. With this award we want to honour a person who: speaks Finnish with clarity and versatility; defends the status of the Finnish language; works together with interpreters (delivers written speeches and possible background material in advance and clarifies the issues and terms dealt with in the meetings); and speaks naturally and as freely as possible even when using a ready made speech. We chose Mr Seppo Kallio because he has not only distinguished himself in the Committee (since 1995) as an advocate for the Finnish agriculture and forestry sectors. He also consistently demands interpretation for meetings, speaks Finnish clearly and colourfully and listens to Finnish interpretation whenever possible. By doing so he strengthens multilingualism and the status of the Finnish language in the EU. His positive attitude towards interpretation encourages us to strive for perfection.’ Europe, endless!
This morning I chaired the usual weekly coordination meeting of the Committee’s senior management and in the afternoon I attended a meeting of the Committee’s enlarged Presidency. The meeting – in effect, an informal body of the Committee – is typically convoked by the President to prepare important Bureau discussions and/or decisions. It is composed of the President, the Vice-Presidents and the three Group Presidents and, by clearing the ground and sorting the wheat from the chaff, is an important generator of consensus within the Committee. On the agenda of this afternoon’s meeting were four interlinked subjects: the Committee’s ambitions and intentions concerning the Lisbon Treaty’s provisions on participatory democracy; adjustments to the Committee’s Rules of Procedure as a consequence of the Lisbon Treaty’s provisions; the Committee’s mission statement; and the ongoing situation with regard to the Committee’s amending budget for 2010 (a consequence of the Lisbon Treaty’s provisions) and its draft budget for 2011. It was a substantive agenda, but the meeting went very well. One of the Council’s reproaches in the budgetary field is that the amending budget uses conditional language but, as was plain from the discussions this afternoon, from the simple point of view of managerial prudence the Committee has to be cautious about developing fresh tasks and roles without the necessary resources to do them.