Anne in action...
This evening I had dinner with Ambassador Anne Derse. Thirty years ago (no less) we studied together at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Bologna Center. Since SAIS, Anne has followed an illustrious career as a diplomat, serving notably as economic affairs counsellor at the US mission to the EU, where, amongst other interesting and influential tasks, she was the last US commissioner on the Tripartite Gold Commission (which adjudicated sovereign claims for ‘Nazi gold’). In 2004 she helped establish the new US embassy in Baghdad. She was US ambassador to Azerbaijan 2006-2009 and is now US ambassador to Lithuania. At the same time, Anne has raised a family of four great children. I am an unconditional admirer of my friend and contemporary’s career. Remember, a lot of top diplomatic postings are made through political patronage, but Anne has advanced purely on the basis of ability. She is an enlightened internationalist and a fully paid-up supporter (as am I) of international exchange programmes. She is, in every sense of the term, a good American friend.
Sven and saw
Today was a bit of a speechifying day but altogether a rewarding one. It began in the early morning at La Hulpe, where one of my directorates had gone for a team-building ‘away day’. I was invited to give an introductory talk about the challenges ahead. The basic message that I hope I got across is that, with the start of a new mandate and a new Presidency and the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty, the Committee is well-placed to play a valuable flanking role, not only by carrying out its advisory function but also by providing a forum in which the concept of participatory democracy may be fleshed out. In the afternoon I gave the closing speech to a group of new Committee officials. I try always to give a sense not only of what the Committee is about but also what the European public service is about and why there is a strong moral imperative upon us all to behave in exemplary fashion – it’s not just the Committee’s reputation that is at stake, but that of the European ideal as a whole. In between, there was a farewell lunch for the outgoing chairman of the Committee’s specialised section for energy and transport, Janos Toth, who will be much missed and, in the evening, a farewell for a colleague, Sven Damman, leaving for the European Commission. I dubbed the latter my ‘eco-warrior’, since he constantly sought to improve our environmental performance. For his farewell party he had written a poem and this he recited, accompanying himself with a musical saw (his usual instrument is the trombone). The day was thus a mixture of prospective and retrospective. All things must pass.
This evening I met the Secretary General of the German European Movement and an old buddy, Bernd Hüttemann. Germany has no equivalent of the European Economic and Social Committee. Though it could never be such an institution and would never seek such a vocation, the European Movement has by its nature always encouraged civic dialogue. In this context, the German Constitutional Court’s recent ruling on the Lisbon Treaty has put fresh wind in its sails. In a little known passage in the judgement, the Court drew attention to the importance of civic dialogue and, yes, of participatory democracy, flanking representative democracy. This is a fascinating and unexpected offshoot of the constitutional debate surrounding the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty but, as Bernd argues, it should also be an important consideration in the implementation of the Treaty. Interesting stuff.
Sadly, Alan Milward, one of my favourite European historians and author of the brilliantly counter-intuitive The European Rescue of the Nation State, passed away yesterday. I first met him at the European University Institute, where he was a brilliant professor with a twinkling eye and I was a penniless student who made a bit of pocket money by compiling an index for a book he had edited. He was a master of archival material as, I suppose, any good historian must be, but he brought his material to life with his wit and command of language and his characteristically interdisciplinary approach. He was an incisive speaker at any conference where, wearing his great learning with equally great modesty, he would invariably draw out the essential of any discussion. He was also excellent company and I have fond memories of post-conference and -seminar evenings. He ended his career as a professor emeritus at the EUI and as the United Kingdom government’s official historian. He had completed the first volume of UK Accession to the European Communities when illness struck, and we will forever be denied the majestic three-volumed sweep he intended. ‘Robbed’ is the cliché, but we really were; he had so much more to offer. Sad, sad, sad.
What a beauty! (not)
Twenty-four years ago I began my career in the European Union institutions, starting in the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers. In the end, just seven of us were recruited off of the open competition list and we are all, more-or-less, still in touch. This evening I nipped off to the Old Hack for a jar and a chat with two of them. It is perhaps an inevitable consequence of time that most careers advance but, in all modesty, this seems to have been a good vintage. We meet up quite frequently to discuss this and that, and always, I suspect, with a slight sense of wonderment that we have all come so far (and, alas, that so much time has passed). As I have written before on this blog, a big advantage of getting older is the possibility of having old friendships.
We call it ‘EMAS’. The EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) is, says the Commission’s website, a management tool for companies and other organisations to evaluate, report and improve their environmental performance. The scheme has been available for participation by companies since 1995 and was originally restricted to companies in industrial sectors. Since 2001 EMAS has been open to all economic sectors including public and private services. The European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions are fully signed-up volunteers for the EMAS scheme. This afternoon we had a meeting of our joint EMAS steering commitee (jointly chaired by the two SGs). Basically, we have committed ourselves to an incremental process of ‘greening’ our institutions, constantly enhancing our environmental credentials, and each meeting of the steering committee pushes us a little bit further forward. The ultimate prize is use of the logo by the Committees but, obviously, everybody is a winner with such a scheme.
Sorry, Ban; wrong meeting, I'm afraid...
From time to time the Secretaries-General of the European Union’s institutions meet to discuss common challenges and themes. The tradition has grown of the different institutions taking it in turns to host these meetings and today, since the two consultative bodies share their buildings, it was the turn of the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. There are two parts to the meeting. A more formal part, with an established agenda and in the presence of staff from our private offices, and then a lunch, strictly entre nous. Both parts are useful. The formal agenda must of course remain secret but I would not be giving away state secrets if I said that there were discussions related to the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty, which we are all determined to make a success. Management gurus frequently advise top management to plug into an informal network of similar top managers and that is what, in a sense, the lunches are about. They are certainly useful moments to swap notes on common challenges that, on a daily basis, we mostly face individually.
A good excuse for a knees-up
This evening we members of the writers’ workshop put our pens to one side to welcome the mother and aunt of one of our number. The two proud ladies had travelled from the States to be present at a degree-awarding ceremony at Oxford University, for TW had just completed his degree in creative writing there. On their way back, they dropped in on the Brussels gang. Believe me, when we writers put our pens to one side we know how to let our collective hair down. There are good vibes in the workshop at the moment. A lot of our projects are nearing completion or advancing well and three of our former members recently sent us excellent news of publications and performances. The evening’s festivities were a great antidote to the daytime slog. I hope our two guests didn’t get the wrong idea – I mean, we do work hard – honest!
The theoretical end of the mandate of the outgoing Committee was Monday, 20 September. I write ‘theoretical’ because the Committee’s rules of procedure provide for a certain number of activities to continue and for some office-holders to carry out interim duties. The new mandate begins on Wednesday, 20 October. We, the administration, are therefore in what we call the ‘interregnum’ period. It’s a strange feeling (and the first time I am working through such a period as the Secretary General). On the one hand, we must manage the transition and on the other we must manage the renewal. There has been a steady stream of farewells and, like many members of the secretariat, I can’t help but be saddened at the lost of such a large number of members – many of whom have become friends over the past two years. On the other hand, shortly we will be welcoming 102 new members (out of the Committee’s full compliment of 344 – that is, almost a third!) and we will also be helping to launch a new Presidency. So, there is a strong sense of ‘business distinctly not as usual’ but there’s lots of business all the same. This afternoon, for example, I chaired a preparatory meeting of our volunteer officials who, formed into linguistic teams, will meet and greet our new members in their mother tongues. Looking through the list of volunteers and the languages they cover, I could not help but be impressed by the administration’s linguistic strength in depth.
In the middle of August my good friend, Michel Claes, passed away. We became friends through relatives and mutual friends. We shared an enthusiasm for dirty humour and practical jokes, though I couldn’t match his fecundity in the latter department. Our friendship was consolidated when he and his wife asked me to be Godfather to their daughter, a flattering and touching invitation that I was delighted to accept. Lithe and muscularly wiry, his favourite sport was rock climbing and, a very clever man, he was an amateur astronomer. He could have done much in life, but he chose to devote his life to others, living quietly and modestly. He leaves a huge hole in the charitable organisation for which he worked and is much missed by his many friends. In the photograph you can be sure that I have just sat on something suitably unpleasant. You had to be on your wits when Michel was about!