The EESC’s 472nd plenary session got under way this afternoon with a visit from Enikö Györi, the Hungarian Minister of State for EU Affairs, who gave a detailed review of the Hungarian presidency-in-office of the Council over the past six months. In the ensuing debate there was general recognition that the Hungarian presidency had, on balance, performed very well in sometimes very difficult circumstances. As the 2004 enlargements rapidly fade into the middle distance, such presidencies are graphic proof of the speed and depth of the enlargement process.
This evening, in the EESC’s flagship Jacques Delors HQ building, EESC President Staffan Nilsson and Dr Claudia Schmied, Austrian Federal Minister for Education, Arts and Culture opened a rich exhibition, In Between. Austria Contemporary, in the presence of Johannes Hahn, European Commissioner for Regional Policy and Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth. The exhibition presents several trends in contemporary Austrian art that give good insights into the current art scene in Austria. The exhibition will be open to the public until 7 July 2011, so pop along, if you’re interested.
The European Economic and Social Committee’s main decision-making body, the Bureau, met again this afternoon. A primary purpose of such meetings is to prepare the following days’ plenary session, but there tend also to be one or more political discussions on important themes and topics. This afternoon, budgetary matters were much to the fore, but there was also a discussion on how the Committee needs to adapt its working methods so as to deliver its opinions in a timely fashion to the European Parliament. Consultation of the Committee by the European Parliament was an innovation of the Lisbon Treaty and is a growing phenomenon. As a quid pro quo, however, the Parliament imposes a three-month deadline on the Committee (which is entirely understandable, given the time pressure it is itself under in the ordinary legislative procedure), hence the discussion about how the Committee could meet such deadlines whilst maintaining the quality of its opinions.
The enlarged Presidency, composed of the Committee’s President, two Vice-Presidents and the three Group Presidents could be described as the Bureau’s preparatory body. Originally informal, its role is now recognised in the Committee’s rules of procedure and is to my mind a pragmatic response to the steady increase in the size of the Committee’s Bureau (39 members currently). This morning’s breakfast meeting therefore focussed primarily on the agenda of the afternoon’s Bureau meeting, but there were also several general political discussions. In the margins of the meeting Luca Jahier, the President of the Various Interests Group, generously presented me with a copy of a just-published book (Libro bianco sul Terzo settore, edited by Stefano Zamagni, il Mulino, 2011) in which he has authored the concluding chapter on the European dimension of the third sector. This was a double pleasure since, as readers of this blog will know, many moons ago Stefano Zamagni (a Bologna-based economist) once taught a young Martin Westlake.
I don’t write posts about every film I see, and certainly not about every bad film I see. Take it from me, X-Men: First Class is not a good film. Even N° 2 sprog and assorted friends were agreed as we left the cinema this evening; this was not a film they would be recommending to anybody any time soon. And yet, here I am writing about it, and this for two reasons. First, James McAvoy, who plays Professor Charles Xavier, looks and sounds uncannily like David Cameron, and to see what would appear to be the current British Prime Minister reading minds and fighting mutants is sort of fun, in a slightly worrying way. Second, the climax of the story is set amid the Cuban missile crisis. According to the screenplay, World War III was averted by the mutants, flinging secret submarines and stealth jets around much as boys kick tin cans in the street. But once we had staggered home I was able to explain to N° 2 sprog a little about the real Cold War and the real crisis and how it really was a close run thing and I hope there will be a faint glimmer of understanding and recollection next time the Cold War is mentioned. Even bad films can have silver linings!
This evening we watched Into the Wild, a (2007) film midway between Jack Kerouac and Jeremiah Johnson in theme. It is a pretty faithful story of the true life and times of Christopher McCandless, a determined young vagabond, consumed with wanderlust, who finally died of starvation, either by choice or by accident, in the Alaskan wilderness. Sean Penn’s direction is peerless. Though a hommage to the real McCandless, this is a film that should, and hopefully will, stand on its own reputation. Part of its attractiveness comes from its honesty and authenticity, enhanced by the incorporation into the story of real American places and people, such as Salvation Mountain and its creator, Leonard Knight. But the film’s success owes a great deal to Emile Hirsch’s entirely convincing performance as ‘Alexander Supertramp’. Many will be well aware of the controversy surrounding McCandless’s alleged ‘irresponsible’ behaviour and ‘suicidal’ choices. We’ll never know the truth, but one of the sweeter and more convincing explanations is that McCandless, knowing full well that there was no longer such a thing as an unmapped wilderness, deliberately eschewed the maps that would have saved his life. Whatever, we don’t need to know anything about the ‘true’ story to enjoy a great American road movie.
Next week sees an EESC Bureau meeting (Tuesday) and a plenary session (Wednesday and Thursday). The Committee’s normal rhythm would have seen a management board meeting on Monday morning followed by a preparatory meeting of all of the services involved in the organisation of the two meetings (known simply as a ‘pre-session’ meeting). As I have surely already written elsewhere, in the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly (where I once worked) we use to call such preparatory meetings ‘morning masses’ – for the obvious reason that they were held early each morning. In the Committee we get by with a single ‘mass’, in part because the sessions are shorter, in part because the Committee’s apolitical membership seeks consensus and ‘political’ amendments are therefore more rare. Because this coming Monday is a holiday, we advanced all of our Monday meetings to today, thus giving our Friday a very Monday-ish feel. Chairing these meetings is an immense pleasure. So efficient and knowledgeable are my colleagues that it feels like climbing into a powerful and well-upholstered limousine. All I have to do is push the starter button – and even that is largely symbolic.
Most days as I pedal across the Square Ambiorix in the early morning I see a lone Chinese man practising tai chi and the sight immediately whisks me back to Coal Hill Park in Beijing. To explain, a few years back we stayed in Beijing for a week and I got up early every morning to jog around the Forbidden City and Coal Hill Park. The early morning is a wonderful moment in the massive metropolis’s life. People hang up their bird cages in the trees and practice exercises of various sorts. Coal Hill Park in particular is a riot of groups practising everything from shuttlecock to ballroom dancing, from tai chi to flag dancing, sometimes to music, sometimes not. When I see the lone Chinese man in Square Ambiorix I wonder if he is not imagining company around him. In any case, by eight in the morning the people of Beijing are exercised and energised and if you left your hotel at eight-thirty (say) you wouldn’t realise just how much activity had been going on. It’s certainly worth getting up for.
To the Kaaistudio this evening to watch Solid Gold and Jolie. The two solo dancers, Dinozord and Jolie Ngemi, are from Kinshasa, their work is choreographed by a Canadian, Ula Sickle, and the live sound track is created by French musician, Yann Leguay. For me, this was a glorious success, set in the comfortable intimacy of the Kaaistudio. Dinozord comes from a hip hop background and puts this experience to good use, though his performance is a wittily expansive history of dance, passing through various styles. And Jolie, inspired by music videos and nightclub life, uses her voice and percussive vocal chords to lay down loops of rhythmic melody to which to dance. Part of me, having seen quite a bit of street dance and modern dance recently, was thinking ‘isn’t this a return to source?’ I thought of this guy, whom I once saw doing this. And where did he go to get his inspiration? In any case, it was splendid and the dancers were wonderful, projecting their bodies and their personalities with deceptive ease.
In a ghastly run of sad and bad news, yesterday evening we learnt of the sudden death of Zenonas Rokus Rudzikas, an active and much-liked and respected Lithuanian EESC member (Various Interests Group). He was President of the Lithuanian Academy of Science, one of the most prominent experts in theoretical physics in Lithuania and an acknowledged specialist in nuclear spectroscopy. He wore his learning lightly and was particularly modest about his scientific expertise and reputation. He was also a thoroughly nice man and a convinced and committed European who was instrumental in the establishment of the Lithuanian national economic and social council. Our deepest sympathies and condolences go out to his family, friends and colleagues. We will miss him.