As I never tire of pointing out, the European Economic and Social Committee and its sister consultative body, the Committee of the Regions, pool a lot of their resources in a set of joint services (particularly for translation, buildings, IT and logistics). Through this revolutionary arrangement they save the taxpayer a lot of money. But such innovatory close cooperation between two autonomous institutions requires a lot of governance to make it work. Today, I and my counterpart, Gerhard Stahl, jointly chaired one of those joint governance mechanisms, meeting together with our respective directors to discuss such matters as the budget, document management, human resources, buildings, information security and enlargement. It’s all bread-and-butter stuff but we’re jointly determined to make the arrangement work. Apart from anything else, it sets a good example to the other institutions.
I wanted to like The Adjustment Bureau (2011), but I just couldn’t. Supposedly a romantic thriller, there’s too much romance and there are too few thrills. It’s a shame, because it’s loosely based on a Philip K. Dick short story, The Adjustment Team, and that got me hoping that George Nolfi might have been able to repeat Ridley Scott’s 1982 success (with Blade Runner). Fat chance. And one of the reasons, I am sure, is that the story was ‘modernised’. There is a synopsis of the original story here. It has something of the A Matter of Life and Death about it. Perhaps I am being unfair, but I think the film would have been better if, Matrix-style, Nolfi had explored further some of the existential questions he is recorded as hoping the film would raise.
We watched an enjoyable romp, Red (2010), this evening, with notably Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Brian Cox and Helen Mirren clearly enjoying themselves playing wrinkly ex-spies brought back into the game. Helen Mirren can hardly keep the smile off of her face as she gets to use the heavy artillery and Malkovich plays his zaney self multiplied by at least twenty. By the end of the film, though (and I wouldn’t bother with the plot), you can almost hear the actors’ agents saying ‘OK, everybody, back to your normal activities again now, please.’ So it’s a shame that they have announced a sequel. Quit whilst your ahead, say I.
Every once in a while the Secretaries General of the European Union’s institutions meet for discussions about themes of common interest. We met today and, of course, I cannot report on any of our discussions. However, I feel I can report on the mood of the meeting, which was entirely collegial. We may face challenges but, as always, we face them together.
This morning the EESC’s plenary session held a thematic debate on the theme of the EU’s preparatory work for the 2012 Rio+20 conference on sustainable development. The Committee’s guest speakers were the European Commissioner responsible for the Environment, Janez Potocnik, and the Head of the Brazilian Mission to the EU, Ambassador Ricardo Neiva Tavares. The EESC’s President, Staffan Nilsson, has made sustainable development a major pillar of his work programme and is determined to make sure that the voice of organised civil society is heard in this context. Potocnik, who described the Committee as ‘a key link to business, labour and civil society’ was eager for ‘feedback from your depth and breadth of experience’. Moreover, he saw civil society as having ‘an important role as a catalyst’ in the greening of national economies. The Ambassador spoke about two potential developments at Rio: one the setting of Sustainable Development Goals (like the Millenium development Goals) and the other further reflection on measuring growth beyond GDP. Also prominent in the debate were two Committee members, rapporteurs of related opinions on the Flagship Initiative for a Resource-Efficient Europe (part of the Europe 2020 Strategy), Lutz Ribbe (Various Interests Group, Germany) and on Rio+20: towards the green economy and better governance, Hans-Joachim Wilms (Employees’ Group, Germany). The Commissioner’s speech should shortly be available here and deserves to be read. One comment he made stuck in my mind. It used to be said that those who preferred a green lifestyle were ‘opting out’. Now, however, we had to shift to the contrary culture: sustainability had to be mainstream. Given limitations on finite resources and demographic developments there truly is no other way.
Meanwhile, this evening, back at the Committee’s headquarters Jacques Delors building, Vice-President Anna Maria Darmanin presided over the Committee’s 2011 design prize-giving ceremony, in the presence of the prizewinners, and opened an exhibition showcasing the winning designs and a shortlist of 20 design prototypes chosen from over 100 entries. As part of the competition, design students and designers from across the EU’s 27 Member States were asked to focus on the following key issue: Intergenerational solidarity in times of an ageing population. The aim was to create an innovative “ageless design”, using a process of participative design, where final users take part in the design process, and/or through the process of co-design, involving the creation of a cross-generational design team, made up of both young and older designers. The winning project, KEEP Cool, by Vincent Gerkens, is an alternative fridge made using environmentally friendly and recyclable materials. It is not dependent on technology which will become obsolete in a few years’ time. The terracotta pot is an innovative redesign of a cooling system that can be used by all generations. It is ageless in terms of both its materials and its design.
This afternoon the EESC’s plenary session debated and adopted a major own-initiative opinion (the rapporteur is a former President, Dimitris Dimitriadis, Employers’ Group, Greece) on the promotion of representative civil societies in the Euromed region. Given all that has been happening in the region the opinion clearly could not have been more timely. The opinion argues that the EU should devise a diversified, flexible and intelligent response – and part of that intelligence should come from plugging into the existing expertise and links that exist between such consultative bodies as the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions which have both, in their different ways, been helping healthy civil societies to grow in the various countries. Since the EU is the biggest donor to the region it should put its clout to good use, in particular by putting clauses on democratic freedoms and individual rights into its bilateral agreements. The opinion further argues that the current waves of immigration towards the EU countries will only be steemed ultimately by helping these countries to raise their standards of living and to reinforce and consolidate their nascent democratic cultures.
This afternoon the EESC’s plenary session held a short, pithy debate on the current crisis. This followed on from a debate in yesterday’s Bureau and debates in this morning’s meetings of the Committee’s three Groups. Henri Malosse (President, Employers’ Group, France) described the dialectics between solidarity and responsibility and between governance and leadership. He argued that all four were necessary but that there should be more emphasis on leadership in particular. Georges Dassis (President, Employees’ Group, Greece) spoke evocatively of how ‘The young don’t dream much any more, and if they dream their dreams are dark.’ Like Malosse, he emphasised solidarity as a fundamental quality of the Union. Michael Smyth (President, Section for Economic Affairs, United Kingdom) warned against under-estimating the risk of a second banking crisis which would necessarily be on a far greater scale than the first and have untold consequences. The Committee President, Staffan Nilsson, subsequently issued a statement, accessible here. He plans a series of special meetings and activities in the run up to the EESC’s December plenary session, where a debate will be held with Commissioner Olli Rehn and a resolution adopted.
On 10 September 2011 EESC member Luis Miguel Pariza Castaños (Employers’ group, Spain) was invited to Torrevieja (Spain), where he was awarded, on behalf of the EESC, with the Golden Prize 2011 by the Spanish immigrants’ NGO, ‘Asila’. He was granted this prize, on behalf of the EESC, in recognition of its work in favour of just living conditions for migrants and its constant fight against xenophobia and racism. To note this recognition EESC President Staffan Nilsson invited Mr Pariza Castanos to come before the plenary and explain the award and remind everybody about the body of Committee work and commitment that lies behind the award.
There was a sad start to the Committee’s plenary session this morning. Hours before the session got under way we learned of the sudden and untimely death of one of our ushers, Harri Ruusunen. He was just 48. Anyone who has worked with or in an assembly of any sort will know how important the ushers are and what familiar figures they become – to the members as to the staff. Our plenary sessions simply couldn’t function without our ushers. They provide us with the constant stream of papers – session documents and amendments, in particular – that are necessary for our work. They also help our members with their paperwork (travel documents, etc) and are generally supportive in many different ways. Harri, like his colleagues (now understandably in shock), was a familiar and friendly presence. A kind and gentle man, he will be much missed. The President, Staffan Nilsson, called for a minute’s silence at the beginning of the plenary. Our condolences go out to his family at this terrible time.