Archived entries for Press

Settling down

brussels-christmas.jpg

Ah, the chaos of Christmas. It’s going to be good to go back to Wales for a short while, though. It’s been an intense couple of months, I’m slowly getting used to the fast-paced and often unpredictable nature of my work (today, for example, I was still in the office at 8pm writing up a press conference on aviation emissions) and I’ve also grown to like Brussels a lot more. Yes, it’s freezing cold here right now and probably will be until late March, I recently had a daunting lecture on the Belgian tax system for freelance journalists and the whole place is currently a bit chaotic as the country’s only just agreed to have an interim government after 192 days of not having one at all. Yet last weekend I was in the Christmas markets at Flagey, they had the brass band playing (see above), and everyone was in good spirits. I had some vin chaud and the Région de Bruxelles-Capitale local authority gave me a free, beautifully made wooden yo-yo. Last night I went to watch a local choir perform some Christmas songs, and it was a very local affair, with a handful of friends and relatives in the audience, babies trying to join in and the odd choir member dashing in at the last minute so as not to be left out. The singing was fantastic, though, and it was a shame that Zoe and I had to leave because they were all really friendly and offered us drinks and snacks after the concert. We met a lad from Nigeria who wanted to play the piano for us, right there and then, and, when we said we couldn’t stay, asked if we’d like to listen to him some other time, let’s keep in touch.
It’ll also be interesting to have a break because this time I’ll be going home from a relatively settled position. The last time I went home for any real length of time, I was in an interim period between work experience and finding a job. This time, I’m more of a resident here. I have a local pub, a local park where I go jogging, a boulangerie for croissants on Sundays and am beginning to get to grips with the merits of the thousands of different beers on offer (Particular favourties which spring to mind are the deceptively strong “Westmalle“, the let’s-have-a-proper-chat “Chimay Bleu” and the delighful innuendo of “Bush“, the latter involving amusing requests towards attractive female bar staff…suggestions on a postcard please). Armed with tales of beer, trips to the boulangerie and le boulot (French slang for work), I’m actually quite excited about seeing old friends again, some of whom I haven’t seen for almost a year, and revealing that there’s actually a lot more to life in Belgium than they might expect.

Welcome to the Uninspiring Kingdom

 Sarkozy at the European council

An exciting afternoon visit to the European council in Brussels on Friday. Particularly interesting because it was at the “where next” stage in many respects for the EU. We’ve signed the Lisbon treaty, now let’s see if it’s actually effective. What will in mean, really, in practice? The UN climate talks in Bali were taking place at the same time, and they’ve not amounted to much except for an agreement to carry on talking. Sarkozy was enthusiastic about his new idea, a “committee of the wise” to oversee the future of Europe, and said that it was possible that this could include discussing a “new European dream”. It was a well delivered speech, and Sarko made his points with a lot of passion (see my photo above, which I’m pleased with, among other things, for capturing the essence of this post) and was lively when answering the questions.
Shortly afterwards it was Gordon Brown’s turn.
What a boring half an hour that was.
Where Sarkozy was quite animated and pretty secure in the knowledge that he’s one of the hot topics in Europe right now, Brown was quite frankly just an embarrassment. He could have at least tried. It was all vague nonsense along the lines of the challenges of addressing “freedom, prosperity, security and energy” with all the enthusiasm of a damp towel. The UK is now being laughed at by the rest of Europe. I mean, I can understand schoolboy lateness, but to miss the main ceremony of an EU treaty? Maybe he was trying to make a point, to be the stubborn uncle in the family. Even so, you wouldn’t turn up late to your nephew’s christening in order to convey the hint that in all honesty the baby is, let’s face it, a bit on the ugly side.
When are we going to grow up, I wonder?

Silliness in Strasbourg

Well, it’s the last Strasbourg session of 2007 and things have been pretty exciting. I like the journeys down here, it’s a chance to get away from the office and also I get to see my former colleagues in the parliament’s press service from when I did work experience there earlier this year. This time around I went out with them to a Wok restaurant, which was interesting because I’ve never been to one before. Those of you who are related to me (let’s hope I haven’t just addressed the entire readership of this blog…yes, hello Mum!) will be relieved to here that I didn’t crack any of the jokes that were going through my mind as the kitchen lads were cooking the food in front of me, for instance: “Woking hard tonight?”….”I suppose it’s all Wok no play around here”….and the rhetorical, “Could you tell me, wok’s the point of this restaurant?”

Yesterday the charter of fundamental rights was signed, and the speeches by the leaders of the commission and the European council were heavily disrupted by protests from UKIP and Tory MEPs demanding a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, as I wrote about here. Shortly after the commotion I went to get a sandwich from the bar nearby, and I got chatting with deputies Michael Cashman (of former Eastenders fame) and Arlene McCarthy about what had just happened. Cashman said that he felt that they had behaved like little children, and I had to agree, it was a pathetic attention-seeking gesture by people who are supposed to be senior politicans. I couldn’t help noticing though how helpless the parliament’s president was; surely, if he’s the one in charge, it shouldn’t be an issue for him to get them removed for disorderly behaviour. Instead he simply banged his gavel and pleaded with them to show some respect to the visiting Portuguese prime minister, because as he said later in a press conference, that’s all he’s entitled to do. The president did however say that there might possibly follow some amendment to the rules of procedure, and I hope so too. Yesterday’s lack of order made the European parliament sessions in Strasbourg seem even more like the “travelling circus” that the tabloids have branded it. 



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