Archived entries for Human rights

Shopping’s not that simple

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An appropriate end to my first year in Brussels, marked in the same way it began with a party hosted by the Welsh assembly to mark St David’s Day. After twelve months here, it seems fitting to embark on my first serious move to new accommodation, and this weekend Zoë and I installed ourselves into our new home for the next twelve months. The flat is lovely; it’s got a decent kitchen, wooden floors, and a terrace. It’s similar to the previous flat I lived in that I find myself once more above a dentist’s surgery, which is probably good for things like securing a reliable electricity supply: “I’m terribly sorry, Monsieur Redon, but we’ll have to finish the root canal operation another time. We’ve been a bit naughty, you see, and forgotten to pay the electrics this month, what with going away and everything; we’re still in holiday mood! What’s that, sorry sir? Painful? It is, isn’t it? Coming back from holiday, back to the same old routine of work, imagining that this time last week you were…ah, right, er, I’ll just try and find you something. Try not to bleed onto the carpet.”


While we’re on the subject of change (glad you’ve still with me), the European commission has put up yet another of its vague banners onto the side of the Berlaymont building.

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This time, it’s supposed to be about consumer rights, but personally I find the choice of imagery a bit strange. I mean, promoting better consumer protection is all very well, and I’d imagine a picture of, say, a happy shopper and a happy till assistant, smiling because of course your average Sunday shopper always walks into the supermarket in the full knowledge of the latest EU initiative geared towards the consumer. Just like the lad that packs the bags for you was briefed only that very morning on the latest proposals. Happy vibes all round then, courtesy of Santa. Sorry, I meant that other well known bringer of goodwill, Maglena Kuneva. Easy to get the two mixed up, isn’t it?

Anyway, the image the EC has chosen isn’t remotely like this at all. It’s a female shopper with, yep, a bag over her head. The slogan is: “Know your Rights. Use your Rights”. Now, maybe it’s just me, but personally when I see that image, all I can think of is, well, the sort of situation where you have a bag over your head. Such as when you’re being interrogated. By an anti-terrorist squad or something. The slogan just adds to the confusion because it implies that the woman with the bag over her head hasn’t got a clue, not only about what on earth’s going on outside the interior of the paper bag, but what rights she’s entitled to. So, to recap, she’s being interrogated and doesn’t have access to a lawyer. She might, in fact, not even be allowed to have access to a lawyer at all, because when she was captured and had a bag put on her head, maybe they decided that she no longer had legal status. Otherwise she’d get a lawyer, just like people without bags on their heads. When you come to thing about it, there are loads of us without bags on our heads that don’t have a clue what rights we have or don’t have, that’s why we employ lawyers in the first place. As you can see, this poster might very well lead to mass confusion where the average Sunday shopper suddenly becomes very agitated because the EC has announced that if you didn’t know that you’re paying too much for those frozen peas, well, you might find yourself woken up at four in the morning and the next thing you know, they’ve got you on tape saying that yes, you’re very pleased about the great value that the European commission gives to the well-being of European consumers and could you please go home now.

I can’t wait for the next banner.

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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