It Needs To Be Said Over And Over Again

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Verhofstadt For President?

Gearing up for the election of a new President of the European Commission next year, the Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt is emerging as a candidate who might have strong support.

Little has been said so far in public about whom the member states will appoint to head the EU’s executive body (there are no public elections to this powerful entity), and the current holder of the function. José Manuel Barroso, is expecting re-election.  But now, it seems that three-time Premier Verhofstadt might be one of the favourites.

Mr Verhofstadt, a Liberal, enjoys the backing of the Socialist party group in the EU Parliament, Metro writes quoting Le Soir, and the group, second largest in the EU Parliament with 215 out of 785 seas, is hoping to forge a centre-left coalition to support his candidacy. Mr Verhofstadt’s ideological friends, the Parliament’s liberal group, seem less enthusiastic, but will not rule out supporting him.

We shall see what will happen once the mightier movers of the Union such as the French and German governments have put forward their opinion, and Mr Verhofstadt himself has not commented or disclosed if he would be available as a candidate at all. But holding together the increasingly disparate nation of Belgium under the recent crisis might prove good exercise for anyone who would want to make 27 nations pull the same direction.

Utterly Useless

Oh, this is rich: what must probably be the one most useless excuse for a game ever conceived (and, sadly, also manufactured):

Gaming by calculator… how fun is THAT.

(ps. No, its not me guiding you there; the item comes from http://crave.cnet.co.uk/gadgets/0,39029552,49293700-2,00.htm – the rest there is worth checking out too.)

Flying Fish

Among the many things I find difficult to comprehend is the fact that Polish, Latvian and Lithuanian fishers fish off the coast of Mauritania.

It’s true. Fishermen (and, presumably, -women) sail their boats from their homes on the Baltic coast, through Öresund and Cattegat between Denmark and Sweden, through the English channel, down all the way along the west coast of Europe, past Gibraltar and all that, past the Canary Islands, before tossing their trawls and nets and whatnot into the waters west of Africa, where the Sahara falls into the Atlantic ocean.

I was too stunned to learn about this to remember to ask what happens to the fish, but I do hope they have the common sense to land it somewhere close by and not sail all the way back with it again. How it gets to the frozen fish factories where it is packaged for sale is another question I have no answer for, but I do hope that it is’t among the fish that is flown from Europe to be gutted in Singapore and then all the way back again in fillet form.

The reason for all this is simple. The EU has methodically depleted fish stocks in its own waters, and now, it is buying fish quotas from poor countries in the third world. Mauritania, being one of the poorest with a GDP per capita about one twelfth of that of, say, the UK, and some 40 per cent of its people living bneath the poverty line, is one of them.

Of course, this causes the same problems as in European waters, as fishing boats from a dozen EU nations descend on Mauritanian seas with the same methods they have already used to vacuum-clean their own sea floors. Fish stocks in Mauritanian waters are already threatened by foreign fishers, and national dishes of fish and rice are becoming a luxury.

For this modern-day colonialism, the EU pays Mauritania EUR 86m. A lot of money as it may seem, it is a sum of the kind that an entity like the EU blows out of its nose before breakfast. Pocket money, by another word.

But I suppose the Mauritanians can always buy frozen fish imported from multinational food companies in the EU with it. Orginally from out of their own waters, perhaps: now there’s a new definition of the concept of recycling.

Second Attempt

Time to brush the cobwebs off and get seriously started for the spring semester: this evening, I will attend a prolonged briefing on all things expected to happen in the EU during the forthcoming six months, a briefing estimated to go on for about three hours.

This excellent service is offered twice a year by the Swedish EU representation. In keeping with the Scandinavian tradition of openness and transparency, all their top experts in all policy fields line up to give an informal presentation to all Brussels correspondents for Swedish news media about what can be expected. Yielding notebooks full of almost legible notes, and at least a chance to be prepared for what will be coming up and who to talk to then. And a few good bites to eat as well (I’ll be back on that issue).

This time I might actually get there; last time I tried was a week ago. I got all prepared and ready and was about to go to the event, when I – for once – was wise enough to take a quick look at the calendar… only to discover that I was one full week early.

It’s nice to be on time and the Scandinavian mentality usually has little time for tardiness, but arriving a week in advance would have been a little over the top.

Today Is The Worst Day

Today is officially the worst day of the entire year, according to a mathematical formula developed by Dr Cliff Arnall at the University of Cardiff.

His formula alculating things like the time since Christmas, January debts, weather and failed New Year’s reslutions has pinpointed the date fr the “Blue Monday” every year since 2005, and this year, it’s today. You can read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Monday_(date) or here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/portal/main.jhtml?xml=/portal/2008/01/21/ftdepressing121.xml

I look out over the grey weather, the empty bank account, my ever so hanging potbelly, and wonder of there might be some truth to the good doctor’s formula after all.

Swimming Pool Monster

One of the really great things about Belgian schools is that they teach the children to swim, with weekly swimming lessons from age six.

Our six-year-old is soon capable of swimming without support pads, I annouce proudly. But it has now occurred to him that it is possible to slip under the surface and drown, so, this morning, he was a bit afraid of today’s trip to the swimming pool.

We reassured him that there are guards trained to throw themselves into the water and help if anything bad happens and so on – and then his four-year-old brother decided he wanted to join in on the comforting as well, with the following helpful comment:

“Don’t be afraid, its just the sea monster”.