Winding Down

The EU Summit that starts today will probably be the beginning of a general wind down period for the EU as a whole, a bit differently than the EU leaders had expected.

Everyone had already started talking about this period after the August break – when all EU work grinds to a halt – as the general run-up to the year 2009, when both a new EU Parliament and a new EU Commission is to be selected. Logically, neither body would have any interest in starting any new huge undertakings as they would not know whether or not they would be able to finish them.

Some Commissioners will likely re-appear. Chairman José Manuel Barroso, for example, makes little secret of his wish to be re-appointed, and seems to have enough political support from e.g. Germany to see a second term in office. And Ms Androulla Vasiliou is so new on the job that she has little time to mess things up, at least, enough to be removed.

Others will certainly not. Vice president Margot Wallström, for instance, has made it clear that she is not seeking re-election. That is to all intents and purposes a preventive statement in order to save her the embarrassment of being ousted, not because she is doing a poor job – on the contrary, she is generally held in high esteem – but because she is a Social Democrat. So was Sweden’s only other Commissioner to date, Anita Gradin. But the current Swedish government is not. They will be little inclined, to say the least, to continue nominating representatives of their main political arch rivals, especially since they won the last election with promises including a reform of the nomination process to public top jobs, where Social Democrats – who have held governmental power for all but eleven of the last 76 years – for some reason have had a notorious habit of being appointed.

I’d be rather surprised if they didn’t put Carl Bildt in there instead, but I’ve been wrong before.

However, apart from that general slowdown, the current Summit will have to throw all plans to address pressing current issues such as galloping food and oil prices out the window, and instead embark on another endless crisis management tour in the wake of Ireland’s no to the Lisbon Treaty.

Another deadlock, from which there is no known escape, just before the slowdown time, while interest rates are creeping upwards, economy downwards, and stagflation is looming around the corner. Not to mention what to do with the EU’s ambitious climate targets, which might help delay global warming for a few years (until China’s and India’s emissions have made up for the balance), but will eat into the world’s already scarce food resources and continue to trigger famine, especially in poor countries. And I haven’t even started with the need to do something about the EU’s gigantic Common Agriculture Policy in order to make it help feed us all instead of just making matters worse.

This is when Brussels would have needed to take some tough decisions. But, sorry to say, don’t hold your breath.

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Summit Time, And The Living Is Easy

I’m not entirely sure what’s wrong with Slovenian ham. I’ve just put down two delicious wraps with that and some other stuff in it, and it was lovely. But for some reason, they were the ones that most people here hadn’t touched at all.

In other words: It’s EU Summit time again, and I’m back at the press centre munching free sandwiches, traditionally handed out by the current Presidency so as to avoid insane queues where everybody is trying to pay for their meals. There’s hundreds and hundreds of journalists here, and any attempt to charge money for the food would probably lead to queues the length of Belgium. Where the last in line might get his/her orders in time for the next summit.

The first and second time I visited this event, the catering consisted of incredibly dry baguette rolls with dry chees or ham. Puffs of dust came out as you put your teeth into them. And – they were the only choice.

But that, I understood later, was all due to the presidency of the day, which shall remain unnamed for their culinary crime. Later presidencies have improved the snacks, introduced more variations, and the Portuguese last time offered some quite decent rolls with camembert, which raised my spirits considerably.

The current Slovenian presidency has rightly taken the opportunity to boost interestin its national cuisine, I realised as I just snuck into the press centre to check things out (and, frankly, to get a free snack).  As I said, the Slovenian ham was delicious, and I do hope that my colleagues’ disinclination to try something new and daring doesn’t put this and future presidencies off their attempts to offer something more interesting than air-dried cotton posing as bread.

Let’s see, who’s next in line…. aha, France.  Hmmm. If they do not live up to and beat du pain, du vin, et du Boursin, I shall slam them at their national pride on this blog, eternally shaming them for betraying their proud cuisine. Or something like that.

But first’ I gotta get another one of them ham wraps.

How Dare Fat Westerners Perpetuate Slavery?

I usually try not to be angry when writing nowadays, but this time, I am making a calculated exception.

It has become a trend lately – in the Western world, I should add – to argue AGAINST Fairtrade. All sorts of fine economical arguments are presented; we write about the latest addition from Sweden to this case in Foodwire today.

This just makes me really, really angry.

While the organisations behind the Faitrade idea need to be consistently scrutinised and examined – it has happened before, and will happen again, than charitable organisations fall into temptations of embezzling money, and other misbehaviours – attacking the whole idea is something only a fat, lazy and ignorant Westerner, safely holed up behind his/her cuddly desk with as little contact as possible with the real world, could do.

For starters, ever since I started writing about the food industry in 2000, I have regularly written reports about outright slavery in the cocoa growing trade. Yes, slavery, a few hundred years since we abolished that practice in our cosy corner of the rich world.

We are talking about children being trafficked, beaten, and exploited, just so you and me can enjoy nice little chockies at a few cents less that we’d otherwise have paid. And we’re talking about reports that are so well-founded that they have forced the world’s largest chocolate manufacturers – albeit kicking and screaming – into attempts to do something about it. (So far, very little has been done, though).

Real lives being ruined. Real little kids having their tender backs ripped open by whips of ruthless adults.

Do the crying and disillusioned faces of these children ever show up in the figures of these Western economist’s calculations?

Moreover, it is always conveniently forgotten that very tempting alternative crops for e.g. coffee growers, should coffee prove unprofitable, are high-paying products such as coca bushes or opium poppies. Crops that pay far higher per kilo, and thus yield more profit per mile as they are carried on labourers’ backs in roadless areas of countries like Colombia.

Do the crying and disillusioned faces of the drug addicts of the Western world ever show up in the figures of these Western economist’s calculations?

Maybe some people should lift their fat backsides and take field trip into the real world. Or, if they support the aforementioned facts that fair trade seeks to avert, why not sell their own children into slavery and drug abuse?

Let the neo-cons do that if they wish, but stay away from my kids and the children of those cocoa, tea and coffee growers toiling for less than these Western vultures earn in the time it would take them to read this blog post.

The Cake Was Awful And The Champagne Was Gone

I promised you an update on the Portuguese fiesta at the EU Summit… Well, easily done: The cake was awful and the champagne was gone.

The feast was to commence at 1430, but it only so happened that France was suddenly announcing its press conference to that very time as well. I thought I might go and get a glimpse and a feel of Monsieur Sarkozy, and in any case I wasn’t going to stay for that long. Or so I thought.

The room was packed well beyond its capacity, the heat from people and TV spotlights reaching corresponding levels, and oxygen had run out already before I arrived. I stood and waited, and waited, and waited. Eventually, I the floor started swaying under my feet and I realised I was about to faint, so I managed against all odds to find a free seat. There, I promptly nodded off, only to awake a few moments later to the buzz of a text message arriving in my cell phone and realising that absolutely nothing had happened. An hour and fifteen minutes had gone by and still no Sarkozy. (And no, he hadn’t come and gone while I was dozing).

The text message informed me that there was going to be a press conference with the Swedes immediately, and since I work for a Swedish news organisation, I decided for that to more important. After all, the Swedes usually do turn up on time and all that. So, I went up to the next floor in the EU Council bastion, and waited there together with the entire Swedish press corps for another quarter of an hour or so, before Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s press secretary arrived and informed us that the whole thing was postponed because all the headsofstatengovernment were still in their meeting.

I took a lift back down to the press centre, gleefully passing my French-speaking colleagues on my way, thinking that they’d probably remain sitting there until who knows when, oblivious to the fact that theman they were waiting for still hadn’t risen form the conference table yet. Good time then to have a bite and a sip.

Or so I thought.

It turned out that the champagne had all been consumed by then, by my thirsty colleagues, in spite of alarge group of them being stuck in the Fench briefing room (and another contingent in the German next doors). There were some sweaty pieces of cake left, which I sampled. Some dried-out excuse for a fruit cake, completely clad in what is best described as something between jelly candy and conserved fruit. It felt like eating dried packaging foam with glazed chewing gum.

Blah.

Puke

The winter vomiting disease is over us or so I hear from various parts of the Northern Hemisphere. I am not surprised one whit.

After all, how often do you see people washing their hands after using public lavatories? Public, that is, which are usually dirtier than the ones you have at home. And then the current trend is to sell everything without packaging – especialy food, so the same hands which were just performing various bodily duties then go to digging around among naked lettuces, tomatoes or – as was the case with the one elderly gentleman I once saw performing something between swiming movements and archaeological excavations among them – spinach leaves.

When you have dug out your own fruit or veg, where all left bacteria have happily fermented during the days they have stayed in the shop – at room temperature – while being liberally sprayed by sneezing fellow customers, you then place them bagless in your shopping cart, the health benefits of which I have generously elaborated on in this previous blog post (clicking the image to the right will also get you there). Say no more.

And oh yes, I forgot, let’s swing by the burger bar on our way home (after digging around among pocket residue and perhaps left but used Kleenexes for your car keys), and eat some food with our bare hands just in case the bacterial labs you have just stuffed into your grocery bags doesn’t do the trick.

It’s more of a mystery to me that we actually manage to stay as healthy as we do.

Pole Postion

“Who’s representing Poland?” is the standing question here at the EU Agriculture and Fisheries council in Luxembourg. The fact of the matter is that nobody knows.

Poland had a general election on Sunday, and the ruling party’s majority was wiped out by a landslide victory for the opposition. Of course, there is no new government in place yet – it seems as if there will be coalition negotiations – but on Tuesday, Poland is supposed to take part in discussions over fishery quotas.

The problem, as I have already written in this blog, is that Poland is already allowing itself a virtually unlimited quota, as the previous government refused to stop pirate fisheries, and Poland is supposed to be a key player at this meeting. But it also seems that Poland will have a new and more EU-friendly government, and the talk here is that the other member states wouldn’t want to come down too hard on such a government for fear of alienating them.

Meanwhile, a delegate confided that the black-market fisheries is probably a far bigger threat to e.g. cod stocks than the regular fish quotas, overly generous as they may seem.  So something has to be done – but who is going to do it?

On a more positive note, delegates have had troubles hiding their joy at the change of government in Poland. “Yess!” is a word that probably describes the sentiment among many in an accurate way.

Chat: Anuga, Choo Choo

Pardon me boy, is this the Anuga Choo Choo? is probably a question I could ask Monday, as I will be taking the train to Cologne, Germany, to cover the Anuga food fair. It used to be even more so in the city itself, as exhibitors’ and accredited journalists’ ID badges also entitled them to free rides on local public transport. The train from the Köln Deutz station, where the Kölnermesse is situated, to the Köln Hauptbahnhof central station could really be called the Anuga Choo Cho in those days – I have spent one or two trips there crammed together with other visitors like sardines in a tin can.

However, that trip is one of the most unnecessary in the known universe, since the two stations are just a bridge apart, and since the walk across the Hohenzollern bridge is a very pleasant one with a beautiful view of the city, the Kölner Dom and the Rhine – especially this time of the year, if we are as lucky with the weather as always, with sunshine and sparkling autumn-coloured trees adding to the picture.

Maybe it was the aesthetics of it all that prompted the arrangers to scrap the free rides, I know not. Or maybe the fair had squeezed public transport to its full capacity. Judging from the hotel situation, that might very well be the case, because when I started looking for hotel rooms some time ago, everything was booked. There was one or two suites at the Hilton left, but I realised it would be difficult to get my employer to pay for that since they cost like EUR 500 per night – and I would only lie awake all night in such an expensive hotel room anyway, worrying about what each second costs.

You may wonder why on Earth I need a hotel room in Cologne, which is only a few hours away from Brussels. But I have to cover an event Monday evening that starts 18.30 and goes on into the wee hours, and the last train for Brussels leaves at 19.44.

So, the only alternative being waiting at the Hauptbahnhof until the morning train, I will gamble on being able to scamper off to my train in time.

Wish me good luck.