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.

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Signal To Noise

I just woke everyone up here at the press centre in the Luxembunker.

It’s some time after 19.00 in the evening as I write this, and the journalists here are summing up today’s events at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council. That woldn’t take very long, so the calm spreading out here is considerable, and most of us will soon be retreating to our hotel rooms.

That is the kind of nocturnal setting against which I managed to produce today’s biggest noise here. I have had some problems with my computer, which doesn’t want to correspond with the headset I use to make calls via Skypa. So while searching the computer for a solution, I did the mistake of turning on a volume control that I knew from earlier on that I should have kept set to zero.

To cut a long story short, the result – when I some time later unplugged my headset – was a monumental feedback noise. A sharp and penetrating signal sound that would have made most people think that the fire alarmhad gone off. And to make matters worse – my computer froze in that state.

Dozens and dozens of pairs of eyes were staring at me as I frantically tried to kill or muffle the sound. I even considered shoving the computer into its bag and rushing outside, but maybe the security guards would have had some suspicions about that.

Eventually, I was able to quiet the computer by physically ripping the battery out. I then tried very hard to pretend as if it was raining, which has its difficulties when you’re indoors.

Well, at least I woke them up.

Playing With The Travelling Band

The travelling band commonly known as the European Union this month has its minsterial meetings in Luxembourg again (yes, indeed at the ghastly Luxembunker pictured to the right), and I will be playing along Monday and Tuesday as a reporter at the Agriculture and Fisheries council. (I wish I were playing with a real travelling band instead, especially when reading about old friends doing exactly that, but that’s another story.)

On Tuesday, the ministers are supposed to discuss fisheries, a common source of discontent not only because the ministers consistently fail to agree on quotas small enough to actually give fish stocks a chance to survive, but also because there has been widespread pirate fishing that compound the problem.

Notably from Poland, where the government has openly said that it does not intend to do one whit about it, because it believes that the fears for fish stocks are exagerrated. In short, they are allowing themselves an unlimited quota on the expense on every other nation around the Baltic. Marine harvest state terrorism is a concept that one is tempted to use.

However, don’t expect the Polish delegation to receive more than a symbolic thrashing about it, because Poland held general elections on Sunday and it seems that there is a huge possibility that there will be a change of guard there. And then, the process has to start all over again, with a new government which can always claim that it shouldn’t have to live up to the previous one’s agreements.

In the meantime, the EU is rattling its sabres (all two and a half of them), insisting that it will take deterrent measures against fishermen who can’t keep their tackle under control. Draconian measures are being considered, including a black list – a piece of paper listing of offending vessels – and a ban on selling catches that have bene landed outside the quota.

I bet the Pirates of the Baltic are quaking with fear.

…Oh And By The Way

The Luxembunker showed itself from its worst side today: outside temperatures in excess of +25-30 centigrades meant that the tin can conference centre (literally, I am not joking, the whole place is made out of corrugated iron and wooden beams) where the EU ministers’ meeting is held followed the common natural laws and turned into a baking oven. Having reached a state of lightly to medium roasted, we had to abandon plans for a press briefing with the Swedish Agriculture Minister in the Swedish briefing room, because there was only one oxygen atom left in there, and any attempt to pursue any human activity of whatsoever in there would have resulted in a pile of corpses.

Instead, we used the journalists’ lobby, where we were able to find two oxygen atoms, but little else.

“Phew”, panted the Swedish minister after talking to us for a while, wiping sweat from his forehead, “now I think we’ve certainly used up those two oxygen atoms”, looking just as well cooked as the rest of us.

“And then this is the coolest Council meeting in Luxemburg for the last five years”, a member of the Swedish delegation interjected.

As I said, I managed to get out of there before turning crisp, but if your usual politicians emerge deep fried during the next few days, there’s your explanation.

(I must find myself a nice conspiracy theory to go with that. Someone trying to melt the elected representatives in order to sizzle seize power themselves? Any suggestions?)

Lucky Me

Indeed, I survived the Luxembunker, but I’m not sure the delegations will.

I got home at 23.30, sank down on my couch with my wife and watched a movie, and I’ll go get myself a nice snack and enjoy it in my robe as soon as I’ve finished writing this.

That’s not what the ministers and their delegations are experiencing.

The interpreters at the Agriculture Ministers’ meeting were scheduled to be on duty until midnight, we learned this afternoon. Later, people familiar with the matter informed us journalists, there will be nightly discussions and general haggling into the wee hours, until times probably ujnknown to the rest of mankind, and then they’re supposed to be back at tomorrow’s leg of the meeting starting at 10.00. (I won’t be at Day Two for other reasons, but that’s another story.)

Moreover, since these are ministers and delegations from all the four…teen corners of the EU, most of them have had to set off at who knows what hour this morning – some testified to having rolled out of bed at 05.00. A full 24-hour shift… followed by another one. And then back to the usual soup of urgent issues, parliamentary questions, documents and issues piling up, public visits, meetings with voters, industrialists, organisations, reporters digging their noses in the wastepaper baskets, etc etc etc etc.

The fun thing is that the EU – well, not the Agriculture Ministers, but still – has recently adopted a working hours directive that severely curbs workers’ ability all over the whole EU to work too long hours. Hospitals and other shift-working places have already had to reschedule their staff quite extensively to comply with the new rules.

And yet… the EU ministers fail to apply the working hour rules to themselves.

I raised this issue with one delegation member, who immediately promised that the EU’s new working hour rules would most certainly be applied when her country took the rotating presidency. Or so we hope.

But as I sit here, comfortable and snug in my sofa in my own home with my family close by, I can’t help but think. Yes, their jobs may be well paid. Yes, they may have all earthly power and glory within their area at their command or something like that. Yes, they may even be flying Learjets through the night.

But for all the perks and fringe benefits in the world… I certainly wouldn’t like to trade places with them.

Off To The Luxembunker

Monday means off to the Luxembunker again. Wish me good luck.

The Gas-Guzzling Travelling Circus

This week, the EU Parliament holds its monthly session in Strasbourg. Strasbourg, France, that is. Although being based in Brussels and having built a monstrous castle at the top of a hill there, they travel once a month to another ghastly castle to convene. This building – erected solely for the Parliament – is then EMPTY for the remaining 307 days each year.

The rest of the year, 785 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), 1,220 officials, and countless hordes of journalists, lobyists and other creatures travel from Brussels to Strasbourg and back again for week-long sessions. The MEPs alone need 15 lorries to haul all their documents back and forth each month, as we all understand is necessary in this day and age of e-mail.
Oh, yes, and I forgot the 525 people who travel to Strasbourg from Luxemburg, where the Parliament’s administrative offices so wisely have been located.

The cost for this travelling circus amounts to millions of euros alone. If you only count in money, that is.

The EU has recently decided to cut greenhouse gases by 20 per cent. A couple of EU Parliamentarians therefore amused themselves by investigating the environmental cost for this madness, and today announce that the CO2 emissions from all this is at least 20,000 tonnes per year. You can read more about it in this excellent publication, one of the best news sources on all things EU.

So, why doesn’t the EU Parliament stop this? The answer is simple: They want to, but they do not have the power to change it.

That’s food for thought. The only directly elected institution in the EU is so aggressively powerless that it can’t even take a decision on where to house itself.

Now you might understand why I usually don’t bother to travel to Strasbourg to cover what they are doing.

One million people signed a petition some time ago to put an end to this. But such a decision has to be taken unanimously by the member states. And there’s one country that just won’t give up.

I’ll leave it to you to figure out which one.