Why Are We Here?

The Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter today puts its finger on a sore spot: Why have an EU Summit right now at all?

The whole idea of inserting a third summit each year was part of the Lisbon strategy, intended at boosting EU competivity, a (traditionally) unsigned editorial notes. However, it has turned out that the EU manages to boost its capacity for increased competition power perfectly well without the politicians telling people how to do it, thank you very much, and the spring summit is increasingly becoming a bit of a yawn generator. Even Sweden’s Foreign Minister, Carl Bildt, concedes on his blog that “this meeting with the European Council will possibly not go down in history as one of the very biggest”.

However, Dagens Nyheter fumes (to the general amusement of my Swedish colleagues here at the EU Summit press room, who have spent the morning speculating who actually wrote the vitriolic editorial in question – the writer was more or less officially identified as Barbro Hedvall), the EU cannot back down from holding spring summits now, because that would be seen as a loss of prestige and – more importantly – a source of speculation about why the leaders wouldn’t want to meet each other, especially who didn’t want to meet who.

I’m not so sure I agree with the criticism. After all, it is never a bad idea that people – especially at high levels – get together and talk. Even if they currently may have little to talk about, there might come other times when having an institutionalised forum may be crucal, instead of wasting precious energy on procedure and formalities. After all, that is what the EU is all about – defusing possible points of conflict before they flare up.

And therein lies a PR problem, because it is always difficult to sell to the general public that we have avoided conflicts to the point where they never happened. “What conflicts?” we EU citizens ask, oblivious to the long and bloody history of our part of the world, where war between the people groups now represented at the negotiation table was the norm, not the exception.

I do realise that the bloodless summits require lots of travelling, security arrangements, and so on. But I’ll take that over war every time.

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.

Disgusted By The British Media

Rarely have I been so disgusted by the British media as I have today, and their betrayal is twofold.

To begin with, while the most appalling of unmentionable atrocities are being uncovered at a former orphanage in Jersey, the media chooses not to hunt down the perpeetrators still alive and do their job to investigate what exactly went on or how the authorities could let the cover-up continue FORTY YEARS. Who were the protectors in high places? Who of the highbrass were even involved? And who is going to go out and fight for the poor. poor small inocent chidren?

No, instead, the media is full of prince Harry’s days in Afghanistan.

There we have it: a Royal Life is more valuable than scores of abused ordinary children.

That would have bene enough to make me vomit as it is. But the second thing that makes my stomach turn today is the revelation that the British media has collectively agreed to a massive cover-up of the same prince’s deployments.

And they do not even have the decency to be ashamed of betraying their mission in such a way. Rather, they brag about it.

The obvious question is: What else is being covered up? What else has the media agreed to stay silent on, when its first, main, and last task is to report, disclose and reveal?

I most certainly disagree with the main argument against publishing the news that prince Harry had been sent to Afghanistan: that his life would be in danger. That may be true – but, sorry to say and putting it bluntly, that would be his own fault. Nobody is pointing a gun against his Royal Head and forcing him to go there. If the risks are too big, then by all means stay at home.

But what has happened his time is that somebody whose job it is to be in a public position, has decided to do something that he decides would not gain from media coverage, and has therefore had the media agree to his version and participate in a cover-up.

Am I the only one to see that this principle, once the line has been crossed, could easily be applied to yet another thing, and another, and another? What else wold the Royals like to do that doesn’t hold up to the daylight of publicity, that they would be able to persuade the media to stay silent about?

And why do the Holy Royals have such a privilege in today’s modern world, may I ask? Once again, is the Royal Life worth so much to my fellow Britons, that they are prepared to sell their souls for it?

Today, I feel disgusted to call myself a journalist. And a Briton.

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.

26,000 Unread E-mails

I’ve decided to start this year’s work by cleaning out some old “sourdoughs”, as we say in Swedish sometimes. One of these is the long-postponed culling of e-mails that have long past their best before date and are now fermenting in my inbox. I currently have 26,844 unread ones.

Don’t stop e-mailing me, though; I usually get round to personally addressed e-mails at once. But I am also the happy subscriber of quite a number of (usually) free news services, press information wires, I’m on every mailing list of as many organisations, companies and insttutions I can possibly imagine being of any benefit to my daily news hunt, and so on. And it only so happens that with many of them, they don’t come across as urgently important, and so I go “oh, I’ll read that later”… and of course I never get around to Later in that sense.

Many are also legible without opening (why do I feel like I’m suddenly trying to defend myself here?), because my e-mail service shows their first few words before you open them. But still, with many of them, you feel that there might be something interesting there… if you could only get to looking them through.

That’s why I feel awkward about unsubscribing: there might be something interesting there etc etc etc etc. And as if to prove that, whenever I think about unsubscribing from a service, of course that very one suddenly yields a big story (after lying fallow for years).

That’s one of the many blessings of being a journalist: you have the constant feeling that you ought to turn every stone, because there might be something interesting there etc etc etc etc. And you always feel stressed if you don’t.

But now it’s tidy up time… and if I know myself, I’ll constantly be interrupted by finding stuff that I should have read and that I ought to just have a quick glance at now that I’m sorting out the old ones and all that. After all, there might be something interesting there.

The Princess And I

Friday’s press conference with the Swedish Prime and Foreign Ministers offered a rare opportunity to chat for a moment with the Swedish Crown Princess Victoria as well.

(I say that with the sort of feigned disinterest that befits a journalist who wants to appear as if he is constantly rubbing shoulders with the high and mighty of this world. The awkward truth is that I spend a lot of time in the privacy of my working chambers at home, but don’t tell anyone, will you).

Princess Victoria has been a virtually constant intern at the various levels of Swedish government, preparing for her forthcoming role as Head of State, and had just spent a week serving at the Swedish permanent representation to the EU. There, she kept a low profile, but was still admitted to the Summit as a minister, and allowed to sit in on even the most sensitive of deliberations.

She was not part of the concluding press conference, merely there as an observer. Consequently, she snuck in along one wall after the press conference had started, together with assorted members of the Swedish delgation, and sat on one of the chairs lined up along the wall around the large conference table around which we journalists and the ministers were distributed. It only so happened that she sat right behind me.

There I was, slumped belly-up in those extremely comfortable chairs designed for hours and hours of intra-community haggling, and as the full truth of the event dawned on me, a few TV cameras were already pointing my direction to get a glimpse of the Princess behind me. With me in the forefront, due to the camera angles likely making me appear even larger than in real life, and with my ‘deployed vehicle airbag’ prominently positioned.

In other words: those TV pictures would have showed the future Queen of Sweden only partly visible, peeping forward behind by my big fat tummy.

I checked – it seemed that the TV people were wise enough not to use those images. I call that professional discretion.

The Economist worries about whatever she was doing there, oblivious to the fact that she as Queen will be chairing the Permanent Foreign Comittee of the Swedish Parliament, and thus has every reason to be well-informed from the start. I don’t, because after the press conference, a few of us of course took the chance to exchange a few words with her. She seemed genuinely interested and started questioning us about how we work at these events, in a way that was either professionally faked or professionally inquisitive. While not being much of a royalist, I must confess to havng had a very positive impression of how seriously she seems to take her role.

However, I do regret missing the obvious question that we journalists shared (but didn’t ask her then either) last time she was a Government intern visiting Brussels: “So, how does the Ambassador take his coffee?”

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.