Olof Palme Suspected Of Paedophilia

Today, I was supposed to write something fun about Christmas. But I cannot. Yesterday, the most hushed-down scandal in Swedish history resurfaced again, and it fills me with such grief. It is a story that is on par with the infamous Belgian paedophile scandal, with the only difference that the cover-up has succeeded in this case.

The scandal in essence is that there is reason to believe that two Swedish Prime ministers during the 1970s, the internationally known Olof Palme, and Thorbjörn Fälldin, were customers at a network of prostitutes which involved underage girls. In other words, should the allegations be true, these men were paedophiles.

And not only them. The investigation – hushed down as it is – involves a long list of top politicians and celebrities of the time. Some 70 names have been mentioned.

The girls, around 14 at the time, have now grown up, and yesterday, they held a press conference where two of them are demanding compensation fron the Swedish state.

But it doesn’t end there. As I have mentioned, there has never been a proper investigation of these matters. Olof Palme lied to the entire Swedish people when he denied that the then head of the Swedish police, Carl Persson, had written to him to inform him that his Minister of Justice, Lennart Geijer, was frequenting prostitutes and could therefore be subject to blackmail – especially since some of the prostitutes were from the Communist bloc. Mr Persson’s note was disclosed in the daily Dagens Nyheter in 1977, but Olof Palme could see from the way the article was written that the paper did not have access to the note itself. Olof Palme very aggressively denied that the note had ever existed and called the whole thing rumours and worse, but in 1991, the note was declassified and confirmed that Mr Geijer was in fact buying sex.

Why Olof Palme put his entire career at stake to lie so blatantly – about something he likely knew was true – remains an enigma; he was murdered in 1986 and took his secrets to his grave. But the fact is that the former prostitutes yesterday repeated that he would hve beneone of their customers. Did he lie in order to protect himself?

Worse still, his Minister of Justice – Mr Geijer – was trying at the time to decriminalise paedophilia (yes, it’s true). Thank God he was stopped, but that further adds to the sleaziness of it all.

Meanwhile, the girls – several of whom have identified top politicians as customers, independently of one another – descended into personal problems and drug abuse, frustrated about the massive cover-up form the establishment. They have never budged one inch from their story; they insist to this day that what they allege is true.

The whole thing has resurfaced from time to time in Sweden, but has just as regularly vanished from the headlines again and led to no repercusisons at all. Only one person has ever been tried and found guilty, Sigvard Hammar, a marginal figure who was a TV journalist as well as a paraplegic and thus less into the circles of power, who also openly admitted abusing underage girls. But he was sentenced for procuring, not for abusing minors.

There is much more to say about this disgusting, nauseating, stomach-turning, sinister, evil, deprave, vicious mess. How Dagens Nyheter’s source, criminologist Leif G W Persson who worked for Carl Persson at the time, found not only his desk but his entire room emptied the day after Dagens Nyheter broke the story. How the cover-up in 1977 was orchestrated by people involving the then Chief Constable of Stockholm, Hans Holmér, the same police officer who later made a complete mess of the murder investigation of Olof Palme – for whatever reason. How Thorbjörn Fälldin before the Swedish Parliament in 1977 stated that the entire list of suspects must have been false simply because his own name was on it – and how the Swedish nation chose to believe him.

And how an unknown number of young girls had their lives ruined by the men in power that were supposed to provide their ultimate security.

So, will there be a proper investigation this time? At present, it doesn’t seem likely. The story has already been moved to the back pages, and it seems that the whole thing will once again be ground down into the bureaucratic machinery.

This Blog Would Be Illegal

This blog would be illegal. Not only in countries like China and Burma, where the totalitarian regimes utterly restrict personal freedom of speech. But in Italy, a Western democracy, if proposals put forward by premier Romano Prodi are adopted.

Yes, the very same Romano Prodi who used to be the President of the EU Commission.

He has now proposed far-going restrictions of Italians’ right to blog, which in a nutshell means that you will have to be registered, pay taxes, work for a publisher and under the supervision of a profesisonal journalist to have the right to blog.

This is utterly and obscenely outrageous.

I am a professional journalist and my blog would perhaps pass the test. But I would openly refuse to comply with such a ridiculpous law, because it is a blatant, naked and arrogant attack on the God-given right that forms the very foundation of any democracy anywhere: Freedom of speech.

Any democracy anywhere requires the right for people to freely form their opinions, in order to participate. It requires the freedom to advocate any standpoint, in order to form an opinion in others, and it requires the freedom to take part of any standpoint, in order to form an opinion of one’s own. It is the fundamental right given to us at birth, manifested in such a way that we are born with the capacity to speak, and the capacity for learning languages.

Blogging on the Internet is nothing more than an extension of your right to speak out with your mouth; it is the 21st century equivalent of standing on an overturned soapbox in a street corner or handing out leaflets.

Yes, it comes with a lot of rubbish, but it the quality of what is said would be the criteria for whether or not to allow freedom of speech, then the politicians would be the first to be forced to shut up.

Perhaps what upsets me the most is the sheer arrogance of the Italian plans. This time, they do not even bother to try to hide behind some alleged reason, be it the fight against terrorism, indecencies om the Net, or whatever the excuse for the day is. This time, they are openly sending the message to the citizens – or, should I say, to the subjects: Freedom of speech is not a right for the common man, it is a privilege for the chosen few.

What insolence!

Why not just go the whole way and do away with democracy altogether? Why not return to the feudal system straight away? Is that what is on the agenda in the long term?

You may wonder why I rage against something that is going on in a country where I do not live. I admit, I have not even been to Italy. But a loss of freedom anywhere is a loss of freedom everywhere.

Moreover, remember that Italy is a country on my doorstep. It is a founding and powerful member of the Europan Union. And the proposal, as I said, is being put forward by the previous EU Commission President.

What guarantees do I – or YOU – have that the same proposals won’t be put forward in our countries next time? What guarantees do we have that the next step won’t be attempting to introduce the same laws in the entire EU?

If you think this sounds ridiculous, remember that it would be easy for an Italian blogger to put her or his blog onto a server in any other EU country to try to circumvent this law from hell. That would easily give the Italian the government the excuse to start pushing for an EU-wide application of it, in order to uphold the Italian legislation. And then the police could soon be knocking on YOUR door because of something you have written on your computer.

If you agree with me that this is a terrifying perspective, straight from a book by George Orwell less than two decades after the fall of totalitarian regimes in Europe, then protest now.

While it is still legal. 

Vultures

This week is Summit week, when the European Union’s Heads of State and Government (I almost typed “Hades” instead of “Heads”, now there’s a Freudian slip if I ever saw one) gather to adopt a Constitution taht isn’t a constitution or whatever. And already, the vultures are gathering.

Literally. Flocks of Spanish Griffon vultures have flown north in search for food, because they are unable to find any at home since Spanish farmers have stopped dropping cattle carcasses in the open. A flock was recently seen in Ghent, not to far from Brussels.

So. Why Belgium? Why (almost) Brussels? Why right now, when the Hades Heads of State and Government are here too? Why right now, when flocks of journalists are here as well? Why at the very summit which is desperately trying to, ehrm, revive the EU Constitution?

I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.

Jah Provide De Bread

I started this day wallowing in my latest download from iTunes – “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley. (The version with the Wailers. Great tune. Full roots reggae at its best.)

And then came the most surrealistic SMS (text message) imaginable on my cell phone , just a minute ago: “JAH Pressbriefing on Monday 11 June 2007.”

Now, if I had been a Rastafari devotee (which, thank Goodness, I am not), I would have considered this above and beyond a sign from above; rather, something close to an invoked Second Coming.

Especially if I had been indulging in such substances that Rastafaris tend to indulge in (which, thank Goodness, I never have and certainly never will. Drugs are the devil’s work, period.)

However, it turned out to have a full terrestial explanation, rather than the Almighty meeting the press: JAH is an EU acronym for Justice And Home Affairs, the ministers of which are meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday. The sender, consequently, was the German EU Presidency, which thankfully bombards my cell phone with information on this and that every day.

An excellent service which I will not complain about, that is. But maybe the EU should consider revising some of its acronyms a bit.

Imagine this message reaching the wrong cell phone: Hordes of dreadlocked pot-smokers stampeeding towards the EU Council building, playing Marley at full blast, dancing and prancing in religious ecstasy about getting to meet their Maker in person. (And imagine the riots when they discover that all they meet are little middle-age men in grey suits. All the ganja in the world wouldn’t have convinced even the most liberal Haile Selassie worshippers that their god had incarnated as a German civil servant.)

I have a small suggestion: Justice And Home Affairs should actually be JAHA. That, in turn, would have been extra hilarious, as “Jaha” means “oh, really” or “so what” in Swedish.

Which, in turn, might have added the extra benefit of being a more accurate description.

I Should Have Studied Russian

Zdrastvuj, drug!

I wish my attempts to study Russian hadn’t stopped there, with only a few more words and the ability to decode the Russian alphabet. I would have had much use for such skills today, as I seem to be surrounded by Russian-speaking colleagues at the EU Council’s Press Centre, where the EU’s foreign ministers and assorted colleagues will wriggle around the question what to do with the EU-Russian summit on Friday when the two are so at odds with eachother that they aren’t even pretending that there will be any outcome of that meeting; and when plenty of EU member states want the meeting called off altogether. (The reason for the fuss is a quick deterioration in EU-Russian relations, due to Russia’s blocking of Polish meat, which Poland takes as retaliation for being too friendly with the West, and due to Russia’s retaliation against Estonia for moving a Soviet-era monument, with thinly-veiled acts of economical warfare against EU member Estonia. Russia, on the other hand, seems to be having problems with the plans to post new US missiles in Poland and Hungary, pointing at Moscow.)

So you understand that I would have liked to do a little eavesdropping here and there, but sadly, twice have I started studying Russian and twice have I failed. The first time because I was only eight years old, and the second time because I was working as a journalist with irregular hours, and couldn’t attend a fixed-schedule evening course with any consistency.

On that occasion, my reason for attempting again was the increasing threat at that time of unrest in the former Soviet bloc, and the very real prospect of waves of refugees trying to make their waves across to Sweden, where I worked. In fact, another student at that same evening class turned out to be the head of the local state-run refugee camp administration. We quickly agreed that although we were there for the same reason, we equally hoped we wouldn’t have any imanent use for our newly acquired language skills. (We didn’t, it turned out.)

But maybe this time, it’s time to dust off the old Troika 1 textbooks in my bookcase once again. After all, the political development in Russia is becoming increasingly disturbing, and it is certainly casting its shadow over an increasing number of areas.

Going Bananas

I am writing this sitting in the back row of the main press briefing room at the European Council’s bastion. Today, we are all being told everything there is to know about Monday’s General Affairs and External Relations Coucil, with the EU’s chronic knack for acronyms usually called GAERC.

The briefing is off the record, but I managed to sneak up my camera and fire away this shot from my seat to give you an idea about what it looks like (don’t tell anyone, will you).

Waitaminit, you may ask now. What on Earth has a journalist covering the food industry got to do with the monthly meeting of foreign ministers?

The answer is that food issues more often than you think make their way even into foreign policy, international relations, and diplomacy. The reason that triggered my visit today was to find out whether or not there will be any discussion about banana imports, which apparently has ended up on the foreign ministers’ table between dossiers to be considered on US missile shields, Sudan and Darfur, the Middle East, the Balkans, and other things that you might have thought of more importance.

So far, there has been no mention about bananas, but there has been mention about the ongoing meat crisis between Poland and Russia. As you may or may not be aware of, Russia has blocked all meat imports from Poland due to alleged health safety concerns – or, if you ask the Polish, in order to punish the country for its outspokenness against Russia. Poland is one of the former Communist bloc nations that most enthusiastically threw itself into the arms of all things Western as soon as the Iron Curtain was lifted, and many suspect the Russians of wanting to make a point.

Regardless of what you think about that, it is an observable fact that Russia is putting on an impressive procrastination performance in order to stall any and every attempt to solve the issue. The latest correspondence came from Moscow only yesterday, and is already considered way inadequate here in Brussels.

The jury is still out on whether this feud will wreck the entire upcoming summit between the EU and Russia. Everyone assures us that the summit won’t be called off, but the very fact that such talk is circulating gives you an idea about how big this issue has become.

This is just how far-reaching effects all things food sometimes have. It is not merely a matter of eating to stay alive; food contains so much of culture, national pride, identity and politics that a heap of meat can ruin the relations between two of the world’s mightiest powers.

The defence ministers will also meet, but, so far, food related issues are not being discussed by them, I am happy to say. But don’t be surprised if that happens, too, one bad day. The world is smaller than we think.

Wait, now they’re talking bananas after all. Got to go!

Euromyths, Part 1

Well, I promised to indulge in some fun myths about the European Union, so let’s start out hard with this compilation of untrue reports in mainstream media that the European Commission’s representation in Britain has amassed.

What’s that? Oh, I’ll say that again.

The lengthy list of simply untrue stories, reported as if they were true, that you will find by clicking on the above link, is what the European Commission has been able to find in ONE out of 27 member states. It’s probably mind-boggling to start imagining the amount of myths reported as facts in non-EU countries.

Don’t believe everything you read in the news, then.

Already googling the word ‘euromyths’ returns almost 32,000 results, and then we’re obviously not counting the major part of them; the myths and misunderstandings that are being taken as truth as we speak.

How did this happen?

Well, to begin with, a lot is plain ignorance. In most countries, newsmen and -women lack the basic understanding of how the EU functions, in a way that would embarass them had they been similarly ignorant of how their own nations work. I will be the first to agree that the EU’s legislation process is very complicated and difficult to comprehend, but you would at least expect editors to be aware of the difference between the EU Parliament, the European Commission, and the Council of Ministers.

Moreover, there are strong EU-skeptic movements in many countries, and be not ignorant, m little children: there are bad boys out there deliberately spreading misinformation. Exaggerating things just a little bit or twisting things only so slightly is a well-known way of bending reality so that it serves your own interests.

However. If you look at the stories gathered on the page I linked to, you’ll notice that many of them do contain a grain of truth. Bananas may not be banned if they are curved, for instance, but it is true that they cannot be too curved in order to qualify for Class 1 standard.

Now, how in the world did we end up wasting our time and money inventing Classes 1 and 2 for bananas, when half of the world is starving and the other half is eating itself to death? That’s a question only the European Commission can answer.

Yes, I do like the banana shelves in my supermarket to look neat and tidy, but I’ll rather have peace, health, safety and prosperity for everyone first, please.

The page I linked to should keep you busy for the 1 May holiday. When you have finished marvelling at the threats against traditional Irish funerals, the erasing of islands, the rewriting of history or Kent becoming part of France, we shall move on to some of the murkier stuff where there is really misinformation going on, so stay tuned.

And no, I do not write this because I necessarily like the European Union or want to convert you all into EU-huggers; I simply can’t stand when fiction is being presented as fact. If we want a proper critical assessment of the EU, which we should in health’s name, then it must be based on facts. Otherwise, we’re just wasting our time and unable to keep the real scandals under control.

In the name of democracy, let’s stick to the truth.

Brainstorming Storm

…as I was saying, before we were so rudely interrupted, yesterday offered some of the usual, amusing stonewalling amusement that only the European Union can muster. This time, the attempt was to rein in the monumentally mishandled “mini-summit” that the Commission’s chairman José Manuel Barroso called the day before.

On Wednesday, it was announced that Mr Barroso was to invite a few select heads of government to his native Portugal on 12-13 May, to look into the future and discuss a few issues of one kind or another. (You might suspect this to be a euphemism for “looking into a glass with an ice cube-cooled beverage by the poolside in sunny Portugal”, but that is of course unsubstantiated slander.)

However, a number of other heads of government were not invited, which immediately triggered questions such as “What criteria did you have when selecting the lucky charter passengers sorry, conference attendees”, or “Is this another step towards a ‘two-speed EU'”, with some members being, eh, more members than others, which the union has tried to avoid in recent years.

Amusingly enough, the outcry thus produced made Mr Barroso swiftly change his plans and strike a few people off the guest list. All of a sudden, only a few people with slightly more defined importance for forward-looking issues were now on the shortlist, such as the heads of government for the countries next in turn to take the rotating chairmanship. You could almost hear the groaning of the other ones grumpily unpacking their sunscreen tubes and swim shorts.

Of course, Mr Barroso’s spokesman, our favourite gatekeeper Johannes Laitenberger, was pressed about all this by journalists who wondered whether or not they should bother booking a flight ticket or so. (They always send him forward when they know something controversial’s coming up.) Mr Laitenberger tried his best to convince us all at the daily press briefing that this was not a “mini-summit”, merely “brainstorming”.

“What”, one reporter eventually asked, ” do you say to those heads of government, like for instance the Belgian Prime Minister, whose brains were not considered important enough to storm”?

“Mr Barroso holds ongoing talks with all kinds of people”, Mr Laitenberger responded, adding:

“I can assure you that all brains will be stormed”.

All brains? Yeaouwch. Remember this, next time you have a sudden headache: it might be the EU storming your brain. Watch out for little men in black. Look carefully under your bed before going to sleep,

Chrome, Smoke & BBQ

(That’s the best name for an album I’ve ever seen, given the image of the group, so I couldn’t resist using that as a headline for this entry. My apologies if you were looking for the CD and ended up here by mistake.)

Yesterday, I was told that Belgium was going to impose a tax on barbecues. 20 euros per event, the deal was, because BBQ adds so much to CO2 emissions and global warming. To make sure the whole thing was adhered to, the country would be monitored by helicopters with thermal sensors.

Helicopters! Which would of course leave a far heavier CO2 footprint than your cookout! (No, wait, choppers can’t leave footprints. That sounds like a decent title for a Christian album, though. Footsteps In The Sky. Like another completely brilliant Christian album title by Graham Kendrick may years ago, Footsteps On The Sea. But that’s beside the point.)

Anyway. Some brief investigations showed this to be an April Fool’s joke in the Belgian region of Wallonia, however, that for some reason wouldn’t go away.

“We have repeatedly denied this information, which is nothing but an April Fool’s Day joke. But we never imagined it would create such a fuss”, a spokesman for the local government of Wallonia told RIA Novosti.

That’s the second time in half a year that a Walloon prank has gone haywire. In December, the RTBF television channel created a War-of-the-Worlds-style hysteria when it broadcast a bogus report that the other main region, Flanders, had broken off and formed a country of its own.

In both cases, you can laugh at the dupes. But there is some reason why so many people readily believe such things to be true: somewhere, it is enough in line with mad political decisions to be credible enough.

That is perhaps the reason for the host of myths that surround the European Union. I will spend a few blog entries over the next week or so dealing with some of the most outrageous ones; be sure to check back here regularly for some happy slapping of your favourite EU conspiracy theories.

Match Of The Day: Commission Wins On Walkover

Yesterday’s press briefing at the EU Commission ended in a mass walkout in protest. That was the climax of quite an entertaining tug-of-war between the spokesman Johannes Laitenberger and the assembled press corps, due to Tuesday’s early morning raids on several EU institutions on allegations of fraud and corruption.

I should say, this is not the first time there has been fraud scandals involving the EU; one entire Commission had to step down a few years ago in the wake of one such corruption case, and there is a general sense in Brussels today of “here we go again”.

The press room was unusually full, and Mr Laitenberger had the hopeless task of communicating the Commission’s ‘No Comments’ line.

He started on the offensive. Before allowing questions, he made a statement saying that the Commission could not comment on the ongoing investigation, and that it was all in the hands of the EU’s anti-fraud agency OLAF, why all questions should be put to them. And so he asked everyone to understand that there was nothing more to say.

Upon which a forest of hands shot into the air, to the general laughter from everyone.

For the next 45 minutes or so, journalist after journalist tried to press Mr Laitenberger on different aspects of the scandal, but to no avail. I have the whole match on tape and might sit down some rainy day and count how many times he repeated various variants of the message “we won’t comment on ongoing investigations… ask OLAF… they are independent and we shouldn’t get involved in their work… blah, blah, blah”.

The questions got increasingly irritated. “Why haven’t you called the OLAF and asked them to send someone here, it would only have cost a telephone call”, one French-speaking reporter asked, to the cheer and applause from about everyone else.

“OLAF is independent…blah, blah, blah”.

“You say that OLAF is independent”, another one tried, “but then you have previously invited representatives of Volkswagen, Coca-Cola, or McDonald’s here?”

(general laughter)

“25 minutes of stonewalling”, was another complaint from another journalist.

“We won’t comment on ongoing investigations… blah, blah, blah”.

“Why are those involved allowed to stay on their jobs”, asked another, who reminded us all that whistleblower Paul van Buitenen had been thrown out on his ears when he disclosed what would eventually amount to the fraud scandal that brought a commission down.

“We can’t give any details on the investigation… blah, blah, blah.”

Things got even more amusing as one of the English interpreters, whom I was listening to, was in the strange habit of pronouncing Mr Laitenberger’s first name “Your Highness” instead of “Johannnes”, when translating questions from reporters. Which only added to the fairy-tale sense of an emperor trying to convince everyone that he was not naked.

I was watching the group of Mr Laitenberger’s fellow spokesmen, who usually attend the press briefings in order to be prepared to answer any kind of questions, and they collectively looked painfully happy that it wasn’t they who had to be up there and act as the No Comment machine. Cool as yesterday’s Bratwurst, Mr Laitenberger is far better suited for that task, by the way.

Finally, Mr Laitenberger almost physically moved the press conference on to the next subject.

This triggered a mass walkout; about three fourths of the assembled journalists – an estimated 3-400 people – stood up and walked out of the room in protest.

I was not one of them, not because of my natural cowardice, but simply because I was awaiting another press briefing that was to follow immediately after. And so, the show went on with the scattered remnant, the spokesmen bravely trying to pretend as if nothing had happened.

Now that was a surreal experience.

Don’t Mention The C-Word

Still no name in sight concerning who held the pen when putting the Berlin declaration into text. Bah, I knew it! It was probably the product of a committee, or written by Frau Dr Merkel herself. Just when you thought it was going to get entertaining.

Anyway. As always, it’s a fun sport to sift through the layers of political science nonsense to see what is not in the text.

One such thing is to read the penultimate paragraph in the declaration and see how they wriggle around trying to avoid using the word “Constitution”. Germany wants one, the French, Dutch, British and other assorted people do not, and the general sentiment in most other countries seems to be “let’s not ask” for fear of getting the wrong answer.

Having a Constitution for the EU is the final nail in the coffin for national supremacy, and the cradle for a European superstate, the reasoning behind that goes. (I’m not quite sure how something can be both a nail and a cradle at the same time, but that’s beside the point.)

So, in order to make everyone happy, Ms-Dr-Merkel’s-secretary-or-whoever-the-unlucky-fellow-was-who-had-to-write-the-final-draft had to try to write “let’s get us a Constitution before 2009” without actually writing “let’s get us a Constitution before 2009”. The resulting euphemistic acrobacy can be enjoyed ->here<-.

Christianity was also deined access in the final round, in spite of heavy lobbying on its part by especially the Poles, at least for a mention.

I’m a Christian by choice and deepest convincement, but still quite divided on whether or not Christianity should be in such a declaration as this. True, Europe is founded on 2,000 years of Christian ethics. This is an historic fact and nothing to try to hide, and then Turkey can rant as much as it likes about the EU being a ‘Christian Club’ to divert attention from its chronic inability of learning to spell the legend h-u-m-a-n r-i-g-h-t-s.

On the other hand, throughout those last 2,000 years, every attempt to impose Christianity from the top in society has ended painfully. The simple reason is that true Christianity lies in the heart of the believer and cannot be commanded forth. And my freedom to advocate and exercise my faith can only be guaranteed in a society that also guarantees others the freedom to refrain from doing so. Freedom, by definition, involves the right to make one’s own choices.

“One Nation Under God” works in the US, where a large number of people voluntarily confess some sort of faith, and there is no history of religious oppression. But in Europe, I’m afraid a similar statement would only provoke a generally negative counter-response. And that is exactly what I, as a Christian, want to avoid.

In other words: If you want to reach Europeans with the Gospel, you’d better avoid conjuring up collective memories of state churches controlling all aspects of life, memories of which lie just beneath the surface.

Not to mention that the true Gospel includes the freedom of option for each individual to reject it.

It Took 50 Years To Come Up With What’s-His-Name

50 000 people gathered at the north Brussels monument Atomium this evening, to watch a major rock concert celebrating the European Union’s 50 years in existence. I was not one of them, because I was putting my kids to bed by the time it started. But together with my wife and viewers in 40 other countries, I was able to watch it on TV.

Without the parking hassle or having to stand outside in the drizzle all night, that is, but that’s beside the point.

Live Aid, Live 8, whatever you may call yourselves, eat this. Here’s a party that has been in the making for 50 years.

Consequently, we have been able to rejoice in a few hours’ entertainment headed by the cream of European artists.

Such as Kim look-at-my-latest-facelift Wilde, ThatGuyWhateverHisNameIs who spends his career informing us that he can’t make up his mind between “a little bit of Sandra in the sun” or “a little bit of Mary all night long”, and Las Ketchup.

It is on late and dark nights such as these that I have my most serious worries about Europe’s future.

The EU As A Football Team

Among the more peculiar attempts to raise some sort of festive mood in the adent of the European Union’s 50th birthday was a recent football (soccer) game between Manchester United and a team named Europe XI at the Old Trafford. The announcement of this led to some amused questions by journalists, and EU Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen found it necessary at at least two different press conferences to repeatedly underline that the Commissioners themselves would not take part in that team. To the general dismay for those of us who might have wanted to see Mr Barroso et consortes get a good tackle or so.

Anyway. This spurred my imagination into thinking how the EU institutions would perform as a football team.

First, there is no manager. There is a collective of 27 people all trying to influence coaching, but they can only give general directions, mostly in the neighbourhood of “Strategy: Put ball into goal“. They take turn organising the training, which means that strategy changes every six months.

Second, there is a captain, but he can only propose what to do. The decisions are taken by yet another body of 27 managers, the composition of which changes depending on whether we are talking which way e.g. the goalkeeper or the forwards should go.

Third, the supporter club insists on having opinions about everything and anything, but does not have the power to really change much. And a number of members in the supporter club cheer for opposing teams or want their team to be dismantled altogether.

Fourth, because of the constant infighting within the team, it has set up its own court to settle disputes between them. This doesn’t stop some of them from grumbling that they’d be better off leaving the field altogether, maybe joining another team. However, there’s really no established way for such transfers.

Fifth, outside the dressing room are a number of other players wanting very badly to get on the team, and they are usually let in without much further ado. Except one, because it refuses to seek professional help for its sado-masochistic tendencies. This leaves the field increasingly crowded with players who keep running in all directions, sometimes charging towards their own goal.

Sixth, everybody keeps shouting their opinions in their own language. Since they cannot agree on using a comon one, the field is even more crowded by an army of translators, who have to follow their every step. Since things sometimes get lost in translation, the left forwards insist that everyone should use their language.

Seventh, the team spends considerable time arguing against the referee, in spite of the real risk of being sent off the field.

Eighth, it is plagued by hooligans, many of which believe there should be no game altogether, or even that the entire sport should be abolished.

In other words – sounds just like Arsenal.

(For those of you who wonder: The match ended 4-3 to Man U.)

EUuuuuwwww

Warning: If you are sensitive or easily grossed out, please do not read this item.

Sometimes trawling the Net for news can lead you into the strangest of side tracks. While scanning the headlines in today’s papers, I found myself reading about the guy who is currently swimming the length of the Amazon river (actually, I was reading this). And from there. I ended up reading about one of the more intricate perils that threaten his quest, which you can watch another account of here. (about 4 mins video)

As I was reading this pelvis-centered real-life horror story in increasing terror, there was a sudden BUZZZZZ in my pocket. I probably leapt up a few feet in mid-air, and only just managed to save my laptop – which was actually on my lap – from crashing to our stone floor, frightening my wife who wondered what on earth was going on.

It turned out to be an SMS. Since the ring signal on my cell phone is rather weak, I keep its silent alarm – a vibrator – on permanently. And so my phone was trying to tell me that I had a new message that said something or other about the development at the EU’s transport minister’s meeting.

Well, at least I can blame the EU for scaring the living daylights out of me.

But I think I should get another cell phone.

Hang On, Commission, I’m Trying To Get My Buddies Elected

EU Commissioner Louis Michel is taking time off to campaign for his party in the upcoming general election in Belgium. (He’s only the last name on the ballot, but still.) His colleague Margot Wallström, seriously close friend with the new leader of the Swedish Social Democrat opposition party Mona Sahlin, is going to start hammering out the party’s EU policy in the advent of the 2010 general election there – without taking time off from her role as Commissioner. All of this led to a string of questions from Swedish and Belgian journalists today.

“Of course”, the spokespeople said in unison when questioned if Ms Wallström’s party work was compatible with the Commission’s code of conduct. (What else would they say?) They are “political animals”, the journalists were told. And Mr Michel will return to his job once the election is over, they assured, in spite of Mr Michel himself being seriously ambivalent on the matter when questioned on TV recently.

For those of you who wonder, Commissioners are supposed to pledge allegiance to the EU, and promise to act in its interest. I personally doubt that they are strengthening the confidence people may have in them by sneaking out to their party headquarters in the middle of their terms, no matter what the code of conduct says. Either they work for the EU or they don’t. And how are we supposed to trust that Mr Michel’s and Ms Wallström’s respective parties aren’t given sensitive inside information to use in the elections? (After all, Ms Wallström’s main job is that of communication…)

Not to mention the fact that Ms Wallström will technically be actively working against the Swedish government, while dealing with it over EU matters.

The chap who is going to take over Mr Michel’s job is Olli Rehn. “Has he even been to Africa?” one journalist asked, and was told that he has been, er, working with foreign aid to Africa (but we still don’t know if he’s actually been there).

At the same time, the poor Romanian commissioner Leonard Orban is spending his days carrying the, ehrm, not-so-particularly-heavy portfolio of multilingualism, for which he is perpetually ridiculed in Brussels circuits, as the EU had basically run out of issues to commission by the time Romania joined the club. So now, one commissioner is doing two people’s jobs, while another is wasting away in a Mickey Mouse position.

There may be some wisdom in that…. but I’m not sure I can discern it.

Bless me, dear reader, for I have sinned

Being a French speaker isn’t getting any easier in the EU these days. Not only are you reminded every day that your language is no longer dominant: the language of the archenemy England has taken over. Woe.

At the daily press conference at the European Commission recently, someone had put out a set of screens behind the podium commemorating the EU’s 50th birthday, which is on March 27. Fine. It said “Together since 1957” in English at the top, and then the same thing in various artistic ways in all of the Union’s gazillion official languages. Fine too.

But of course. Then came the obligatory question from a French speaking journalist: I notice that there is one language that has been given a special position… Shouldn’t you use the languages used by the first member states… What about all the languages in the new member states in Eastern Europe… blah, blah, blah. Alors.

But the Commission President’s spokesman Johannes Laitenberger gave a response that made me, for once, sin against the journalists’ golden rule No Applause From The Press Section:

“The design was by an EU citizen from one of the new member states”, he said, and after a brief elaboration (all in French of course), reached the punch line:

“But for those of you who wonder, I can say that the headline means ‘Together since 1957′”.

Touché, monsieur Laitenberger.