kattebel's blog

or the revolving door of EU politics

Idealist at heart

If idealism has a zip code, it must be NC 28202. Thousands of volunteers are gathering there this week dedicating their time and enthusiasm to make the 2012 Democratic National Convention a success.

For most it is a singular experience. Some have travelled just a few blocks, others crossed a couple of state lines and a few crossed an ocean just to be part of the energy that is electrifying the city of Charlotte.

They all have their stories and reasons to be here. I can only tell you mine as I’m one of those thousands who are lucky enough to be a part of this grand display of democracy in action. And while I’m not allowed to vote at least I can help convince those who can.

It’s not the first time I joined the US political circus. I volunteered during the 2008 election campaign but this is of another scale. This setting is the Valhalla for political junkies; a chance to meet likeminded spirits among the volunteers and staff and to forge lasting bonds. A week where you work together under intense pressure and be part of a bigger cause you believe in; a week where your main energy source is pure adrenaline.  It’s a campaign rush that makes you feel alive. You can only experience such a feeling every so often and I for one feel the luckiest person alive to be part of this rally around a cause I believe in.

So while you’re watching coverage on the Democratic Convention this week and you feel inspired to rally around a cause you believe in, just do it. In the end of the day we are all part of a community and change starts in your neighbourhood. Or as President Obama would say it: ‘Yes, we can’.

Greeting from cloud nine.

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About cobwebs and new beginnings

I admit it has been a while. It has been a very long time. After two years of lying dormant in the back of my mind, covered in piles of dust and cobwebs, I decided to revive this blog from its comatose state of being. It’s only fitting to do it now on the eve of September. That’s usually the time of new beginnings.

I put the blog in a new jacket as one does with fresh starts but the person behind it is still the same.  A bit older but still none the wiser.

Until the next post…

Anything she can do, I can do better

I had planned to write a long post on women’s rights and equality today, addressing criticisms of quotas and gender balance issues that have filled the (must-read) blogs of my friends Chaos Theory and Yozzman. That post will be written at some point but not today.

Today at the 11th hour of the international women’s day where we address the plight, big and small, of women all over the world, I would like to talk about solidarity. Solidarity among women to be precise. While it’s easy to sympathise with the plight of women less fortunate than us in countries far far away or with situations foreign to our own reality, it is less easy to show the same solidarity when it is closer to home. I would thus like to briefly talk about the wonders of female competition, the covert operations to reach the spotlight because there can only be one queen bee.

I received my combat training at an all-girls Catholic school and I can tell you while I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to get a fine education, some of the lessons learned were less optimistic than others. It was very similar to what author Rachael Oakes-Ash calls the  ‘skipping theory’.  “Imagine having two girls in the playground. Both girls on either end are completely passive, and the girl in the middle is jumping over a rope. If she’s good, she can keep skipping for a good half hour. And either girl on either end is completely passive. May only…well, they’ll definitely be standing there thinking, “I hope she stuffs up soon so I can get a turn.” In order to do that, they might push the rope faster in order to trip her up. I think this is what we carry with us as women for the rest of our lives. Most of us believe there is only one slice of the pie and only one spotlight, and only one woman can have that at a time. And if YOU have it, I’m standing passively trying to trip you up.”

The idea that there can only be one spotlight is suffocating and is one of the many reasons why women are less present in the higher ranks of the corporate and political world. We do have ourselves to blame here, the endless comparisons who’s the fairest of all only turns us into wicked stepmothers jealous of each others success. There is not one way of life and it’s up to the women to choose what life they want and not be judged for it. To have a career or not, to have kids or not and to raise them how they see fit. Some women accused Rashida Dati for going back to work too soon after giving birth and other women blamed Freya Vandenbossche (Flemish Minister) for taking too much time off after the birth of her third child.

We need to stop this petty fight because it gets us nowhere. It’s counterproductive to our own plight for more equality and equity. I would thus like to suggest we behave more like worker bees who share the spotlight and while competitive help each other out to advance their own needs. Maybe we could take lessons from our male counterparts in that respect. At least give it a shot. That is the reasoning behind the whole EU girl geek gatherings we’re trying to set up. A group of EU girls that work in and around the institutions gathering once a month for lunch or drinks and help each other out. We’re all competitive and we all want to win but the difference is that there is no queen bee nor 10 around her trying to push her off the throne.

To know us is to love us….

When I was a kid, many many moons ago, I used to love hearing my gran talk about the war. The occasions were rare as she was not fond of the topic and her tales were usually cautionary in nature yet I kept begging for more. One of my favourites was the one of the young German soldier who came to my grandparents’ house and ‘asked’ for a place to stay. In exchange he gave my aunt her first piece of chocolate. My 6-year-old self – whose fairytale world consisted of dragon-slaying princes, evil witches and elfish princesses – was completely smitten with the dashing young knight and his galantry. It was only much later, when I stopped believing in fairytales, that I looked back on the story and realised for what it was, a brilliant example of influence management.

Which brings me straight to an article I read recently in the Daily Telegraph. The article was highly critical of the graphic novel Zana & Max. The comic book narrates the adventures of two aid workers employed by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO) struggling to secure funding for the fictional state of Borduvia, which has been affected by an earthquake.  It has been issued by the European Commission in English, French, German, Italian and Dutch versions and has been sent to schools and homes in the UK and across the continent.

It is safe to say that there is not much love lost between the editors of the Telegraph and the EU, so I was not surprised to see the dreaded P-word pop up in relation to the graphic novel. They let the honour to the CEO of the TaxPayers’ Alliance who did not hesitate to question the moral character of it all adding that it was “pure political propaganda aimed at kids. A classic tactic of corrupt and unaccountable regimes down the ages.”

While the tale of my childhood is a classic example of non-verbal propaganda, conciously and deviantly aiming to positively influence my relatives, I would argue that Zana & Max‘s adventures rather fall under the category of Public Diplomacy.  In all fairness, the term Public Diplomacy may indeed very well be seen as a mere euphemism for propaganda yet I adhere more to the point of view that it is a form of Public Relations. Familiarising European children with how the EU functions in a fun and attractive manner can only be stimulated in my opinion. Terms like European Commission and European Parliament, its respective tasks and challenges should be part of the school curricula. Turning it into an adventure may create greater interest therefore increasing the odds that kids will actually retain the terms.

Does it have an influencing character? Of course it does, most communication does. The comic book effectivily does try to create a familiarity and likeability with the EU but the difference with that piece of chocolate is that while the aim is the same, the means to go about it is quite different.

A final note about the cost: One copy costs 75 cents to produce. Surely informing your children about institutions which impact their everyday life cannot be called a waste of spending.

Three is a crowd…

In an ideal EU – let’s follow Churchill’s lead and call it the United States of Europe – petty little squabbles about national interests and invisible job quotas wouldn’t matter. We would all rise and shine, pledge allegiance to the European stars and sing proudly “Alle Menschen werden Bruder.”  [Enter the sound of squeaking car brakes] We however don’t live in that world named EUtopia and yours truly prefers to reside in a sublunar sense of reality. We thus have to face the fact that there are certain facts of life that cannot be avoided much like death and taxes.

So let’s focus on the job angle, more specifically the appointment of Portuguese diplomat Joao Vale de Almeida to Washington DC. One of the euroblogger stars Julien Frisch noted on Twitter that all this counting of which job goes to which nationality is very pre-Europe. Although I believe that is an excellent point of view and I cheer the attitude, we’re not quite there yet. I have no doubt that Mr. de Almeida is a fine diplomat and an excellent chief of staff but sending an envoy who is mostly known for being “Barroso’s man” to Washington DC does not really translate into a message of an United Europe.

Perceptions and symbols do matter and that appointment, my friends, is a beautiful token of one of the five stages of grief in a Post-Lisbon Europe. I leave it up to you to guess which stage. Mr. de Almeida will be answering to the High Representative Baroness Catherine Ashton who in turn has, so far, been mostly known for her invisibility.  So much so that the famous phrase “Where’s Wally?” has now officially changed to “Wheeeere’s Cathy?” Sadly, Barroso’s direct line with DC is just one more example of how the Commission will trample over guard its influence in the new EU diplomatic corps.

So I have a question for you. If I were in the US State Department witnessing the Post-Lisbon Europe with its EU chairman, its High Representative & a Commission President trying to deny the course of life and I wanted to speak with the proverbial person(s) representing Europe who do I don’t call?

The Belgians

Contrary to what my previous post may have alluded you to think, I’m not Dutch. My passport is issued by the quaint, less organised, little country to the South. Home to the brave, Ceasar called it. Sadly we have lost that epithet a long time ago. Now we have become home to the chronically identityless self-deprecating surrealists. Which I must say, is quite a feat to accomplish in itself.

But this post will not talk about the unbearable lightness of being Belgian. That would encompass an entire blog on its own. I would like to draw attention to the Belgian currently heading the EU. Some call him EU President, a term not so politically correct, others call him Haiku Herman. To me he will remain the man who brought serenity and some consistency to my country in times of despair. And he did it in a manner that can be identified as “quiet determinism with a Machiavellian twist.”  (He is, after all, a Catholic)

It would thus be a mistake to dismiss ce petit belge as unimportant or worse harmless. He has turned the qualification “grey mouse” into his trademark. His ressemblance to a non-assuming professor in philosophy with a witty sense of humour and a fondness of Japanese poetry provides perfect cover for his intentions and ambitions.

A small hint of those ambitions may have been given during his first EU Summit.  As the FT Brussels blogger rightly concludes,  Mr. Van Rompuy wants  “More Action, More Results & More Summits!”  More summits means more exertion of power to push member states just that tiny bit further than they anticipated into a maze of up close and personal encounters.

Because despite his current role, HVR remains a staunch believer in federalism. Applying federalism in an intergovernmentalist manner will be his recipe to master for the next 2,5 years . How successful he’ll be remains to be seen. One thing is certain: never underestimate a man with a self-deprecating sense of humour, especially if he’s Belgian. Trust me on this.

I leave you here with a Comic Relief moment that bears the same title as this post for your entertainment…

Until the next post,

There is a first for everything

*deep sigh* …..Here goes, my first blog post.

It has taken me a long time to actually start writing a blog. Do not get me wrong, I have started many blogs. In fact, before you stands the master of all blog starters and this since 2005.  But, as so many of us, I stranded at writing that first post. Faced with the cruel and arrogant glare of that unattractive white page, I was repeatedly overcome by a lack of purpose. No amounts of coffee or chocolate for that matter could offer an answer to that quintessential question why. So I  cowardly proceeded surrendering my virtual pen within hours of picking just the right lay-out catering my current taste.

What has changed you might wonder. What made me take the plunge and actually do it?  Let me tell you: I joined twitter, aka micro-blogs designed for people with short attention spans.  Reasoning behind it was that If I could handle tweeting and develop a feel for it, then I may go back to blogging. Much like getting a pet gold fish as a test drive before getting a dog or a baby.

I kept my twitter handle as title of my blog because I’ve grown fond of that name. For those who wonder, kattebel is a old cute Dutch word meaning short note, post-it, a reminder to oneself. It allegedly comes from the  Italian word scartabello. Scartabello at its turn is the first person singular – bear with me – of the verb scartabellare meaning to glance through, to skim through.

Hence the blog’s purpose: skimming through piles of news on the EU, seeking topics that are of interest to me and that I would like to develop. It could be philosophical, it could be cloak and dagger or very practical  but that remains to be seen.

A final little note of gratitude to my dear twitter friend Chaos Theory who pushed me to take this plunge. The theme of this blog is chosen in his honour.

On to the real work…

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