Moving Back

Posted August 29, 2012 by scheejo
Categories: Domestic

I shall be retiring from my job in the European Commission at the end of this week and working once again at St Anotny’s College as form late September. So I can keep you posted on what happens there in my new life.

Back in Brussels – but not for long

Posted July 19, 2010 by scheejo
Categories: Domestic, European Union, Romania, Transport

As I had feared, things got extremely busy in the final weeks of my fellowship and I didn’t get the chance to do a final posting before our return to Brussels.  And once that happened, I found myself equally busy trying to deal with everything that was thrown at me on my return.  So apologies once again to those who have looked in vain, but here it is at last.

The last two weeks of term saw once again some excellent lectures and seminars, perhaps the most interesting of which were one by Rory Stewart – a newly elected Tory MP – on Afghanistan, and the Chancellor’s Seminar – with Chris Patten in conversation with David Hannay and Stephen Wall on the subject of British policy towards the EU.  Clearly the arrival of a coalition in Whitehall is not without its effects on attitudes of government to Brussels, but the longer term implications are not clear.  Will there be any real change or merely a sort of reactive least common denominator approach?  So far, if we are to judge by William Hague’s recent speech, things may be more pro-active – and less reflexively Eurosceptic than we might have feared.  But we have to wait and see what happens.

On 14 June, I made a presentation of my work on the extension of the Single Transport Market to neighbouring countries.  The reception by colleagues from the ESC and the Transport Studies Unit was surprisingly positive – to me at least.  That said, there is still a lot of work to do on the paper to turn it into something publishable.  That will have to wait till the end of this month, when I can sit down for a longer period of time to do some more editing.  But I attach the current version, for anyone prepared to work through its 16000 words or so.

The seventh week saw me at the TEN-T Days in Zaragoza, Spain.  This was a good opportunity to get back into the swing of things in transport policy – as well as a chance to try out the new AVE train on the Madrid-Barcelona route.  The conference was a success and marked a step forward in the long journey of the TEN-T policy review.

Meanwhile, however,  I found myself in Brussels for a day on 23 June to discuss my next posting.  The day included interviews with President  Barroso and VP Reding and, on 13 July, the Commission nominated me, with effect from 1 August, as Head of the Commission Representation in London.  So my stay back in DG MOVE is pretty brief.

I am delighted at the challenge that the London posting brings, even if the delight is also mixed with some apprehension, as the British media are not generally considered especially Euro-friendly.  We shall be moving to new offices in mid-September, in what was the former Tory Party Central Office in Smith Square.

Other experiences in the final days in Oxford included a speech to the Oxfordshire group of AIACE, the association of former EU officials and a trip to Macbeth at Glyndebourne.  On 18 June, I had the opportunity to introduce Richard Wright, my successor at St Antony’s, to colleagues and to give him some warnings about what not to do – learning from my own experiences.  He will bring some much-needed rigour to this Visiting Fellowship and, no doubt, produce something much more substantial than I have managed.

Also on the agenda was a trip to the Imperial War Museum at Duxford, for some lectures organised for Cambridge alumni, including one on the impact of aviation on climate change – not encouraging – and a three-day cruise with friends on the River Wey Navigation, a rural idyll in the middle of Surrey, built soon after the Civil War.

This was a relaxing few days in the middle of the frenzy of packing up both in my office and at home.  Finally, on 29 June, we left our house in Oxford and set off back to Brussels.  As an experience, a visiting fellowship is one I can wholeheartedly recommend.  I had originally intended to return to Brussels for a few months prior to leaving the Commission altogether in the autumn.  It has however been an opportunity to get out of the bureaucratic perpetual motion of Brussels and think slightly more widely and in a more relaxed framework.  It has also been an opportunity to get to know a range of people and subjects I wouldn’t otherwise be able to.  And as a result I felt able and energetic enough to take on the challenging job in London.  I guess therefore the overall balance for the Commission might be considered as positive.  It certainly has been for me.

Week 6 of Trinity Term: where has it all gone?

Posted June 4, 2010 by scheejo
Categories: Domestic, European Union, Romania, Transport

As I feared when I did my last post in late April, I have been kept pretty busy over recent weeks and as a result, this is my first post since the Trinity term started.  And in just over three weeks’ time I shall, turn back into a  bureaucrat and head back to Brussels.  Apologies to anyone who is interested enough to look at this blog and has waited for so long before another posting.

When I left you, I was about to go to London for a conference and then to Brussels the following week for a workshop and wine buying.  Both the Freightwise conference in London and the OPTIC workshop in Brussels were stimulating and showed effective use of EU funds to achieve practical results.  The OPTIC workshop – on joined-up transport policies –  was particularly memorable for the practical exercises, where we were asked to look at implications of different policy choices and ways of ameliorating any negative impact.  The tool being developed is complicated, but quite helpful for effective policy development, even if it still needs quite a lot of work to be fully effective.  Transport policy as such has been somewhat on the back burner since the beginning of  term, though I attended an interesting seminar on the political underpinnings of urban mass transport projects – comparing projects in Jerusalem and New Jersey.  Finally, I am due to fly to Spain on monday to take part in the TEN-T Days Conference on the review of TEN-T POlicy in Zaragoza.  This will require me to do some serious revision before I get there, to catch up on the final version of the Commission Communication adopted last month and look forward to the next stages.

The European Studies Centre has been a hive of activity, particularly on South East Europe, with a pretty full programme until this week.  One highlights was a seminar on 10 May on the Greek Economic Crisis, where the speakers were Teodoros Pangalos, Greek Deputy PM, and Joao Cravinho, former Portuguese Finance Minister now at the EBRD.  The discussion afterwards was fairly critical of the likelihood of success for the rescue package adopted the day before, with some of the economists in the audience openly doubtful about whether a debt restructuring wouldn’t be needed in any case.  The other SE Europe event worth recalling was a full day workshop on 21 May on the role of the state in the region, bringing together academics and practitioners from across the EU and the western Balkans.  In the same field, I attended a conference in London on 25 May, organised by the Austrian and Romanian Embassies, on the EU Danube Strategy.  There is clearly work there for SEESOX over the coming years.  The conference itself was notable for a crisp presentation by the EBRD of the rather gloomy economic prospects for all the states in the region, dependent as they are for economic development on exports to the EU and especially the Euro-zone.  Recovery is unlikely to occur until 2011, at the earliest, and recent developments in the Euro-zone are far from encouraging.

On the EU policy side, I participated this week in the annual RENEW seminar (“Rethinking Europe in a Non-European World”) essentially looking at the EU from the point of view of the other side.  It was pretty stimulating and my own feeling is that we tend, in Brussels, to fall too easily into the trap of thinking that we are the only people who actually know the truth and have the right answers – and that too often comes across as arrogance.  A half day workshop on the Caucasus, at the  beginning of May, carried forward the discussion on the Eastern Partnership begun at the Hilary Term Workshop I co-organised (see previous blog) and brought together some of the same players.  A two-day conference on the Eastern Partnership is now in preparation for May 2011, which should allow a further discussion in preparation for the second anniversary of the Partnership.  The week after next, we have the Chancellor’s Seminar, with Chris Patten in conversation with Richard Hannay and Stephen Wall, on the UK’s EU policy after the election. 

More generally, lectures by Juergen Kocka, from Berlin, talking about capitalism as a historical concept, and by Paul Collier on the dangers of bad democracy in Africa, were worth hearing.  Today I shall be attending a lecture by Rory Stewart (British MP, adventurer and a former deputy governor in Iraq) and also a seminar on free speech, organised by Tim Garton-Ash. 

As for my project, I have in fact been putting in quite a lot of work.  My trip to Brussels allowed me to fill in some blanks, in interviews with present and former colleagues in transport.  I now have a draft (version 3) of some 17 000 words and have a deadline.  I will be making a presentation of the results of my work on 14 June.  Now I have to sit down and turn  that long paper into something I can present  in about 30 minutes and then respond to criticism.  The academic discipline is quite useful, but I’m not sure how well what I have written will stand up to scrutiny.  Kalypso Nicolaidis will be chairing the seminar, so she should at least be kind in her criticism.  In some ways this event represents the culmination of my year in Oxford.  But above all, it’s a test of whether it makes sense to import “fake academics”  from Brussels.  Once the paper has been looked at, I promise I will post it on this site.  I’m not sure whether it will be really worth anything more formal in the way of publication.

Of course life has not been exclusively focused around work.   As some of you might perhaps have noticed, we had an election in the UK at the beginning of May – with arguably the most fascinating result for many decades.  Certainly, it was a little like 9/11, when I sat with my computer tuned to a news site to find out what was happening hour by hour.  It will be interesting to see how the new coalition politics plays with regard to the EU, given the opposite nature of the two parties’ positions.  Other Oxford events included Eights Week, last week, with bumping races on the river (look them up on http://www.ourcs.org.uk/ to understand what happens).  The weather has alternated between freezing and oppressively hot; at one point I had to get an electric heater to keep my office warm, as of course the heating was off for the summer.  But generally Oxford is delightful in the spring and we can only hope that the current warm spell continues through the rest of June.

On the personal side, we have focused very much on Kate’s wedding, which went off in fine style in Nottingham on 15 May.  The best bit, apart of course from my speech, was the ride top and from the reception on a Routemaster bus.  I exchanged knowledgeable comments about it with the driver and conductor – not all of you may know that I used to collect bus numbers as a child ( I know I should get out more).  The bride looked beautiful, the wine bought from Romania and the Champagne flowed freely and a good time seems to have been had by all.  Apart from that, we have also managed  trips to the cinema and theatre and to Glyndebourne, for Cosi Fan Tutte on 27 May and again on 17 June for Macbeth.

David Wright,  my successor as EU Visiting Fellow, is coming over on a visit on 18 June, so I guess that really will be the  beginning of the end and I shall have to start packing up my office and the newly acquired – at last – laptop.  But I will try to do one more despatch from the Oxford front before I leave.

Getting ready for the Trinity Term

Posted April 14, 2010 by scheejo
Categories: Domestic, European Union, Romania, Transport

Despite my best intentions, I didn’t manage a further posting before Easter.  This was partly because, when I got back from a relaxing week in Morocco, I discovered that there had been a break in at the European Studies Centre and my laptop had been stolen.  As a result, much of my time  around Easter was taken up indealing with aftermath of that, including persuading my insurers that they should pay for a new one.  At least I think I won on that score, though finding documentation relating to a five-year old laptop will not be easy, especially as I fear much of it is in Brussels.

This has of course also handicapped me in my work.  I had not backed up any of my e-mails or documents, since I had grown lazy living with the permanent backup offered by the Commission.  So all my written work on my project and on other issues only exists in hard copy.  It could of course be much worse, since I do at least have the hard copies, but it is a nuisance to say the least.  A lesson for the future…

The last ten days of Hilary Term were busy, with editing of the workshop report (now posted as a document) and the final meeting, in Brussels, of the TEN-T Expert Group.  This was a delicate affair, as it had to allow me, as chairman, to come forward afterwards with a draft report and proposal that would not create too many negative reactions from the Group members, while at the same time being sufficiently clear to be useful in the Commission’s preparation of proposals to go to the Council in early May.  With some  hard work by the secretary of the Group –  and some additional drafting from me – we seem to have managed it, at least if we judge by the reactions to the final version from the Group members.  I have yet to see any reaction from DG MOVE, but I guess that will be clear once we see the Communication in May.  It has certainly been an instructive and interesting process for me personally, even if it has at times taken me away from my work in Oxford.

As term wound down, there was only limited academic activity, though I attended an interesting day and a half workshop on 17-18 March (week 9 of an 8 week term!) organised by the Centre for East European Language Based Area Studies.  This was essentially an opportunity for young postgraduate researchers from all over the UK and elsewhere in Europe to present the latest stage of their studies in a wide range of fields related to Russia and Central Europe (economics,politics, history, arts and humanities, social science, health policy, etc.).  I listened to some very varied presentations, in terms of both quality and content.  Highlights included presentations on the Romanian Legion of the Archangel Michael (Romania’s own home-grown fascists), Romanian minorities policy and its unexpected effects, the social impact of the Pressburger Bahn (linking Vienna to Bratislava) on the development of Bratislava, and analyses, by two professors, of Russian identity and social development in the post-Soviet era.

The Easter period also saw us meet up with several friends whom we hadn’t seen for many years in some cases , two from our time in Switzerland in the 1980s.  The Morocco break was very relaxing and fascinating, as we stayed part of the time at an oasis just south of the High Atlas.  It was also a first opportunity to sample the delights of Easyjet – surprisingly uncomplicated and punctual, even if Marrakech airport is less well adapted to the needs of low-cost airlines than Gatwick.

Cambridge won the Boat Race.  And the answer to the question asked by Matthias Ruete when I left Brussels to come to Oxford is that I cheered for Cambridge.  After so many years of conditioning, I find it impossible to change allegiance.  The springlike weather over the last week has made it possible to explore some of the countryside around Oxford – Blenheim Palace and Wytham Woods.  We have also heard the Messiah again, as well as the Dresdener Frauenkirche Chamber Choir giving a recital in Christ Church.

This week has seen me getting back to work after the break.  I am off tonight to a conference in London on the FreightWise project and then, next week, to Brussels for a transport policy project workshop (OPTIC) , at the urging of colleagues here in the Transport Studies Unit,  This will also be an opportunity to take our car into the controle technique and pick up wine for our daughter’s wedding on May 15.  Preparations for this are also taking up much time and discussion at home.

But with the beginning of Trinity Term on 26 April, I only have about two months before my fellowship ends.  I hear that a decision is now in the pipeline regarding my successor.  So the priority over the coming weeks will have to be completing my project.  The Brussels trip next week will be an opportunity to carry out some interviews with some of the key players.

Hilary Term Week 7 already

Posted March 3, 2010 by scheejo
Categories: Domestic, European Union, Romania

We are now in the last but one week of the Hilary Term – which finishes on Saturday 13 March.  I feel a little more relaxed after a hectic period since mid-February getting ready for what are probably the two main events of this term for me – the Eastern Partnership Workshop last Friday and my lecture in Bucharest last Sunday.

On the domestic side, we celebrated Sarah’s birthday on 13 Ferbruary with a  visit to London to see a magnificent new play by Jez Butterworth – “Jerusalem” – with the lead role played brilliantly by Mark Rylance.  I have never before seen a standing ovation by an audience at a West End theatre.  I cannot recommend it highly enough as an examination of what Englishness really means.  At least that’s what I read into it anyway.  The celebrations continued the following weekend with lunch at the Manoir aux Quat’Saisons with our children and spouse/fiance.  Although my bank balance came off worse, it was one of the best meals I’ve ever had.  The Raymond Blanc patisserie here is also a lifesaver when it comes to getting good birthday cakes.

Professionally, I have been busy on preparing the events on 26 and 28.  Having agreed to do my Bucharest lecture in Romanian, I felt it would be rather pathetic if I didn’t at least draft it myself in Romanian.  So I toiled away at this and produced something that looked vaguely like Romanian but was desperately leaden – Eminescu it certainly wasn’t.  Fortunately, Dorian Filote, now Dacian Ciolos’ speechwriter in Brussels, offered (had his arm twisted by Angela?) to work on it and turned it into something infinitely better – linguistically anyway.  I attach the final result, though I’m not sure how well the blog site will cope with Romanian diacritics.  Of course the non-Romanian speakers among my readers will not make much of it and I don’t have an English text.  Many of the ideas however are already contained, although in shorter form, in my Cluj paper.

The lecture itself went well, without about 150 people turning up to listen, many of them actually paying, to my great surprise.  I find myself on a list of much more distinguished speakers at these fortnightly lectures at the Bucharest National Theatre – Herta Mueller, Negau Djuvara, Mircea Dinescu, Ana Blandiana, …  The audience seemed to like it and it provoked quite an interesting exchange on how to get younger people more engaged in politics and society generally – a not unfamiliar theme in the UK and more generally in western Europe too.  The visit was of course also an opportunity to see old friends in Bucharest and to see Dan Puric performing in “The Suicide” by Nikolai Erdman – a lovely satire written in 1929 and banned by Stalin before it was even performed.  Erdman was of course imprisoned and exiled.  I have now ordered an English translation of the play, which has many lovely roles.

Organising the Eastern Partnership Workshop was something of a nightmare at times, with key speakers dropping out at the last minute, requiring replacements to be found.  Attendance was excellent, with about 50 people in the room.  We had decided to keep it at the European Studies Centre, and fortunately I don’t think anyone had to stand or sit on the floor.  I admire those who stuck it out from 1400 to 1845 in what came to resemble at times the Black Hole of Calcutta.  But the content was first class and we have had very good feedback from participants and speakers.  I think it helped to get a clearer view of what is and isn’t possible in the region, as well as to highlight the basic dilemma of what the EU’s long-term relationship with Ukraine – the key player in the region- should be.  The point of view of Ukraine was ably put by Vadim Triukhin, from the Ukrainian MFA; there is no longer any dispute within the country over the goal of European integration for Ukraine.  But the EU still needs to decide what its own long-term goal is, and its confusion over Turkey makes it almost impossible to focus objectively on the prospects for Ukraine.  We shall be publishing a report on the Workshop in the coming weeks and I will post it here.

Ukraine seems to have been the fashionable theme over the last few weeks, with three other seminars on different aspects.  I also went to a seminar by Alina Mungiu on the problems of transition from particularism to universalism (as practised in the established western democracies) in Central and Eastern Europe.  Too many of them get stuck at what she calls “competitive particularism”, where there is periodic peaceful change of power, but where those in power then profit to the maximum from the spoils of power and where justice, government and business overlap.  As always, Alina is  a very thought-provoking speaker.

Away from my professional field, I had the opportunity to attend a fascinating seminar given by a namesake, though no relation, Dr Judith Scheele, a Fellow of All Souls’ College and an active anthropologist studying the western Sahara cities and group identities there.  Interestingly, I suspect that, as a woman, she can get easier access to and a much better understanding of people in that region than could a man.  Sarah and I also attended a Cambridge Society of Oxfordshire lecture by Martin Gilbert , author of the recently published official history of MI5.  His theme was “Cambridge and the KGB” and we had an entertaining look at Trinity College’s world record in producing world class traitors (my own college, Trinity Hall, only produced one, while Trinity produced four).

After an extraordinarily cold February and lots of snow, we finally seem to be seeing some signs of spring.  A sunny day yesterday allowed people to go around without coats, though grey skies have returned today.  I am off to Brussels next week for what I hope will be the final meeting of my expert group on TEN-T.  This will also be an opportunity to find out the implications of the reorganisation of DG TREN – where my part is now called DG MOVE!  My own job there is now Director of Trans-European Transport Networks and Smart Transport – I shall try to understand what that all means.  After the end of term, Sarah and I will be heading off for a week of warmer sunny weather just before Easter, in Morocco.  But I shall probably do another post before then, with news – at last – of my research project.

Halfway

Posted February 12, 2010 by scheejo
Categories: Domestic, European Union, Romania, Transport

It is now mid-February and halfway through both the Hilary Term, the academic year and my fellowship.  Although I now feel I am running to try to keep up with events, I am not much nearer to starting to write something solid on my actual project, even if I am begining to feel that I understand the issue better.

I last made a post three weeks ago and I wonder where that time has gone.  Looking at my diary, I see that I attended 14 seminars, covering a heterogeneous set of themes.  These included: language and identity in the Balkans; the 2010 General Election; Turkish accession; empire as a basis for international relations theory; Kurdish refugees in Greece; British politics and the establishment of the European Convention on Human Rights; US policy on dmeocracy and human rights; politics and business in Kazakhstan; Judaism in Israel and the Daispora; Haiti; Saharan cities; and three seminars on transport issues.  An eclectic mix – but all in their own way very interesting and in many cases casting a new light on received wisdom.  The one on judaism was particularly impressive, with speakers (both Jews, one a rabbi) clearly criticising Israel and emphasising the growing separation of Zionism from Judaism.

One of the seminars on transport was of course my own – on 3 February, on the TEN-T Policy Review and the challenges of developing a planning methodology.  This was, I think, reasonably successful and discussion went on till about 2100 over drinks afterwards and then in the pub.  I find the atmosphere in these transport seminars very different from the more traditional history, politics and international relations seminars at St Antony’s and elsewhere.  Perhaps geographers and transport economists are more down to earth?  I haven’t yet mastered the technicalities of attaching a Power Point presentation to this blog, so anyone wanting a copy will have to ask me for one by e-mail.  It should at some stage go onto the TSU website at Oxford, but I haven’t managed to locate it so far.

I have also taken the opportunity to attend a further session of the Climate Change Forum in London, on 2 February, this time with Lord Smith, the former Labour minister Chris Smith and now Chairman of the Environment Agency as main speaker.  I somehow felt this was a more successful event for me this time, with a good opportunity to meet and learn from various players in the clean vehicle technology area – opinions seem to vary strongly as to how far and how fast a switch to electric vehicles is actually relaistic and doable, even if hydrogen technology is almost unversally seen as a very long shot.  The other striking impression was the expectation of the UK civil service that a change of government was on its way, linked to a fight by those in some departments to hang onto their present structures.  Those from the Edinburgh end of things – the Scottish Government – seemed however to regard all this with a degree of detachment.  A sign of things to come in the devolution area?

I also had the opportunity to attend – for the first time since I left school – a black tie dinner organised by my old school, here in Oxford – the dinner, not the school.  I attended with some trepidation, as I wasn’t familiar with any of the names of other attendees, but in fact discovered some old acquaintances and, after a good dinner, found myself in the pub again, this time till midnight.  Perhaps the most surprising part of the evening was an overtly political speech by the current headmaster strongly critical of current UK education policy.  While I share some of his concerns, I’m not sure his solutions are necessarily the best ones.  And I can’t imagine my former headmaster, a model of diplomatic urbanity, being quite so forthright and direct.

What is the current main focus of my activities?  Apart from Sarah’s birthday celebrations tomorrow and next weekend, I have two key dates – 26 and 28 February.  The workshop on the Eastern Partnership on 26 is now coming together and we have an excellent list of confirmed speakers and seem to be generating a certain amount of interest here and elsewhere.  I attach the programme – let me know if you want to come.  Of course there is now the question as to whether the seminar room here at the ESC will be big enough, so we have arranged a fallback in a larger lecture room.  But the choice is between a room for about 35 and one for 150.  If we do make the change, I hope we don’t rattle around too much in the larger venue.  Clearly, the prospect of dining at High Table at an Oxford College is a draw for visiting speakers, as we cannot help with travel or accommodation expenses.  And our new chef is certainly improving things here.

Immediately after the workshop, I travel to Bucharest on 27 February to give a lecture at the National Theatre there the following day on “Quo vadis, Romania?”  This is in answer to a longstanding invitation since early 2008 from Ion Caramitru, the TNB Director and a famous Romanian actor and diretor (as well as a former Culture Minister).  I had refused until now, as I didn’t want it to be seen as getting involved in the electoral circus that has engulfedRomania since spring 2008.  Hopefully the dust will now have largely settled – even if recriminations are still going on – and I can be listened to without the filter of local politics being too strongly engaged.  Obviously I shall have to clear what I say with the new Romanian Commissioner and his cabinet, even if I shall rely on my status as an academic for the time being.

Which brings me to my final point.  I have sat here in Oxford occasionally wondering whether I did the right thing in being away from Brussels during the ongoing major reorganisation of the Commission and DG TREN especially.  My conclusion is, fortunately, positive.  \At the level of the Commission (not that I have any influence on that), I feel particularly pleased at the nomination of Dacian Ciolos, the new agriculture commissioner, who was a member of the Delegation staff when I was in Bucharest; his deputy chef de cabinet was also a close colleague there.  And today we saw the first Romanian spokesperson for a Commissioner appointed – she was the Delegation spokesperson from 1993 through to 2006.  While I can take no credit for the decision to employ any of them in the Delegation (that was before I arrived), I can be pleased that brilliant people who worked with us in that period are now getting the opportunity to shape policy at the highest level in the Commission (and there are more).

As far as DG TREN is concerned, it seems likely that the main change to my job there will be to swap responsibility for international transport relations for that for urban transport and new vehicle technology, as well as for intelligent transport systems.  Hence my interest in learning more about electric vehicles.  So some new challenges will await me when I return to Brussels in the summer.

Hilary Term begins

Posted January 22, 2010 by scheejo
Categories: European Union, Romania, Transport

I had no idea why Oxford calls this term the Hilary Term, when almost everyone else seems to talk about the Lent term, so I tried Wikipedia and got the following result:

Hilary Term is the second academic term of Oxford University’s and Dublin University’s academic year. It runs from January to March and is so named because the feast day of St Hilary of Poitiers, 14 January, falls during this term. All the other terms are dated from this day in the following way:

  • Michaelmas term — 13 Sundays before to 5 Sundays before the feast day of St Hilary
  • Hilary term — 1 Sunday to 9 Sundays after the feast day of St Hilary
  • Trinity term — 15 Sundays to 21 Sundays after the feast day of St Hilary

The term originated in the legal system. The Courts of England and Wales divide the legal year into four terms: Hilary, Easter, Trinity and Michaelmas.

So now you know…  But why St Hilary?

Speaking of saints, I attended the service here on 15 January, in honour of St Antony.  January 15 is the feast of St Antony of Egypt (you can Google him).  A second service is also held on the feast of St Antony of Padua, later in the year.  Apparently it is not known which of the two the College is named after, since it is really named after its major benefactor and founder, Antoine Besse, and he died before it was finally agreed by Oxford and hence before they thought to ask him.  I am reliably informed that the statue of St Antony of Padua in the hallway of the College is no indication of which one it is either,  hence the celebration of both.

The Christmas vacation has now finished and term began on Sunday.  We are back to the round of seminars, seemingly with a minimum of two simultaneous ones every day.  As I mentioned in my last blog, I shall be playing a more active role this term, delivering one on transport issues on 3 February and co-organising a half-day workshop on the EU’s Eastern Partnership on 26 February here at the European Studies Centre at St Antony’s.

Over the vacation I managed to finalise an article on Romania, building on the message sent to the Cluj symposium at the end of October.  I will add that to the documents on this blog.  Inevitably however, my good intentions of hard work over the vacation were not fulfilled entirely, in part due to various domestic issues and in part to the weather, even if our various travels – to Brussels in the week of 14 December, to Newark over Christmas and to London and Salcombe over New Year – were not affected by snow or Eurostar collapse.

We were over in Brussels again on 11-14 January for the third meeting of my TEN-T Expert Group, where we made some serious progress towards developing an objective methodology for the identification of the network  This will also form the basis for my seminar on 3 February.  I warned the group members that I planned to plagiarise their contributions shamelessly.  What is impressive about the work of the group is the very high level of commitment and enthusiasm that has been shown by almost every member, including some very serious academics in the field.  The challenge now is to bring the work to a conclusion that a broad majority feels able to support, when we meet in early March.

The Eastern Partnership Workshop is now beginning to come together, thanks mainly to the efforts of my co-organisers, John Beyer (former British Ambassador in Moldova and currently a Senior Associate Member at St Antony’s) and Graham Avery (formerly of DG RELEX and now of EPC in Brussels and also St Antony’s).  Confirmed speakers include Jacek Saryusz Wolski (Polish MEP and former European Affairs Minister), Borys Tarasyuk (former Ukrainian Foreign Minister), Professor Neil MacFarlane (Head of the DPIR at Oxford) and Ambassador Hans-Dieter Lucas (Special Envoy in the German Foreign Ministry).  Details of the Workshop will be on the European Studies Centre website and I will also add them on this blog over the coming days.

Alongside this comes of course the study from afar of developments in Brussels, particularly the approval of the new Commission and the associated reorganisation, even if the dates for all these still remain uncertain. 

I was delighted that the new Romanian Commissioner for Agriculture, Dacian Ciolos, had such a successful hearing with the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee.   Alongside Mihai Dumitru, newly appointed Romanian Agriculture Minister, that makes two former Bucharest Delegation staff members playing major roles in European agriculture.  And of course there are many other Delegation staff members playing significant roles at less senior levels in the Commission.  I feel a certain sense of satisfaction for this, even if I can’t claim to have been responsible for recruiting all of them at the time.

Reorganisation in DG TREN, splitting it into its Energy and Transport components, is also apparently well advanced, though final decisions will have to await the formal appointment of the new Commission.  I shall await with interest the final news on what happens to my own job…

You will notice that I have said little about my research project.  I have now begun some background reading here and this should pave the way over the next three weeks or so to a clearer outline of what I want to say.  The next stage will then be to talk to people involved in these issues, mainly in Brussels and Paris, so as to allow me to write something more substantial during the course of the Trinity term.  More news on this in my next blog.