Monday, 21 February 2011

Speaking at the University of Kent

L-R Dr Marat Terterov, Ambassador Vladimir Rakhmanin, et Moi.

I was delighted to be asked to speak at the first of a series of lectures on EU External Relations at the University of Kent recently.

The key speaker was Ambassador Vladimir Rakhmanin, Deputy Secretary-General of the Energy Charter, and former Head of Protocol to President Putin. So I guessed I might have a tough act to follow. I was right.

I led on my thoughts about the polar development of Europe. We not only live in a multi-polar world, we live in a multi-polar Europe. The EU is not as dominant as it would like to be, at least not in political terms. The other two major actors exerting influence are Turkey and Russia. In the case of the former, the alternative to the EU membership that is denied to the Turks is to build their own powerbase, which they are doing very effectively. In the case of the latter, I speculated on the emergence of a Sino-Russian pact, and the economic and security implications that may have for the EU.

The Ambassador disagreed with me about the likelihood, but I remain convinced that we are already seeing the emergence of such a pact. Since Putin first took power in 2000, Russia and China have become very close indeed. In fact, the two nations have always been close, it was only after the ideological divergence following the Second World War that the two clashed. The rift appears to be healed now, and I believe that the re-election of Putin next year will bring about a number of re-alignments in Europe and in Central Asia.

We did both agree on one thing: Fukiyama was spectacularly wrong when he proclaimed the End of History. Liberal Democracy, he argued, became the one dominant ideology after the fall of Communism. We now have to take into account Sovereign Democracy, whatever form of democracy develops in the wake of the welcome fall of the Arab regimes, and the Command Capitalism of China. The latter two, incidentally, are stronger politically than the former.

We live in interesting times.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Trains, Pains, and Automobiles.

Picture the scene - a busy square (Place du Luxembourg), always vibrant, packed with pedestrians, lined with bus stops and a taxi rank. What sort of a person, whilst driving through all this, would suddenly stop his car, and for no apparent reason, and without checking his rear-view mirror, throw his car into reverse? You guessed it -  A Belgian!

As I am recovering from a broken knee, I really didn't need an Audi A6 slamming into my leg. The good thing is, I got to teach the driver and his young lady some choice words of old Anglo Saxon. The people waiting for a number 38 bus probably picked up something new as well.

Subsequently, the Audi did a 3 point turn before driving onto the crowded pavement. It moved backwards and forwards a bit, and then reversed into the path of a bus. All this happened yesterday lunchtime.

This morning I came to work on the Metro. As the train arrived at the station, I could see that the driver was sending a text message on his mobile. During the 10 minute journey, the train made two emergency stops, with passengers being thrown around, and lucky me, I got a pushchair and child hurled into my leg, which now hurts like hell. The driver was clearly not seeing red lights, and so the auto-pilot was kicking in and stopping the train for him.

Everything in this posting is absolutely normal in Brussels. Nobody bats an eyelid.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Ice City

I saw something truly wonderful yesterday when I left my office. As I like to give the maximum effort on behalf of the taxpayers, I often work late. Last night was one of those occasions, and I left at about 9.30pm.

A thick fog descended on Brussels, and this, combined with a sudden drop in temperature and some weird atmospheric conditions, led to everything being coated in a thin film of ice. Roads, walls, even the grass. It looked like something from a fairytale.