Thursday, 25 February 2010

Nigel Farage, europhile hero?

Has the world gone topsy turvey? It's safe to say there is little that unites the rabidly Eurosceptic Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party with pro-Europeans. Yet during newly-appointed European Council president Herman van Rumpuy's first appearance before the European Parliament this week, Farage was the only MEP to even remotely express the frustration many Europhiles are feeling with the presidential selection. And when Nigel Farage is the only one willing to say what the europhiles are thinking, it's a strange time indeed!

Farage delivered yesterday a blisteringly insulting attack on the new "EU President", telling him he has the "charisma of a damp rag" and the "appearance of a low-grade bank clerk". Now, such personal attacks may be commonplace in Westminster, but that is not how the European Parliament operates (or any other parliament I know of! Except maybe Australia...). MEPs today have been furious about the outburst. The parliamen's president is considering disciplinary action against him, and has summoned him for a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the incident.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Moving to Brussels, Part 2

Well it’s official – I signed the lease for a studio apartment in the St. Catherine area of Brussels yesterday. Flat-hunting turned out to be relatively painless. I looked at some really nice places. It’s insane how cheap rent is in Brussels, if I had gone with an unfurnished apartment I could have gotten a really nice place that I could never afford in London or New York. But I decided to go with a furnished smaller place with a cheaper rent. There’s really no reason I need a big one-bedroom apartment, and I’d rather use that saved money to get out of Brussels frequently! And I was really not looking forward to the prospect of having to furnish a place, especially when I don’t know how long this little Brussels adventure will last.

This is, after all, essentially a trial. I’ll still be a UK employee on a temporary (one year) secondment in Brussels. Once that year is up (or possibly sooner) it will be time to decide how I like living in Brussels. I gave it a little test last year for a month, but spending the full year there will really let me see if it’s somewhere I can live comfortably.

Friday, 19 February 2010

From Portugal to Brazil (and back again)

It's a bit of a shock to the system to be back in cold, rainy London after two glorious weeks in sunny Brazil. And unfortunately I mean that literally. Foolishly I thought I could get away with not bringing a jacket, and was forced to shiver my way home from the airport Tuesday in just a jumper. Now, of course, I have a cold.

It was an amazing trip, and really interesting - especially in the way we bookended it with some time in Portugal. We got a really cheap flight to Brazil with TAP, Portugal's national airline, but it required a 24 hour stopover in Porto on the way there and another stopover in Lisbon on the way back. So it was a little colonial recreation, if you will. This theme for the trip was heightened by the fact that the first port of call was Salvador, the capital of Brazil during the colonial period. The city is billed as having the largest collection of colonial architecture in Latin America, and it didn't disappoint.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

New survey shows what Obama's up against

I realise I've been writing about North America a lot lately, and that's only going to shift to the Southern variety over the next two weeks while I'm in Brazil. I'm flying to Porto, Portugal later today to spend a some time there before flying to Salvador, Brazil tomorrow. It will be a very colonial-type journey, retracing the steps of Portuguese sailors hundreds of years ago as they made their way to the first Brazilian capital. It's a history dork's delight! My boyfriend and I will be in Salvador for five days, then we fly down to Rio de Janeiro for Carneval. I'm very excited. I've actually never been to South America before, so it should be very interesting. Come to think of it, it will be my first time south of the equator!

I probably won't be writing for the next two weeks, so here's something to ruminate on while I'm gone (and once I'm back I'll stop writing about US politics so much I promise). Just in case you forgot what Barack Obama is up against in terms of domestic opposition, take a look at this survey released this week by the non-partisan polling firm Research 2000. The group polled a random sampling of American citizens who are self-identified Republicans and found that a shocking 39% say President Obama should be impeached. What should he be impeached for exactly? Well the rest of the survey results would indicate what they believe his crimes are:

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Obama 'snubs' Europe

Given that this is a blog about EU-US issues, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the sad, sad tears that are being shed today over Barack Obama’s decision to ditch the planned EU-US summit in Madrid in May.

Spain appears to be livid about it, while papers across Europe seem to be responding not in anger but rather in a rather depressed and humiliated shrug. The White House announced yesterday that Obama would not be attending the planned joint summit, which apparently came as quite a shock to its organisers. Apparently EU officials found out about the decision, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, through the news media.

Spain, which currently holds the rotating EU ministerial presidency (not to be confused with the newly-created council presidency), is now saying it will postpone the summit until the president can attend. Holding it without him would be humiliating for Europe and would lack symbolic significance.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

No red carpet for pope in Britain

Back in September I wrote about my surprise when, during a visit to Prague, I was prevented from entering Prague Castle because the pope was paying a visit. I wasn't surprised that they weren't letting visitors in during the papal visit, that stands to reason. What seemed curious was the fact that we had been in Prague three days, made the journey all the way up the the castle, and all that time we had no idea the pope was visiting the city. Indeed, there was absolutely no sign of the visit - no banners, no news reports, nothing. People on the street seemed to either be unaware or apathetic about it. I suppose that's not surprising in the most atheistic country in Europe. But at the time, I contrasted it to the huge pomp and ceremony that accompanied the pope's visit to Paris while I was living there in the fall of 2009. You couldn't get away from all the fuss during that visit!

When I learned this week that the pope is planning a visit to the UK, another of Europe's most atheistic countries, I wondered how the visit will contrast to the ones I've witnessed in Paris and Prague. I suspect it will be an animal all its own, but disinterest may not be the main reaction from the public. The Czech Republic may be a majority atheist country, but it is still nominally Catholic. So it isn't so unusual or notable that the pope would visit. The UK is very much not a Catholic country. Historically it and Prussia were always the most virulently anti-Catholic states in Europe. Not only does the UK have a protestant state religion (with the Queen as church leader), it is also still technically illegal for an heir to the throne or a government leader to be a Catholic. One of the main holidays here actually celebrates burning Catholic effigies.