Posts made in November, 2009

Ashton/Barroso/Van Rompuy : the new EU Dream Team

Pictrure from houbi on Flickr, adapted for the occasion

Picture (c) houbi on Flickr, adapted for the occasion

The past weeks, speculations and even bets have been running high when it came to second-guessing the names of the holders of the top EU jobs. And this evening, after everything seemed to indicate a difficult dinner was going to take place during the Extraordinary Council Summit, with even a possible extension over the weekend to finalise negotiations, Twitter went alive with the news only moments after the start of the Council: Van Rompuy, President of the Council and Ashton, High Representative. This was soon confirmed on the Swedish Presidency site.

Reactions on Twitter went from despair to people being gobsmacked (and I spare you the “Baroness who?” questions). Being Belgian, I know the strengths and weaknesses of Van Rompuy reasonably well: he is a fine tactician and politician, he has a Buster Keaton type of humour as well as a somehow surprising fondness of haiku’s…and yes, he is anything but flamboyant! Moreover, he does have this tendency to “accept the duty bestowed upon him”, which makes you think he’s just been sentenced to a harsh punishment rather than promoted to a top function…he became Belgian PM seemingly dragging his feet and did the same line at his press conference this evening…I was not necessarily expecting cart wheels but stil…a bit of “yeepiyeah! Kids: I hope you’re watching: dad is an important man now!” would not have felt out of place.

As regards Ashton, I must humbly confess I have no clue what her track record is as a Commissioner (the FT wrote an article on her here) but she certainly seemed able to respond forcefully at her first press conference this evening. And that will be needed as, as Barroso stated in response to a journalist’s question quoting the famous Kissinger sentence “Who do I call for Europe?”: If Obama calls, it’s Ashton he should call…

So I will summarise this evening quoting a tweet by @julienfrisch: “That’s it. Earlier than expected. Worse than hoped. Unclearer than ever.”…or maybe not, let’s hope so!

And to show that many of us still felt inspired after the announcement, I encourage you to follow our “Twitpic” exchanges: my response in pictures to @hughbs:

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Lino: the Story, so far

Funny how walking with bags makes my shadow look like Lino

Funny how walking with bags makes my shadow look like Lino

I have been asked so many times since I started the lobbyplanet site about why I sign my articles and tweets as “Lino The Rhino” or @linotherhino that, although I had anticipated the “Why a Rhino?” question here, I feel I should respond to the former question once and for all.

First, Lino is not a way of “hiding my identity”, since my name is intrinsically linked to that friendly little blue animal. It is actually a way I found to manage my schizophrenia on a daily basis: basically, when I write as “Caroline De Cock” or make statements, I consider that it is normal for others to expect that I am representing one of my clients. And for the bored, the list can be consulted in the European Commission’s registry here, even though it’s last years’ results (2008).

On the other hand, when Lino blogs or tweets, it’s just me speaking, without client representation in mind. Oh, and to show the full depth of my multiple personality disorder, when it’s “Mama” talking, it’s kids time.

And frankly, it’s funny as you can see from the picture in this post to what extent Lino and I are now merged! Oddly enough, people that do not look beyond the “Lino” identifier usually think I’m a man (as do spammers seeing the very appealing offers to buy Viagra I am getting on a daily basis…or is it a color thing: blue pills for blue rhino?).

Now in all fairness, the “why a rhino” explanation that is already on this site, does not tell the story of how rhino was drawn by Aurore Delannois, the 20-year old artist that imagined Lino (check out her website here). I met her one evening to ask for the creation of a mascotte for lobbyplanet. Being a big fan of Gotlib, a tremendous comics books author, I had in mind something similar to his

Euro-version of Gotlib's famous "coccinelle" (ladybug)

Euro-version of Gotlib's famous "coccinelle" (ladybug)

famous Ladybug.

In short, something small, anecdotal, that would kind of walk around the pages of teh site with the aim to make the not always exciting content of the wiki pages slightly

more “fun” (an ambitious goal, I agree). And a couple of days later, I received a first hand-drawn set of sketches of my now alter-ego, Lino…a rhino…an animal weighing between 1400 and 2000 kg and that no one would for a second associate to terms such asĀ  “discreet”, “small” (apologies to all rhinos struggling to accept they’re kind of “bulky”), unobtrusive…

I must admit that, looking at Lino, I immediately flashed for the little fellow but still considered it my duty to have a chat with Aurore to understand how, in her extremely artistic mind, a ladybug ended up looking like a rhinoceros. Her explanation, I think, is the perfect conclusion to this post. When I asked for the drawing, she asked me “What does a lobbyist exactly do?” so she could better understand what lobbyplanet would be about. So I did my usual “song and dance” explaining the multiple facets of what I consider a fun profession. And as she candidly told me during our “from ladybug to rhino” conversation: “You know, the kind of fluffy and lightness associated to a ladybug just didn’t feel right and when I came home, I could not stop drawing rhinos…maybe it’s your African upbringing, or just the fact that what you do didn’t sound very subtle or refined, but more like a constant charge…”…so here I am, setting forth my daily charge!

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Meeting with MEP Hennis-Plasschaert, aka @jeaninehennis

Screenshat of @JeanineHennis Twitter page

Screenshot of @JeanineHennis Twitter page

I have been following @jeaninehennis for several months now, both on Twitter and Facebook, and I must say she has definitely rekindled my faith that yes, web 2.0 tools (or whatever you want to call those new tools aimed at making communication on the net two-way rather than one-way) are definitely an excellent manner for EU politicians and civil servants to communicate about Europe and, more importantly, to create a bridge between the rather cold looking EU institutions and people in the street. Meeting her this week in the European Parliament for a short interview on her use of Twitter namely, she certainly confirmed in person all of the impressions she conveys over the net: “closeness to the people”, “straightforward”, “involved and concerned about what she does”…all of that, and fun too! And believe me, I have been around Parliament for long enough to know that, if there are people with great qualities in that glass and steel building, “exceptional” is not as common!

So what did we talk about, once introductions were done (and for those worried about transparency and lobbyists: yes;, I’m in all the registers and yes, I start off rambling out the full list of my clients so there’s no mystery about who pays my living)?

Well, basically, about @JeanineHennis’ enthusiasm about Twitter and Facebook. On the positive side, she notably quoted the fact that it allowed her to have an immediate contact with people she would not have the time to interact with otherwise, to feel challenged by people, to have them convey their concerns…@JeanineHennis strongly believes Twitter and other social networking tools will help bridge the gap that exists between people in the street and the EU, and that it contributes to more direct democracy...and what I liked most is when she summarised it all by saying “…and it’s really fun! Some people just call me “my dear” and I like it when I have a spare minute to let people know what I’m doing and what I’m concerned about…For me, it is absolutely not a burden, but something I do spontaneously”. In over a year of using Facebook first and Twitter second, she did not find any negative aspects to it, even if she did recognise that sometimes people could be somewhat aggressive in their replies…but that is part of a dialogue and she did not see it as a deterring point. She had tried to convey her enthusiasm to colleagues over the past months and considered some did “get it”, whilst others seemed to treat it as a channel to issue press releases or worse, just a burden.

We also discussed the “Woman @ EU Top” twibbon initiative, and the fact that when Ms Hennis adopted and supported this initiative, she received quite some criticism about people considering this meant she was pro-affirmative action. She jokingly quoted Ms Neelie Kroes who once said the biggest cartel in Europe is probably the “old boys’ club” at the top…

Funnily, just when we were wondering if Twitter was maybe something more for our generation then the younger ones, @WimvandeCamp , another fervent Dutch MEP-twitterer, intervened to state that it was obviously for all ages: the young like Ms Hennis, and the less young like him!

Julien Frisch, one of the key eurobloggers, once wrote a post about the fact that bloggers rarely write positive posts (see here). I guess today I am the exception that confirms the rule!

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