Work note

The most interesting thing I did at work all week was to speak at an internal EU meeting on the Balkans on Wednesday. I’m posting this on Sunday, but backdating to Wednesday so that it will be correctly filed in my archives. Sorry if this looks weird on your friends pages.

In the warren of European Union institutions there are a number of committees that bring together representatives of the 25 member states, the European Commission and since May the Romanians and Bulgarians to discuss whatever the committee’s topic is. I was brought in for the meeting of COWEB, the working group on the Western Balkans, on Wednesday as a guest speaker, along with three other external speakers, Carl Bildt, Goran Svilanović and Ivan Krastev (aka Иван Кръстев). The other three had all been members of a big international commission on the Balkans which reported back in April. I was a bit irritated that only Bildt and Svilanović were named on the provisional agenda, but the British diplomat in charge assured me that I would get equal time with them at the meeting (and in fairness, I have to admit that I am neither a former Swedish prime minister not a former Balkan foreign minister). I noticed that on the final version of the agenda no guest speakers were named at all, so perhaps my pathetic protests had some effect.

The meeting room in the Justus Lipsius building (the big pink thing on Rondpoint Schumann) was much narrower and smaller than the one for the ambassadors’ meeting I attended in July. Each country had only one person at the front, in most cases someone fairly senior from the foreign ministry who had flown in specially from the capital, with the European Commission getting a block of three seats at the far end of the room, and a large number of people jammed into two rows of seats behind us main speakers. I had brought along three of my younger work colleagues to distribute our most recent reports on the Balkans, including one which had been published only the day before, and to our gratified surprise the authorities had provided name plates for all three of them, so that in fact they were the only people sitting in the back row with name plates, jammed in beside the lads from the Austrian and Finnish permanent representations to the EU (next two EU presidencies). I was sitting between Ivan and Svilanović; the British chairman had great problems with both of their names, Ivan being pronouced “Eye-van” rather than Иван (which I’m sure he’s used to) and poor Svilanović becoming “Slanovitch”. Everybody spoke in English, except for one Mediterranean country.

Bildt and Svilanović kicked off with a recapitulation of the main points of their report, demanding more rapid European integration for the Balkan countries. I chipped in with a couple of short points on Bosnia and on visas, and Ivan had a brief word, and then the countries started talking; about half of them said something at least. I was given to understand that it was pretty unusual to have a brainstorming meeting of this committee, which usually deals with more technical aspects of the EU’s relations with the Balkan countries. Perhaps for that reason, the contributions of the diplomats were a bit variable, with the Dutch guy (who I knew anyway from meetings in the Hague) much the best. One large member state was conspicuously silent; we were told that they had objected to having outside speakers there at all.

I was then asked to make my main presentation. I’d arrived at the meeting expecting to be a main presenter immediately after Bildt and Svilanović to talk about the situation in general, and was then told that in fact I would have the floor only a bit over halfway through the meeting, for a full-length presentation on Kosovo, so I’d spent much of the first hour, while others were talking, rewriting my speaking notes. Luckily this only meant chucking aside the relatively short bits I had planned to say on Croatia, and on Macedonian and Albanian indigenous politics – I’d already had my say on Bosnia, and talking about Kosovo more or less demands addressing Montenegro, Serbia, and the knock-on effects on Macedonia and Albania.

My colleagues, observing in the back row, seemed to think it went fairly well. I simply presented the facts as experienced on a daily basis by our team on the ground, including some of the juicier stories that do not always make it into wider circulation, and my mind was reasonably concentrated, since we had had a report published on Kosovo the day before. I drew some (courteous enough) disagreement from some of the member states (including the one who spoke in French), but in general they seemed to be taking in what I said.

And all too soon the meeting was over, and we headed off for lunch at one of the usual Italian restaurants in the European district, courtesy of the British, with the Austrians, Finns and European Commission. Actually it ended up with them on their own, as we guest speakers dwindled one by one – Bildt almost before we had started as he was flying to Zagreb (from where he posted a blog entry that evening), then Ivan off to meet our mutual friend the Bulgarian ambassador to the EU (who wrote a paper with me, shortly before he got his present job), and then I ended up giving Svilanović a lift through the rain to his next meeting. I don’t often have ex-foreign ministers in the front of my car… he has a reputation for being grumpy but was pleasant enough company. Bildt, for my curious Swedish readers, was as ever clear and thoughtful, and personally engaging though not exactly warm. I am aware that he’s not the most popular man in Sweden (given that he won one election by the skin of his teeth, lost two, and still seems to be sulking about it) but he’s been a pretty good thing for the Balkans.

So there we are. Had meant to write this up sooner, but somehow it didn’t quite happen. If you have been, thanks for reading.

One thought on “Work note

  1. Have they at least started them up on a Sunday morning to make sure they still run? I mean… No one wants a MiG-29 that stalls when you take a corner, do they?

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