Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Italian tactics and (a flawed) British strategy

As the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, heads to Rome for a spot of lunch with Matteo Renzi on Wednesday, I've been sounding out Italian journalists, academics and apparatchiks about what we can expect from Italy's PM and David Cameron's supposed New Best Friend, as the Great EU Junckernaut rumbles ominously on.
I came away with a number of interesting reflections on the likely Italian tactics and a few depressing observations about Britain's flawed strategy on this matter, carried out with spectacularly clunky diplomacy, as perceived from the outside.
Here is what everyone is certain will not happen: Herman and Matteo will not stroll towards a bank of microphones and announce that either Jean-Claude or David can pop open the Champagne.
Renzi may at times seem to walk on water (getting 40 pc of the vote in an election where established parties in the UK barely mustered 24, 23 and 7pc respectively does that to someone's image) but he is not a magician. He is a very shrewd politician with a couple of cards to play, a limited time window and a central positon on a well-lit stage to play them in. The magic dust of Renzi's friendship and the hard currency of his vote, should it come to that, are currently on sale.
Renzi needs a letting up of the EU's relentless focus on austerity, which has pulled Italy back from the financial brink but left it battling abysmal levels of unemployment. He needs the new European Commission to agree to a work programme where the words 'jobs and growth' are well in evidence, led by someone, no matter who, who's happy to say those words loud and often. Renzi is also in the market for a prestigious portfolio for Italy's commissioner, who could be either Enrico Letta or Massimo D'Alema.
Neither of these concessions are in Cameron's gift. So Renzi's priority will not be to form whatever blocking minority Cameron imagines can save the day but to correctly interpret and carry our Angela Merkel's preferred course of action, while taking care not to upset anyone else.
There is a lot riding on the Italian Presidency, which begins on July the 1st, in terms of the country's external prestige and Renzi does not want to begin his six months at the helm of Europe overseeing a huge, bitter and protracted falling out. If such falling out is inevitable, he certainly doesn't want to be on the 'minority' side of it.
Now for the British strategy, as perceived from across the channel and on the other side of the Alps.
The people I spoke to were bewildered by Cameron's "inexplicable" decision to play the man and not the ball. The European Parliament, which has the final vote in appointing the Commission, played a blinder on EU leaders by nominating its candidates ahead of an EU Election that for the first time gave it a consultative role on the selection of such candidate.
But the Parliament's winning candidate was only ever going to be the person chosen to lead Belgian-style talks with the political groups and establish if a majority in his/her favour could be found.
When Cameron begun issuing threats, using the prospect of Brexit to blackmail others, he paradoxically made Juncker's position more secure. Instead of being set on a mission that may very well have failed, delivering someone else at the helm of the Commission, the world's most famous Luxembourger is now involved in an existential fight for his own political survival.
A fight in which he can claim the highest principles of democracy to be on his side against Britain's bullying obstreperousness.
The Prime Minister must be extremely careful now not to lose the European campaign for genuine reform in a desperate effort to win a domestic PR battle.
Forget the war on Juncker. Let him get the mandate to negotiate and let's see what happens in the European Parliament. If he is indeed selected don't fight that tide: you will lose or expend vital political capital for not very much in return.
The real prize is a realistic, forward-looking mandate for the Commission Juncker might end up leading, around which there is quite a lot of encouraging consensus already.
In fact stop giving the impression that everything is a battle, where we lure allies to 'our side' at the expense of others. The truth is most other big EU nations love and hate Europe in different ways and for different reasons but are deeply enmeshed in Europe nonetheless not 'just as a market' but as a monetary union, a cultural exercise, a historical necessity.
They will not heed calls for reform that seem tailored to reducing Europe - its scope maybe, some of its powers yes, not its totemic symbolism. They will heed calls for reform that reflect common sense more than the narrow national self-interest of one nation.
This, by the way, does not mean that the gap between Britain's notion of Europe and everyone else's is unbridgeable.
Britain remains better off in an Union which might not entirely, all the time, reflect exactly all its visions and aspirations provided it offers a platform to pursue most of its visions and aspirations most of the time, amplifying its power, its voice and its reach in the world into the bargain. That's what everyone else gets out of it too.
It would be truly foolish to throw the baby out with the bathwater because we didn't like the particular make of the bathtub.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Keep the f@*#king thing switched ON! Or: what technical incompetence will I annoy my nephew with?

In the wake of a parental visit last week-end very nearly marred by the reluctant and distressingly uneven use of an ancient and very EASY TO OPERATE mobile phone, I couldn't help but wonder: which totally banal yet 'indispensable as oxygen' technology will my inability to get my head around result in my nephew shouting (inside) in exasperation thirty years from now? Here are a few scenarios...

1 Replaceable organs.

Me - Where is it, I know I have it somewhere..
Mouse -Antie Paola...?
Me - Yes, in a second.
Mouse- Auntie Paola, what are you looking for now?
Me- Mutters to self - I had it right here! Then aloud: Nothing! Just a minute...
Mouse - It's your liver, isn't it?
Me- My ..my what? I'm insulted, insulted I say, that you could think a thing like that, besides..
Mouse -You've been at the gin again, haven't you, and you've forgotten to change your liver..
Me -I might, I meant to..very short measure...well it's none of your business anyhow but if you must know..
Mouse - Show me the control panel Auntie.
Me - Get off me, you know nothing, nothing! I used to change your nappies young man..
Mouse -You never changed a single one of my nappies, Auntie, mum still goes on about that..
Me- I used to feed you and burp you, and I will never accept, never, this tone of voice when.. Ohhhh
Mouse - Here we go (control panel clicks open). Weeeeelll, what do you know..
Me- Anxiously clutching a G&T -What is it? What is it, Mouse? Is it serious??
Mouse - We have been through this Auntie. DO NOT CALL ME MOUSE. I manage a WHOLE MOON OFF EUROPA. I shuttle to Mars weekly. Drop the pet name for god's sake.
ME - All right, all right!!! Young people are so touchy these days!
MOUSE- I am 43. But back to your ORGANigram: it would appear someone has installed two gallbladders..
ME - Ohhh, have they?
MOUSE -Yeeeees, they have forgotten the liver altogether and just plonked a second gallbladder in. Silly or what?
ME - Well, yes, that was silly, silly and dangerous! Someone should have a word with..someone and sort this out, it's an outrage (loud clonk) Ohh!
MOUSE -There you are: Livers, 1 Gallbladders, 1, Brains...
ME -Wait, wait, I had one here, I had it a minute ago, I swear. (Ominous swish-shplatt noise) Oh boy. These things sure are slippery, aren't they?

Next week: Teleportation.

Stay tuned.

And keep the f*@#ing thing switched ON!

Please help me combat the eight sign of ageing

My friends all know that the full length mirror simply loves my silhouette. 

I've long ago defeated any notion of cellulite with all the appropriate gels and spa treatments.  

As I was born bikini-ready and cleansing detoxes are already my idea of fun I feel vaguely left out from the ladies' mags' seasonal body-bashing and self-loading calls to action. 

In vain I scour my luminous visage for those pesky seven signs of ageing: perfection is a curse, I'm telling you!

But perhaps there is an area in my life (not of my body, god forbid) where I do show my years- an eight sign of ageing if you like, one that even the most expensive tub of lotion, made of gold dust and babies' souls, simply cannot reach.

And perhaps dear friends, some of the musical (if ugly) ones among you can come to the rescue.

I have stopped caring about, knowing about, buying and listening to new music. There, I said it. 

My musical taste was never considered exquisite by those (fat, dumpy, envious) in the know but I least I could name-check REM, say, when they came on the radio. 

Then, sometimes between the End of History and the start of Coldplay an iron curtain of mutual indifference descended between me and popular music as an art form (or even as background to the washing up).

What I would like to do is update my musical wardrobe with the equivalent of a styling service. 

Since all music shops have disappeared in the meantime and I would not know where to start online (and I don't dare lose the correct Radio 4 slot on the dial so listening to new stuff on the radio is not an option) I thought if I told my friends what I already like and feel comfortable in they might help me pick the newest models, so to speak.

So here we go, and please don't judge me (people with bat wings should not throw stones):

I like Bobby McFerrin, Cat power, Dire Straits, They Might Be Giants, 1000 Maniacs, Natalie Merchant, The Police, Sting, KT Turnstall, Mattafix, Massive Attack, Nick Drake, Oasis, Suzanne Vega, Tracy Chapman, Tanita Tikaram. I love reasonable jazz, you know, Miles Davies and stuff, plus stuff you can sing along to, Nina, Ella and all that.

I think the most recent CDs I downloaded were by Amy Whitehouse, Adele, Elbow, Mumford and Sons, Band of Horses, Jamie Cullum.

For Italian friends: I'm a singer-songwriter nut, on the DeGregori-Fossati-Conte wavelength with lashings of De Andre'. My most recent heroes are Lucio Quarantotto, Filippo Gatti, Samuele bersani, Cristina Dona'.

So there you have it, my disgracefully middle-of-the-road-in-my-slippers-carrying-antibacterial-spray list of faves. 

If you want to help, these are the rules:

1) I have no desire to have my horizons expanded.
2) mind blown - same as above.
3) If I haven't discovered a musical genre -or cared for it- in the past 45 years I think I can safely live without.
4) I basically want to listen to the same shit but newer, more up to date versions of it.

Can you help me? Can you suggest new shit for this ever young goddess to listen to?

Please leave your comments here or on my Facebook page. 

5) No classical music, obviously. I said NEW shit.