JOURNAL - 1994 - MARCH
Saturday 5 March 1994, London
Dear Adam, it is Saturday afternoon, I am expecting Julian and his family and Mum in a few minutes. We, that is you and I, have just finished working on chapter eleven of the first story we are writing together - ‘Trapped’. You sat on my desk while I tried to write a few sentences. Sometimes I asked you what you might have done in a particular circumstance, and other times I asked you if what I was saying was right. Most of the time I kept up a kind of dialogue, reading over what I had written and saying out loud the words I was thinking of writing. You kept up a dialogue as well, which made it difficult for me to think straight. But I liked it that you watched what I was writing on the screen (I had the text nice and large) and could see how words were spelt, how the punctuation fitted in. I also tried to explain some ideas about how to keep the reader interested, though where I got the ideas from and why I should be concerned to keep the reader interested I don’t know - it’s not as if my fiction is ever read by any readers.
I came back from Brussels on Thursday night, rather weary as usual. I love it that you are always so happy to see me, you run up to the door, or to me if I’m already in the house, with a huge great smile on your face. And then you tell me, you’ve missed me and you want lots of cuddles, and you want to show me your new books and tell me about the stories you’ve written. You are a real joy. We didn’t have very long together as it was nearly your bedtime and I was too tired to talk much - I preferred to watch ‘Eastenders’ and let Mummy read you a story. But later on, when you were in bed, I came and gave you a few kisses.
I hardly did anything all day Sunday, and then I got another cold, so I didn’t sleep very well on Sunday night (even though, or because, I went to bed about 7pm) or Monday night or Tuesday night. I couldn’t believe I was so wretched. I did manage to work a bit more on the Book during Monday morning and then on the newsletter during the afternoon.
Monday 14 March 1994, London
Dear Adam, I have started writing the Management Report today (on EC energy policy). I wonder how long it will take me. I think it is going to be more difficult than the last one. I am now much more aware of how complex the issues are, and how much they interlink, which means it is that much more difficult to structure the writing. Also, previously, I knew I had no background, so I had to go and get it. Once I’d got it, I wrote it. This time, I have the background of the first report, and my knowledge, but there are a lot of holes, but I can’t organise an interview for every little hole. Also I can’t see any spicy bits this time. Last time round, I found some nuggets of information to catch the eye for publicity and selling purposes. I don’t know where I’m going to get any this time.
Wednesday 16 March 1994
Dear Adam, last Saturday, we finished the first draft of ‘Trapped’. You did keep on about it so; every five minutes you kept asking me when I was going to finish it. You told your teacher Mr Page about, and Mr Page, being an enthusiastic kind of teacher, encouraged you to bring it and show him. That’s why you wanted me to finish it in such a hurry.
Thursday 24 March 1994, Brussels
One issue dominates European politics this week - the qualified majority voting regime for the Union after the EFTA states join. Ten Member States want the proportion to rise so that a blocking minority would need 27 votes - i.e. two large States and two small ones. The UK, and Spain to some extent, want to retain 23 as the number of blocking votes, the same as at present i.e. two large States and one small one. The issue blew up immediately the four applicant States concluded their accession negotiations and the Council began discussing some of the nitty-gritty of the enlargement. There have already been two meetings without any sign of movement or any formula which could bridge the gap. Although it may seem a rather minor issue, it is really quite startlingly important. I am very surprised, for example, that ten States are so keen to give away this extra increment of sovereignty. For sovereignty is precisely what is at stake here. Qualified majority voting is only used in certain areas of policy making - until Maastricht it was just the Single Market legislation, but now in the European Union QM is more widely applied. A rise in the blocking minority level from 23 votes to 27, although retaining the original proportion scaled up for more Members, does in fact increase the power of the Union to force a State/States to accept legislation against its/their wishes. It also means more States have to be in favour of the legislation (I haven’t heard anyone on the media make that point).
The UK has dug its heels in over this and the media is having a field day. John Major was the strongest ally of enlargement and bringing in the EFTA states and now he is holding up the whole process and may actually jeopardise the timetable for the states to accede by 1 January 1995. Most of the media analysis explains the Major position by reference to his need to keep the right wing of the party content, but they haven’t explained why that is necessary. It is necessary because the accession agreements have to be ratified in each Member State parliament - the Maastricht farce all over again. And one of the main reasons for Tory policy encouraging new entries was to affect a dilution of the centralising momentum. Now, if it were to allow the QM blocking minority to change, it would be giving way to the federal momentum.
Yet, it is hard to see how the issue can be resolved, because the UK has dug its heels in so hard. The whole question of Member State QM votes is due for renegotiation as part of the next round of intergovernmental negotiations scheduled for 1996 - when incidentally, Germany will be staking its claim to 15 votes or so, considerably more than the 10 it has at present, due to its absorption of East Germany.
The fact is that the Council does not usually bulldoze through legislation against the wishes of Member States. If a Member State has a problem with a particular proposal, it brings the full details of that problem to the working groups and attempts are made to find solutions. These attempts don’t stop just because a QM is available. I’ve seen the Council go the extra mile in negotiating several new laws. Moreover, the converse is true, when legally unanimity is required, it doesn’t mean any one Member State can spike a new law, because intense pressure can be brought against a State holding out to bring it into line. That said, though, QM voting is a powerful Community tool. The UK was very content to use it to get the Single Market up and running, now it wants to avoid the consequence of stretching it to other policy areas.
The Research Commissioner Antonio Ruberti gave a press conference this lunchtime but hardly anybody attended. He was anxious to tell us about a new Assembly for Science and Technology which the Commission has set up to advise on research matters. By the sound of it, this will be a major new body, along the lines the US National Research Council. About 100 high-level representatives from industry and the science world will meet twice a year in plenary and approve opinions on research policy making. There has been a plethora of new bodies set up recently, several in the environment field. The biggest and loudest will surely be the Committee of the Regions (CR), since it is made up of local politicians. It is increasingly hard to keep track of all these different organisations but the CR will probably be as important or more so than the Ecosoc and I will need to make contacts there.
Friday 25 March 1994, Brussels
Scandalous. Radio Four LW has been hijacked by Test Match Special. I like to dip into a Test Match when one is on and I never minded when the live commentary took over on Radio Three, but I find it very hard to do without Radio Four. From 2-9pm today and every day, except Monday, until Wednesday (when I leave) I lose Radio Four to the Test Match. That means I am unable to listen to either of the Saturday plays, nor the Sunday classic serial, nor the news. It is scandalous. Now I see why so many people write in when the BBC starts mucking around with wavelengths. It wouldn’t be so bad if the Test Match was in England, somehow one gets more involved when they are at home. But this one is in the West Indies, far away. Latest score: West Indies 177 for 5.
This is foul weather - cold and wet. And I can’t keep my radiators under control so I have to keep opening and closing the windows. If the windows are closed and it gets too warm, I get groggy and lose my wit; if it gets too cold, it takes ages to warm up again.
Went to see ‘The Remains of the Day’. I greatly enjoyed the performance of Anthony Hopkins as the butler Stevens but I was much less impressed with Emma Thompson as the housekeeper who did a sort of mix and match job of her character. The film was good entertainment and translated the book with great faithfulness of spirit. The de Brouckere cinema is the finest cinema I can ever remember visiting. The seats are so comfortable, there is plenty of leg room, and even in the smaller cinemas in the complex, they use super-wide screens to the very best effect.
Saturday 26 March 1994, Brussels
It has been a fine looking day outside, but I have hardly encountered any of it. Instead I have spent hour after hour here at the computer screen working on the research chapter of the Book. I started on what I thought would be the easiest chapters but I have been getting myself into such a muddle. Anybody can get hold of the information I am providing; the book must give an added value and that added value must be a clear organisation and presentation of the material. That’s tough when every issue branches out in dozens of directions and cannot be tamed into a linear track of description.
I listened to Roy Jenkins, a previous Commission President, on ‘Any Questions’. He said he could not understand why the government was digging itself into such a hole over the qualified majority voting issue. It was obvious, he said, they could not win it and that they would have to climb down eventually. He also noted the irony of the Conservatives bringing in contentious legislation time after time with only 41% of the votes, and yet it is trying to ensure that the blocking minority in the Community is not as high as 40%. A fine irony. John Major is making an ass of his government, one more time.
I do get so fed up with media commentators. One of them today said John Major was having a particularly difficult year this year. Well that’s bullshit. It’s just as much a lie as if the producer had allowed the reporter to say John Major is a superb prime minister. John Major has never been out of hot water since he took the job. And then on the cricket (we bowled them out for 252, not bad, and we’re currently 85 for 2), it makes me scream when I here the phrase - ‘this will be a very important innings for England’, or ‘it’s very important that Atherton plays a good inning’, or ‘England have lost a crucial wicket’. Nothing is every critical, crucial or even important when gauged against what comes before and after.
And while I’m on the subject, I must complain about the quality of the reporting on Radio Four these days. Last week, there was an item about sex in schools which was beyond belief. The lead headline told us that John Patten had set up an enquiry into how 11 year olds were being taught about ‘blow jobs’ in school and how it was horrifying that such things were being talked about without reference to a loving relationship. The ‘Today’ programme went to town on this story and it remained the lead headline throughout the day. Yet during ‘Today’, the school governor was interviewed about the matter. She explained in a straight forward and simple manner that there was absolutely no story in the story. The sex education teacher in question was a trained nurse, a committed Christian, with traditional values. There had been two parents in the classroom and another teacher. The subject of a blow job and the use of a Mars bar only came up in response to the questions of some precocious (or perhaps provocative) children and were dealt with quickly and professionally. With the information from that interview it seemed to be quite clear that the story was dead, it never was a story. Some bumptious parent had phoned the ‘Sun’ or the ‘Star’ and the stupid John Patten had a knee-jerk reaction and jumped into the mud. The media followed into the mire. For the rest of the day, the news items continued to give me (and presumably the nation) the impression that blow jobs and Mars bars were actually on the teacher’s agenda and that this was a most deplorable business.
Barbara has gone down to Brighton this weekend. There are some prospective buyers for the house. They’re coming again on Sunday for the third time. The estate agent thinks they may put in an offer soon, but B has not discovered whether they are in a chain or not; which is rather important to us, since we are not.
I talk a bit with Lucy these days - she listens a lot to my ramblings - about my diaries, my journeys, my theories on childhood, my past lives. Occasionally she jumps in and accuses me of being so certain about things, about being arrogant. But I counter her accusations quite simply. However certain about things I may seem, my life is a package of compromises; I’m just doing the best I can. My diaries are not interesting, I tell her, because I am not interesting, rather I think (only think I’m not at all certain) they might be interesting as the record of a rather ordinary person being buffeted around by forces beyond his control. They are not interesting as the diaries of P. Lyons but of X.
Tuesday 29 March 1994, Brussels
Today, I lost one scoop and gained another. I’ll explain. Yesterday, I went into DGIV (competition) to try and get some background on competition cases for the energy policy book. My first interview was with F. R., who works in General Aids. He has been extremely helpful in the past, but I’ve never met him. When I arrived he said he had to go in 15 minutes to a meeting; and then he proceeded to tell me about the case to be discussed at the meeting. An Anglo-US consortium is buying an East German power station project and lignite mine. Nearly two years ago the Commission approved a large subsidy to build the power plant so it could use the local lignite rather than imported coal. Sir Leon Brittan and Germany reached a deal which emphasised that Germany would provide no further subsidies for lignite use in electricity generation. However, it seems the contract contained a tricky little clause linking the price of the lignite to world market prices. The new owners now want the government to retain the risk that the mine can produce lignite at commercial prices. This would involve further subsidies. If the Commission were to adamantly refuse to review the arrangements the whole deal could fall apart. Despite Brittan’s insistence, it now seems the Commission may relax a little.
I then went on to see Dohms, who I had met at St Andrews, but he would tell me nothing of interest, although we had a mildly entertaining theoretical discussion. I could have waited to see F. R. again, after he got back from Van Miert, but my experience of Commissioner cabinets is that there is a lot of waiting. So I went home and called him later. He told me what had happened at the meeting.
Today I wrote up the notes into a story and because I’d forgotten to talk to him about something completely different I rang back. He knew nothing about the other subject but, when I gave him a taste of what I had written on the lignite story he got a bit scared. Hearing the actual words that would appear on paper, he began to realise that the information itself could influence the outcome of the negotiations. Well, of course, that’s what makes the story spicy - but I couldn’t run it. I had made a deliberate decision to check the story with F. R. because I realised that he had told me about it only due to the coincidence of me coming just as he was leaving for the meeting with Van Miert. And I realised it was a fairly sensitive story. At the same time, F. R. suggested he might give me more background than usual on some other stories, and on this one at a later date. I may still run a tame version of the article. I’ll see.
My replacement scoop is much better. This morning, I had an interview with the nuclear man Charrault in DGXVII; largely for the book. I asked him for the Commission’s annual report to the IAEA, and he suggested I try Busby’s office. Busby is involved with the international Euratom negotiations, and I interviewed him last year. As I was talking to his secretary, he came out and ushered me into his office. I sat down, and asked him for the documents, which he then asked his secretary to photocopy. While waiting for the copies, he proceeded to tell me the exact state of play of the EU negotiations with Russia over nuclear trade, and over the US-EC Euratom negotiations. Both issues are highly charged and sensitive, and it was a gift from the gods to get accurate first hand information on the state of play.
A renegade Tory MP called on the Prime Minister to resign in the House of Commons today. The commentator said Major looked visibly shaken. There is no getting away from it, he and his advisers made a very poor judgement when they decided to contest the qualified majority voting issue. They have nothing for their labours, but the scorn of all sides in Parliament and they’ve left a foul taste in the European arena. I think Douglas Hurd has done well to maintain any semblance of respectability for the government, and I’m sure he must have come close to resigning. I think much of the blame will bypass him and fall on Major, but Hurd perhaps should have advised Major more firmly; Hurd must have hesitated over the issue and left open a sliver of doubt about whether the UK could swing it or not, and Major must have taken up the false opportunity. I’m more sure than ever that Major will go after the European elections.
At the weekend I went to Lucy’s leaving party. Fiona and I were charged with arriving early so as to ensure that the party got going early enough and there weren’t hours of waiting for the first guests. I drank slightly too much but didn’t get drunk. I talked to a few of Lucy’s various friends, and quite a lot to Fiona and Mark.
Paul K Lyons
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