Saturday, December 16, 2006

14th December. Final trip of the year. The same as the first one last January, to Brussels on Eurostar. This time for the Steering Committee of the Observatory. This is our six monthly opportunity for all the partners to meet together. It has been an incredibly busy and productive year, measured not just in the books, articles, and policy briefs we have published but also the many interactions with policy makers. A highlight was our work to support the Finnish EU presidency in September and next year we will be working closely with the Germans and Portuguese. This time we had a staff retreat after the Steering Committee. Although we senior staff see each other regularly, often weekly in different countries, it is very easy for the people who do the real work to become isolated from one another when they are scattered between London, Brussels, and Berlin. It was an excellent opportunity for everyone to share experiences and to understand the scale of the operation. We are constantly amazed by how much our products are used, and where. However, we were somewhat puzzled by a recent request to translate our Health Systems in Transition report on Norway into Chinese! After dinner we all went for a stroll in the Grand Place, which was beautifully decorated for Christmas. A perfect ending to the working year (almost).
Home on Saturday (I’m catching up on this week’s blog on the train). Sitting in the Eurostar lounge I read in European Voice how the new member states will join the Schengen Agreement in 2008, so that I won’t need to go through frontier controls when I travel among them. Yet some things never change. After check in at Brussels I go through Belgian passport control, only to stand in line 10 metres further on to clear British immigration. Surely, you ask, could the two governments not find some way to combine their operations? Of course not. That would require the British government to concede that it really is part of Europe. And if it did that, the next step would be the adoption of the Euro….. And then, of course, the world would end…

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