Monday, March 19

Sprouts Out

It would probably be going too far to suggest that this this has eurosceptic roots.

Friday, March 16


VTM tv station ran a national IQ test the other evening. The average score was 114.

Apart from knowing that it is the exact same score recorded in a similar exercise in the Netherlands recently, I have no idea what this figure means nor whether I have an IQ high enough to scoff at it.

Thursday, March 15

Love is in the air

Just days ago we were busy searching the golden pages for the divorce lawyers, regretting the fact there was no pre-nup, wondering what effect it would all have on the children.

Belgium was trapped in a loveless marriage. There appeared to be no return. Not even beer and chocolate could paper over the cracks anymore.

Today, however, we can hear the sound of vows being renewed. The only cracks are wise ones during the celebratory speeches. Champagne glasses splintering from over exuberance.

La Libre Belgique has been conducting a Tour de Flandre, its own inquiry into what Flanders really thinks. And the results are quite surprising.

One in two Flemish wants a unified Belgium. Apparently. For those who think that Belgium is currently unified – think again by the way - what this figure actually means is that one in two Flemish wants powers transferred back from the Regions (Flanders, Wallonia, Brussels) to the Federal level. They want less Flanders not more.

An independent Flanders, no way. The status quo at a push but no further. As La Libre puts it, ‘we are not far from a qualified majority of 75% (for the current arrangements) if we add the 23% of Flemish favourable to the institutional status quo.’

As surprising, 70% of the Flemish don’t regard Brussels as their capital. Antwerp’ll do, they say. Or something to that effect.

If there is one generally accepted ‘truth’ in Belgium, it is that Brussels – rather than chips, beer, chocolate, football, the royalty - is the glue that binds the country together. It is a francophone island in a sea of flanders. Neither ‘side’ will consider letting it go and so the loveless marriage trundles on.

Well it has taken the intrepid La Libre Belgique a couple of days to discover that this may not actually be the case.

So can we can all live happily ever after then? Well yes, unless of course the Flemish respondents were telling tales….. Or La Libre Belgique was just making it all up....heaven forbid.

I think there will probably be a little bit more debate necessary before we can conclude that the marriage bed is today a warmer place.

Saturday, March 10

The Week that Was

Astrologists take the Kroescial decisions
‘Neelie Kroes in the Stars’, roared Dutch daily freesheet De Pers on 7 March. The European Union’s Competition policy supremo, it reveals, cannot do anything before seeking astrological advice.

“She called me sometimes daily for her horoscope,” her ex-astrologist Simon Suiker revealed to De Pers, “she hung on my every word”.

Well that’s just great for the officials in DG Competition isn’t it. Five years working on a (fast-track) file, then your Commissioner picks up the telephone to her astrologist to decide what needs to be done. Excellent.

Perhaps she just wanted to know how to stop being eclipsed by her colleagues?

Playmates eclipse stock exchange experts
Maybe Kroes is on to something though. Why bother consulting the experts when there are cracks and the completely unqualified aplenty bursting with opinions?

In these times of stock market turbulence, Brussels freesheet Metro newspaper reported that the portfolios of selected playmates outperformed those of a group of financial experts over the course of 2006. Their secret? Well, Miss February selected IBM on the basis that she “likes sending emails”, while Miss September opted for a portfolio top heavy in pharma stocks due to her predisposition for “staying healthy”.

Not so Wise Tom
If you don’t need real experts to give you policy advice, you can always use them to try to earn a little cash on the side. If you do so it is best to do it wisely, however. Tom Wise has blatantly failed to live up to his name. On 3 March, the Sunday Times gave us the latest instalment of the financial dealings of the UKIP MEP.

What is particularly disappointing is how Tom chose to invest his embezzled money. £6,5000 is alleged to have gone on a Green Peugeot 406. Green being the colour of the car and nothing to do with its CO2 emissions.

Next time Tom you might be better off hiring Miss December who boasted superior returns on the basis of investing in bank stocks. Her reasoning being “I like money.”

And finally…
Keeping with the financial theme, and also because I think it is pretty funny, it seems appropriate to look back on an Onion article explaining how the markets might actually have rebounded this week.


Friday, March 9

Chinese Year of the Pig no match for EU-China Year of Science

It may be the Chinese Year of the Pig but what is really getting the Chinese worked up is the EU-China Year of Science.

Only weeks into the Chinese new year and enthusiasm has already receeded to to point of whimper. Grafitti referring to the 'Year of the damp Squib' has allegedly begun to spring up on dams around the country. Were it the Year of the Dragon, one would be tempted to say that it had run out of puff.

No Puff?

Sources are suggesting that it was the unrelenting style and verve of the Commission's original press release that first attracted the Chinese. "How can a few firework displays compete with prose like that", complained a depressed Beijing mandarin charged with the uneviable task of reigniting the public interest. "Since that damned press missive it has been simple damage limitation."

Even the fact that it is a Lunar Year of the Pig - think multiple milleniums, as one China gazer put it - has left the Chinese unmoved. "It simply does not possess the same sort of attraction for young people as the recent joint EU-China exhibit on S&T co-operation at the Shenzhen High Tech Fair or the EU-Asia East Midland’s cooperation event at Leicester University", commented a well known face on the Shanghai party scene.

It is understood that all hope has been lost. Chinese officials in the department of the new year are now placing all of their hopes on next year's Year of the Rat but are watching nervously to see what the EU might have up its sleeve. An EU-China Year of Food Safety could be disastrous, they fear.

Inside: Vietnam and Korea break diplomatic ties with EU in bid to avoid similar fiascos.

Wednesday, March 7

Alotta Fagina

Ronald Plasterk, Dutch politician and current minister for Education, Culture and Science in the government of Harry Potter, sorry I mean Jan Peter Balkenende, has called for a single working language in the European Union.

In an interview with the NRC Handelsblatt, Plasterk says that "there is not a single serious international organisation where a single language isn't spoken, generally English. In science, business, sport, the army, art, in show business, " Ankara your votes please", nowhere else have you a circus in which 25 languages are translated in all different directions. Even at the European Central Bank they speak English; not because England is the boss, in fact there is only one member country where they speak English, and that is Ireland."

Being Dutch, Plasterk touches on a number of controversial subjects. Calling the Eurovision song contest show business is one. Calling for a single language for the EU institutions clearly (his main point and) another. Then there is the question of which language is spoken in Ireland. Ireland's first official language is actually Irish / Gaelic. It is also, presumably much to Plasterk's displeasure, the latest addition to the list of official EU languages.

I'm with Ronald on this one. I was slightly surprised by the Irish government's decision to request the possibility for Irish to be used at EU level. Ireland is an increasingly wealthy, self-confident nation, unphased by the past. It is now richer than its larger neighbour. In sport, it welcomed the old nemesis into the home of Gaelic games only last week and handed it the mother of all thrashings. Hell, an Irishman, Pierce Brosnan, has even played James Bond, the quintessential Englishman.

Despite all of this success, however, use of the the Irish language remains stagnant. It is a sad state of affairs, to be sure, but not one that is likely to be rectified by granting the people of Ireland the opportunity to request a copy of the Regulation to establish a common authorisation procedure for food additives, food enzymes and food flavourings.

Indeed, the European Commission's press release – stop yawning down the back - states that "currently, there are virtually no interpreters available who can work from Irish." Could it be any clearer that the life or death struggle for the language will be fought at home in Ireland? The (eventual) training of five translators to live and work in Brussels is not going to make the difference.

Stop with the symbolic gestures and get down to the real business of saving the language. Otherwise it is only a matter of time before the remnants of Gaelic will only be seen in the many words it has bequeathed to English. A clan, as many people will know, is the Gaelic for tribe. Phoney comes from fáinne, ring. The term apparently originated from Irish immigrants in US referring to fake gold rings illegally marketed there. Smithereens comes from smidiríní meaning little pieces. And not a lot of people know that galore comes from the Gaelic go leor, which means, enough .

The EU has done a lot for Ireland but it is too big an ask for Brussels to rectify a situation in which the English handed out 800 years of oppression and destroyed a language in return for, well, a single James Bond and.....Pussy Galore.

Tuesday, March 6

Second Life - You Read it Here First

EU Considers Going Virtual’ claimed on 2 March

But on 23 February, you read it on the witloof first

Commission spokesman Mikolaj Dowgielewicz – a virtual pat on the back for the first person to pronounce that correctly – did not comment on whether they are considering relocating entirely.

Monday, March 5


Daphne Wayne Bough, society host and gay icon, is considering learning Flemish. Or Dutch as it is called in Flemish, if you see what I mean.

Daphne got her camera out to illustrate the clear dangers of taking such a step. But more of that below. Learning Dutch also has its advantages for the English speaker.

For a start there is the apparent similarity between the two languages. Waar is het toilet? Staggering in its resemblance to where is the toilet I am sure you will agree. They try to confuse you with the rearrangement of the letters of the definite article but it is hardly a Countdown conundrum.

Plus, if you get stuck you can always throw an English sounding word into the sentence and the chances are that you will be understood. Even if they might have said it a little differently. Dunglish, where Dutch and English collide……

Lobbing English curse words into your sentences is especially advantageous it seems. It places you above the law according to this charming story in which a young gentleman roars ‘fuck you’ at a policeman but having been charged by the officer in question is let off by the judge, who ruled that while it was ‘not very nice’ it was also not ‘ insulting’.

Before we get to complacent, however, Learning Dutch is not all a bed of roses. For every bed van rozen - who could have guessed it! - there is a kunst wet or een dikke shag. Een dikke shag – well what other type of shag is there, says you – is actually a thick cigarette tobacco. A very false friend, if you are fond of rollies.

The pronunciation can present a challenge, particularly those dratted double vowels. A double vowel is supposed to be pronounced which essentially means droning ‘aaaaaaaa’ or ‘oooooooo’ for about five seconds as if you have completely forgotten what it is you set out to say. It is important, however. Consider the lessons of kaak versus kak. Jaw versus poo. You have the choice between sounding stupid or very stupid.

There is also the danger of literal translations. I recently struggled to understand why everyone seemed so taken aback that an acquaintance had recently afgestapt. Afgestapt (literally ‘stepped off’) as far as I was concerned means ‘disembarked’. What form of public transport did he get off, I enquired. His wife, it emerged. Yes, afgestapt is also to walk out (on one’s responsibilities).

I’ll not even mention those confusing dipthongs.

Go for it Daphne.

Friday, March 2

Junior consultant labels EP vote ‘significant’, faces can

Rupert Leffler, Junior Consultant for EU Affairs with lobbyists Influence Pedl Inc., has caused outrage amongst the firm’s client base by labelling as “significant” the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee first reading vote on the draft directive on the importance of commercial distinction between fundamentally similar products.

Frustrations with the directive appear to have spilled over with Leffler bearing the brunt. In email exchanges seen by the witloof, the words “bitch slap”, reappear regularly. It goes on to say that they would like to “open a can of whoopass” on Leffler’s head.

Influence Pedl Inc. with an address at 1 Rue des Portes Pivotantes, represents a number of clients for whom the directive is problematic, including Pepsi and Murphy’s Stout.

Article 7 of the draft directive stipulates that simply being a different company is not sufficient to prove that the products actually differ. It introduces a requirement for the distinctions between a product and its main competitors to be clearly included on the label. The Parliament, in its infinite wisdom, has voted to maintain this requirement.

Pepsi and Murphy’s, who have mounted expensive lobbying campaigns, have whinged that they cannot comply because their main competitors, Coke and Guinness, will not actually tell them what their products are made of.

The firm’s senior partner, McKensie Mucksavage, Scottish, has moved to calm clients by claiming that Leffler had “slightly overestimated the role of the Parliament in the democratic process”. We are confident that the member states will recognise the anomaly that this proposal creates, he said, possibly forgetting that the Irish have even less influence over Council discussions than the Americans, who are not even present.

Leffler commented obliquely “following on from the recent doubts over my parentage it is the last thing that I needed right now”.

Inside: Murphy’s to reveal country in which legal drinking age is 2.
(click on picture to enlarge)

The Great Firewall of China

This blog is banned in China.

Tim Worstall's is not.

Thursday, March 1

Trapped in a loveless marriage called Belgium

Our man in the orient, Yorkie Pittstop Jr, has discovered the virtues or having other people do the writing for your blog. So I thought I would get in on the act and let the Chicago Tribune do my donkey work.

Here is how they led into an article on Belgium, that actually received quite a lot of attention in the local press……..

"They've been a couple so long they can't remember what brought them together in the first place.

But now they've grown apart. They don't watch the same TV shows or listen to the same music. They don't even speak the same language. About the only thing they have in common is a taste for beer and chocolate.

They stay together mainly out of habit, and also because it would be such a headache to break up the household and divide the communal property.

If you know a couple like this, then you will understand the Belgians."

Read the full article here.

One would have thought that the usual chocolate and beer clichés would have had the Belgians choking on their nutella sandwiches but it seems that starved of attention as they are the article is being viewed as one of the better attempts to explain the workings of this endlessly complex square couple of kilometres.

The point made about a ‘lack of a founding myth’ is interesting, the Brussels issue obvious, but what really makes the article for me is the line ‘trapped in a loveless marriage called Belgium’.

Someone buy that man a Maes.