Sunday, 29 January 2012

Art Truc Troc 2012

From January 27 to January 29, Bozar hosted Art Truc Troc, Belgium's largest contemporary art exhibition. The idea behind Truc Troc is that participating artists can exchange their artwork for goods or services offered by visitors. 

At the entrance, post-its were handed out so people could write down their (decent and indecent) proposals and stick them next to the artwork they liked.


It is now up to the artists to pick their favorite proposals and exchange the pieces of art.

By Eve Beurskens

'Going Down In LA-LA Land' to open Belgium's 26th LGBT Film Festival - Interview with director Casper Andreas

Actor and director Casper Andreas
© Mark Odgers
Next week, Belgium's LGBT Film Festival (Festival Lesbien Gay Bi Trans de Belgique) kicks off. The 26th edition opens on February 2nd with the screening of GOING DOWN IN LA-LA LAND, a romantic drama about a struggling actor with big dreams, trying to survive in Hollywood. The film was written, directed and produced by Swedish-born Casper Andreas. 

Another one of Casper's films, the comedy VIOLET TENDENCIES, will screen during the film festival's opening night as well. In addition to producing and directing, Casper is also an actor and he stars in both films. 

ESJ talked to Casper about what it is like to act in your own films, about adapting the screenplay for GOING DOWN IN LA-LA LAND, the industry in Los Angeles, and his next project – a period film about a Swedish king and his male lover.

Are you excited that both GOING DOWN IN LA-LA LAND and VIOLET TENDENCIES are screening at the opening night of the Festival Lesbien Gay Bi Trans de Belgique? 

Naturally I'm thrilled! It's a great honor to have two of my films on the festival programme. 

The screenplay for VIOLET TENDENCIES was written by Jesse Archer, whom you also worked with on A FOUR LETTER WORD. Did he ask you to direct this film or was it you who proposed the collaboration? 

Originally he asked me to co-write the script with him. It's kind of a spin-off from A FOUR LETTER WORD that we wrote together, which is a spin-off of SLUTTY SUMMER. I was busy making another film at the time so I told him to go ahead and write the script himself, and that if it turned out any good I'd direct it. This offended him greatly, naturally, so once the script was finished I had to beg him to let me direct it [laughs].

Jesse Archer (Luke) and Mindy Cohn (Violet)

VIOLET TENDENCIES is about a 40-year old fag hag trying to find love, does Jesse Archer hang out with a lot of 40-year old fag hags or where did the idea for the film come from?

He does indeed! The film was inspired by his friend Margaret Echeverria, who plays the character Audrey who gets married in the first scene. Audrey also had a supporting role in A FOUR LETTER WORD and Jesse's idea was to take a character like the fag hag who often is so marginalized even in gay culture and put her front and center. Jesse also useed to say that he wouldn't have survived high school if it wasn't for his fag hags who were there to protect him. So, the film really is a love letter to these women everywhere -- though just in case someone takes offense at the portrayal of Violet -- she is an over-the-top character in an over-the-top comedy and certainly not supposed to represent all fag hags.

Casper Andreas (Marcus) in VIOLET TENDENCIES

Marcus and Luke, two characters from SLUTTY SUMMER, reappear in this film. Why were they brought back?

Well Luke, played by Jesse Archer, is making his third appearance, probably because Jesse wrote the script. My character Marcus from SLUTTY SUMMER was not in A FOUR LETTER WORD since I wanted to focus just on directing with that film. But we both thought it would be fun to bring him back in this one. The three films are all about a group of New Yorkers, and for each film we have introduced a lot of new characters as well. It was a lot of fun bringing back some of the earlier characters and see what they would do next.

Do you think people can relate to the story?

Yes absolutely. And I'm not just talking about straight women who spend all their time with gay men. Though Violet is front and center in the film, the other storylines include gay men dealing with monogamy and whether or not to have kids. Ultimately the film is about being true to who you are and about how we as gay people often have to create our own families.

Mindy Cohn (Violet) in VIOLET TENDENCIES

The role of Violet seems perfect for Mindy Cohn. Whose idea was it to cast her? Did she agree right away?

Originally we had planned to cast Margaret Echevierria, who inspired the script in the leading role. But then we were encouraged to go after "name" actresses. We approached a few people before a friend suggested Mindy Cohn in the very last minute. Mindy was a teenage star on the American TV show THE FACTS OF LIFE and a lot of gay men in the US, having grown up with her on that show, LOVED the idea of her in this role. So casting Mindy certainly helped getting the film more attention in the US. Though we did some rehearsals via Skype before Mindy arrived on the set in New York (she lives in Los Angeles) I didn't get a chance to even meet her beforehand. So of course I was a little nervous about how it would  turn out. But Mindy just threw herself into the role and we could tell right away that she was just perfect as Violet.

Matthew Ludwinski (Adam) and Michael Medico (John)

How is GOING DOWN IN LA-LA LAND different from your previous films?

I'm mostly known for my romantic comedies, such as THE BIG GAY MUSICAL. I've made one film though that was quite different: a pretty dark relationship drama called BETWEEN LOVE & GOODBYE. I call that my European film [laughs]. GOING DOWN IN LA-LA LAND is somewhere in the middle -- it still has a lot of comedy, but mainly of the dry and black kind. It also has a lot of drama so I think of it as a dramedy.

You wrote the screenplay for GOING DOWN IN LA-LA LAND, which was based on a novel by Andy Zeffer. When you read the book, did you know right away that you wanted to adapt it into a screenplay?

I liked the book and I did think right away that this would lend itself well to a movie. It had a lot of great characters and an interesting plot. Since I myself have lived the life of a struggling actor in Los Angeles for a few years about a decade ago, I certainly could relate to a lot of the struggles Adam is going through and what it's like being a starving actor in LA, where being an unemployed actor makes you feel like the lowest of the low. The leading character, Adam, ends up dabbling in porn and prostitution and I also thought it was interesting to explore why this handsome young man, whose goal it is to establish himself as an actor, would go down that road? Why would he think it would be a good idea? So I tried to depict his gradual descent into that world in the film.

Did you ever receive any proposals to get into pornography?

No, I didn't. I had a neighbour for a while, though, who was giving massages with happy endings out of his apartment, and who tried to convince me that it was a much better day job than waiting tables. I was also offered a job doing nude house cleaning for guys who liked having someone being naked while cleaning in their apartments! I declined.

Do you think it is common for gay male actors to end up working in the adult entertainment industry?

Well it certainly happens. The book is actually based on a true story. But I think most people who are serious about an acting career would know to stay away from it. I think Adam in the film ends up getting some of the attention and adulation that he is seeking -- and that, probably, is part of the reason for why he wanted to be an actor in the first place -- from the adult entertainment industry. I think that is a major reason actually for why anyone would get into that business.

Matthew Ludwinski (Adam) and Allison Lane (Candy)

Did you have to make any major changes to the story in order to adapt it into a screenplay? What did you have to leave out or change?

Well, I told Andy Zeffer right away that I only wanted to do it if I had full creative freedom. Having lived in LA myself I also wanted to incorporate some of my experiences in the film, so sometimes I added things that were not in the book. Granted, a lot of the plot of the book had to be excluded, but that is always the case when it comes to book-to-screen adaptations. I ended up focusing on the story-lines that were the most interesting  to me. And although I certainly didn't have to change the ending -- the book has a great ending also -- I came up with an ending that I liked even better. Despite the many changes I  still feel that the film captures the book well and many people who have read the novel have also told me so after screenings.

GOING DOWN IN LA-LA LAND is the first film that you shot in Los Angeles. Is the work environment in Hollywood different from the one in New York?

Well I don't think I ever will make a low-budget film in LA again. It's not a very film friendly town for independent films. In New York, the city and state gives you lots of incentives for shooting there -- tax breaks, free permits, free parking, free access to many city locations and parks etc. In LA they charge you for everything. Plus no one is excited about helping out making a film just for fun. In New York we have been able to scape together so many resources from friends: they would show up to be extras in a scene, lend us their apartments to shoot in, lend us clothes or props and so on. So I much prefer shooting in New York. It's also easier since that's where I live [laughs].

Just like in VIOLET TENDENCIES and SLUTTY SUMMER, you are not only the director but you also act in the film. I imagine it to be quite difficult and time-consuming to direct yourself. Why did you decide to act in your own films? Will you do it again in the future?

My first love is acting so the actor part of me wants a part in my films. But it is very stressful to do double duty and it makes my job as director much harder. That is also why I made three films that I'm not acting in. I really loved playing Nick in GOING DOWN IN LA-LA LAND, though. It was a great character to work on and I had a lot of fun; so yes, I might consider casting myself again sometime if there is a role I'm right for.

Matthew Ludwinski (Adam) and Bruce Vilanch (Missy)

I spotted Bruce Vilanch in the trailer. I love him! Did he write his own lines or was his dialogue already in the script?

Bruce is so funny! His dialogue was in the script but he also ad-libed a lot of fun stuff. Some of it we were able to keep but some of his funniest stuff we actually had to cut out because it was too over the top for the tone of the film. It will certainly end up on the DVD extras though.

Would you ever consider coming back to Europe to make a film here?

I love that question because I actually just got the film rights to a Swedish novel based on a true story about a former Swedish king and his male lover. You are actually the first person I tell about this! I plan to make this film in Sweden if I can get the funding together. It's a period film so I will need quite a big budget, and it might take a while to make it happen, but I'm very excited about it.

What else are you working on right now?

In addition to my Swedish project, I'm looking to get hired to act and to direct some bigger budget stuff; Film or TV. So far I've been producing all my films myself and I have made them all on very small budgets. I'm kind of burned out with that. I would like to just come in and direct something and not worry about all the business stuff. I'm attached to directing a wonderful script called OVER THE RAINBOW but not sure when it will happen since the producers are still looking for funding.

If people only have time to see one of your films at the Festival Lesbien Gay Bi Trans de Belgique, which one should they go see; VIOLET TENDENCIES or GOING DOWN IN LA-LA LAND?

Well GOING DOWN IN LA-LA LAND is my newest film so that is the one I'm most excited about. Plus, since I also wrote the screenplay, I think I'm a little bit more attached to it, compared to Violet Tendencies. Shh,  don't tell Jesse [laughs]. But I would highly suggest that everyone makes an effort to go and see both of them. They are both a lot of fun!

By Eve Beurskens

Commissioner Šefčovič balances relations between institutions

Maroš Šefčovič is Vice-President of the European Commission, responsible for the inter-Institutional portfolio. The Slovak Commissioner talked to Lucia Mrázová and European Stagiaires Journal about his current agenda, the past and future of the Commission, and about ensuring all citizens that the Commission does not distance itself from any of the Member States or any other institution.

Despite your young age, you have already had a successful diplomatic career, do you have a recipe for how to accomplish these achievements or how to become a Commissioner?

Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the European Commission
Actually, I am not the youngest Commissioner; we had several others even younger. That I became a Commissioner at a relatively young age is very much related to the transformation that Slovakia went through. I started working for the Slovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1993 and I was previously  a diplomat of Czechoslovakia. A very unusual thing happened to me and within a very short period of time, I had several postings in Africa, in Canada, in Israel and in Belgium. With the accession process of Slovakia to the EU, my work was  related to EU affairs. Being deeply involved in this process, I managed to build up a broad network of people in Slovakia and in Brussels. All this led to my appointment as Vice-President of the Commission, about fifteen years after I became involved in EU affairs.

What are the main challenges of your current agenda and daily life?

We have a lot of challenges. Especially this week, with the European Citizens Initiative platform, which marks a new beginning for the European participatory democracy. We are implementing new ways of communication between institutions and citizens. On one hand, it is a very exciting project and we encounter a lot of enthusiasm. But we also see a lot of scepticism. Notwithstanding this, we are looking forward to introduce this new tool that is supposed to attract young people via social media.

As you have mentioned, the European Citizens Initiative platform is a new tool in European democracy. How does the Commission intend to assure its availability as well as its visibility?

The process needs to be very simple. We wish to assure that the European Citizens Initiative platform keeps its citizen character, since it is an initiative for citizens. Therefore, we want seven people from seven countries to be able to register an initiative easily .

Some of the expenses of launching an initiative lie on the initiators, for example translation costs. Doesn't that discourage average people from submitting an initiative and rather allow bigger fishes to take part?

It will strongly depend on the activity of the citizens. Our task is to make it as simple as possible for them. Even the registration form is very simple and is restricted to several hundred characters. The other information needed is also relatively straightforward. We simply did not want to limit a room for initiative, thus translation will be a responsibility of the initiator. Obviously, when we notice that there is an elementary or essential issue with the translation, the Commission will help and notify the initiators. But we do not want to interfere in the registration itself, simply because it could evoke further questions as to who are we helping, and who we did not help.

Another current issue that we follow, especially in Brussels, is the discussion on Staff Regulation that you are in charge of. We have seen protests, we have seen frustration. How does this matter proceed?

Today, the process goes on within the Commission mostly. On May 30th, the Commission took note of the proposal of the staff regulation reform. And since then, we have launched a social dialogue with the staff union. We participated in about 18 working meetings and I have met with representatives several times. I believe it was beneficial for both sides. After all, the Commission officially approved this proposal at the December session. The proposal was sent to legislators, to the Parliament and to the Council, and currently we are involved in negotiations with the Parliament and the Danish Presidency on how to speed it up. By the end of this year, the salary method will expire, thus we try to adopt the proposal this year.

During times of crisis and with the current political situation in Europe, the Commission is often accused of being more politicized than ever before. Do you agree with this perception?

The Commission faces different accusations, depending on who you are talking with and which political opinion they have. The Commission is an institution sui-generis, it is a political body with pretty strong quasi-jurisdictional powers. We are obliged to fulfil those tasks included in the Treaty. I have to say that during college discussions, you would have difficulties to recognise political background of the speaker out of the performance. Most decisions are adopted unanimously. I think this stands for every commissioner, the main motivation is that his or her proposal fulfils the general interest of the EU. I believe that this switch was inevitable but at the same time, the Commission fulfils all tasks of regulator and technocratic manager of the European matters and it constantly gains new and new competencies.

As we have mentioned your young age, would you like to remain Commissioner or would you prefer to become the President of the Commission in the future?

Indeed, this question will come up in 2014. We will see, as we are currently just at halftime. The job that I have is extremely interesting and I am glad I have this opportunity here.

Would you be interested in any specific portfolio? Maybe you dream about something related to your personal preferences…

Today, I am just dreaming about how to deal with my current portfolio. This discussion will really come up in 2014 and we will see how the position of the Commission as such will change.

By Lucia Mrázová

Friday, 27 January 2012

The European Institutions: Multiculturalism homogenised?

Four months ago, as I gazed across the sea of faces at the opening conference of the Winter Traineeship, I was taken aback. Not by the considerable number of stagiaires sat in Flagey’s auditorium, but rather by the homogeneity of their appearance. In spite of their diverse origins, both within and outside of the European Union (EU), I could discern only one non-Caucasian among the crowd. Two days ago, while forcing down some overcooked vegetables in Charlemagne’s cafeteria, I casually undertook the same exercise. It would appear that the fonctionnaire community does not offer much more of cultural mosaic: I saw one black man.

In an institution that prides itself on its multicultural composition and whose very foundations are built on the union of different peoples, the visible lack of ethnic diversity at the European Commission (EC) is, for me, highly problematic. Indeed, the very perception of the EC as a multicultural organisation should be reconsidered. While it is certainly true that the EC recruits from 27 different countries, each state is almost invariably represented by individuals who fall into their country’s dominant ethnic group.

This is unrepresentative of the ethnically diverse Europe that we live in. More than 3 million Britons are of Indian origin; a large number of French citizens are of North Africa ethnicity; and the Netherlands has a large Turkish community. No European country is painted white, so why is the Commission and other European Institutions generally so?

It would seem that either European citizens from ethnic minorities are not applying for professional positions within the institutions, or they are not succeeding in passing the concours. While historically, the lower educational level of citizens from certain ethnic minorities would have impeded their ability to apply and succeed at the concours in the past, this is changing. Students of Indian background in the UK for example, constitute some of the highest achievers. As more is done on a national level to address historical educational disadvantages of ethnic minorities, the European Union has role to play in ensuring that the European institutions’ personnel reflect the demographic makeup of Europe today. In order to achieve this, the European Personnel Section Office’s (ESPO) must incentivise qualified individuals from ethnic minorities to apply.

While ESPO places ‘diversity’ among its six values, its adoption of a non-discriminatory recruitment process denies the possibility affirmative action schemes. Member states are strongly divided in their policy on positive discrimination in public sector recruitment. While the UK government runs a summer internship programme that only black and minority ethnic (BME) Britons may apply for, Slovakia’s Constitutional Court has declared that providing advantages for people of an ethnic or racial minority group is against its Constitution. EPSO’s hesitance to address the ethic imbalance in the European Institutions may therefore be explained, to a certain degree, by the vastly differing domestic approaches to positive discrimination.

Nevertheless, whether positive discrimination is employed or not, the case for a more heterogeneous European governance is clear. If the EU is to achieve its objective of ensuring the well-being of all European citizens as set out in the Lisbon Treaty, there must be representation of these citizens in key decision-making positions. It might benefit the EU to take a step back and remind itself of its own motto for a moment...

Unity in diversity.

By Sonia Jordan

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Job Fair of stagiaires has been a success

The Job Fair organized by the Job Fair Subcommittee has been a real success! On January 18, stagiaires got the possibility to not only deliver their CVs to real companies and potential employers, but they could also participate in several workshops, for example on cover letter writing or networking.

European Stagiaires Journal and trainees express their thank you to the organizers and congratulate them on this successful event. Don´t  forget to fill in the evaluation form of the workshops,  the organizers will appreciate it.

 By Lucia Mrázova and Inga Vaiciakauskaite

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Help Solidarity to raise 5,000 euros at the Multi Kulti Festival

The Solidarity Subcommittee has raised almost 4,000 euro for a water irrigation project in Bolivia. At the Multi-Kulti Festival on January 28, which Solidarity is organizing together with the Stage Committee and National Events Subcommittee, the association hopes to raise part of the remaining 5,000 euro. ESJ spoke to Inga, the communications officer of the Solidarity Subcommittee. Inga studied politics in the UK and is currently doing a traineeship with DG Regio in the European Commission.

Why did you decide to become involved in the Solidarity Subcommittee?

I wanted to join the subcommittee for Solidarity because it best matched my personal interests; I have been interested in Humanitarian Aid and Human Rights for many years. I used to work with refugees for example, and I volunteered for Amnesty International. Since Solidarity was the only subcommittee devoted specifically to volunteering I decided to sign up for that one. As the communications officer I communicate with the stage committee and the porte-paroles. But I also do more hands-on tasks such as helping out at parties and I hope to provide pictures for the photography exhibition.

What is the main aim of the Solidarity SC?

Our main goal is to increase awareness on social and humanitarian issues. Each traineeship period, the subcommittee chooses one or more projects for which it raises funds. Our group has chosen to fund "Colquechaca", a project which aims to provide irrigation and drinking water to two villages in Bolivia. The project was chosen from a list of almost 30 projects, all of which aim to reduce poverty, but this one stood out because it focuses on Latin America, rather than Africa or India (where most other projects were located). This project also appealed to people because the budget of 9.300 euro is a challenging yet manageable goal for fundraising. 9.300 euro may sound like a lot of money, but the previous group of trainees managed to raise 8000 euro.

Can you tell me a bit more about the "Colquechaca" project?

Colquechaca is actually a region in Bolivia, North of Potosi. The project was initiated by Father André Verheylewegen, a priest and doctor, who is responsible for the parish of Colquechaca. Father Verheylewegen wants to build an irrigational system and a system supplying drinking water in the peasant communities of Toruro and Qota. At the moment, drinking water is very scarce and people try to use cloths to tie pipes which can transport the water from the small water tank to the villages. The project foresees in providing a bigger water tank for both communities and making the necessary adjustments and work to properly install the pipes and to ensure their durability.

The Solidarity Subcommittee works together with Europe Third World, which provides support for 25 to 30 projects each year. What does this collaboration look like?

We work very closely with Europe Third World: they had evaluated all 30 projects that were on the list we could choose from, so the project in Bolivia had already approved by them. Additionally, the Solidarity Subcommittee will help Europe Third World with the evaluation of future projects. Each week on Tuesday, a few trainees join the ETW meeting and they have a few months to evaluate a specific project. The evaluation process consists of things like contacting references and checking the credibility. At the end, the trainees give their opinion on whether or not the project should receive funding.

How much money have you raised so far and how did you accomplish this?

We have raised nearly 4,000 Euros by now through several initiatives and events. We've had a Bolivia-themed night, a pub quiz, a raffle, carol singing and cookbook selling campaigns as well as work at cloakrooms during Stage parties. The most successful events were the Bolivian night and the pub quiz.

Which events were the most successful? How do you plan to raise the remaining 5,000 euro?

Our next major event is the Multi Kulti festival which, hopefully, will attract crowds of stagiaires and which will be the most memorable event for all of us. The night will be divided into two parts – the food fair and the party. At the food fair we will have around 20 stalls with food and drinks, representing different European and other countries. We have also prepared many surprises and activities, and all the money collected through the ticket sale will go towards the project.

By Eve Beurskens

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

OUT & ABOUT - Week 4

Art Truc Troc at Bozar, January 27-29

Solidarity, the Stage Committee and National events subcommittee are really excited to announce the best and biggest event of the stage - Multi Kulti festival! Saturday from 20:00 to 22:30, Café des Halles in St. Géry will be the location for the Multi Kulti Food Fair. Expect food and drink samples from more than 15 different countries, a latino dance workshop, live music and a culture corner. The Food Fair will be followed by the Multi Kulti Party. Entrance Food Fair: €5.00. Entrance Party: €8.00 at the door.

Art Truc Troc does not only give young artists the chance to exhibit their work, it also allows them to exchange art pieces for goods or services. Considering the instability of the eurozone and the possible end of the euro as a single currency, going back to bartering does not sound like bad idea at all! Visitors can write their name and phone number on a post-it and leave it next to the artwork they like. At the last Truc Troc, artist Eric Adam exchanged a painting for a week in a penthouse in Knokke and Anthony Asael received 52 Japanese massages for his photograph. Art Truc Troc takes place at Bozar, from Friday, January 27 to Sunday, January 29. Entrance€5.00. 

On Thursday from 22:00, Maxime Duquesne, the artist behind ExtinT, will perform at Mr. Wong and sweep you away with his elegant and sensual voice. ExtinT punctuates poetic lyrics drawn from the most emotional life experiences; hope and despair, resentment and nostalgia, sex, desire and not least, love. Musical sounds were formed by objects of daily life, the human body, and amplified by electronic beats resulting in a deeply touching atmospheric texture. Entrance: FREE.

On Friday, Brussels based jazz singer Loumèn performs at the Winter Jazz Festival in Theatre Marni, Ixelles. She mixes jazz with a touch of pop, soul, funk and even electro. Backed by her quartet, Loumèn is set to present a very personal repertoire of jazzy compositions. Tickets:  €15.00

The famous violinist Vadim Repin will perform for the first time the violin concerto of Alban Berg and he has chosen the Brussels Philharmonic to work with. So don’t miss the première. The concert takes place on Friday, January 27 at 20:00. The other work that evening is ‘Le martyre de Saint Sebastien’ from Claude Debussy. Tickets:  €5.00 for stagiaires. E-mail to for more information.

On Thursday night, the Sazz 'N Jazz Musicroom near Botanique will be transformed into a little Turkish delight. Imagine yourself in the middle east at at the Soul of Istanbul, with Turkish food and traditional as well as modern Turkish music! Tickets: Presale €8.00, €10.00 at the door.

On Friday, Les Enfants Perdus presents a number of artists, including electronic DJs Curtis Jeki vs Jazzydemon and Umlaut, the brainchild of electro connoisseurs David Gorez and Johan De Vylder. Inspired by all different styles of electronic music, you can expect a musical voyage from soft house music to harder techno music, going back and then forward again. Les Enfants Perdus takes place at The Wood, which is located in the forest south of Ixelles.

Yes, it's that time of the month again! Time for crazy shit at Antitapas, the only and original party with more than 3 different stages, 5 live concerts, 3 styles of music, 3 or more dj's, free food, creativity and now also free hair cuts, a photo studio, expositions in the toilets, handmade pasta, products from Carso, fire-breathing and much more! Nearest metro: Delacroix. A free shuttle bus takes you from the city center to Antitapas and back.Tickets: €5.00 before 23:00, €8.00 after 23:00.

On Sunday, the LC Brussels Amigo screens the documentary Once upon a time in China…and I was there, too. (2011) by Italian director Nino Azzarello. Azzarello lived in China for two years and documented the daily lives of Chinese people during the Cultural Revolution. He captured the astonishment and curiosity of the people of Beijing, while they were moving, eating, walking, working or enjoying a summer Sunday in the previously forbidden city. The screening is at 18:30 at Le Cercle des Voyageurs, near Grand Place.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

… and then there were 28. Dobrodišli Croatia!

Interview with Ambassador and the Head of Mission of the Republic of Croatia to the EU, Branko Baričević.

The unusual career path of Ambassador and the Head of Mission of the Republic of Croatia to the EU began with Branko Baričević at the doorstep of his dermatology office about fifteen years ago, being asked to join a new diplomatic service for Croatia by his patient, a high position official. In 1995, he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and there he remained by launching the Diplomatic Academy in Croatia. Mr. Baričević served in the field of human rights and protocol as deputy chief of the Mission in Washington, and since 2005 he has been running the show on negotiations in Brussels. Lucia Mrázová talked to Mr. Baričevićon on the occasion of the accession treaty signing.

Croatian President, Ivo Josipović, and Croatian Prime Minister,
Jadranka Kosor, signing Croatia´s Accession Treaty
in Brussels, 9 December 2011 
The process of entry negotiations started in 2005. After being one of the main personnel involved in the negotiations for Croatian accession to the EU, on 9 December 2011 the treaty that allows Croatia to become the Union's 28th member was finally signed. Croatia received standing ovation from the European Parliament after voting on this matter. How does it make you feel?

I, personally, was very much moved by the very positive atmosphere when signing treaty. Frankly we expected that things to go faster, even though we knew it will be difficult and complicated but somehow we were really surprised. And additionally, regarding everything that is going on in the world – the crisis, a fatigue of all things European, a fatigue of all things enlargement-related – there were not many things on our side. Last year, when we got to the final phase, we were extremely happy. Of course, we knew that we would make it, but some obstacles were difficult to overcome. When we started the negotiations, we used the experience of the big-bang-countries, the ten new Member States, and we were in excellent communication with them. The Commission was also a big support, as a partner and a guide during the negotiations. They were supposed to be our best friend, but sometimes it did not look like that, because they are demanding and they ask a lot. But at the end of the day, the Commission was extremely helpful. It is not only our success, but also a success for the Commission, and all the Member states involved.

What will Croatia bring to the European Union?

Croatia and the whole EU show that the accession process is alive, that Europe is still attractive. It shows a positive image to other EU countries. The public is questioning the very existence of the EU and people stopped understanding why we were all together. Nevertheless, we need to be active and engaged in the process. Peace and security are the results of a big effort, it does not happen just like that. Croatia coming to the EU brings an atmosphere that it is necessary to be happy and proud living in this continent. It would be very unfortunate to stop development here or to move backwards.
Generally, we need to get all countries to unite the continent. Croatia is very much a central European country, a Mediterranean country in the Balkans, and we help to reinforce stability and prosperity in Europe. This white whole in Balkans is getting smaller. We also hope that our neighbours will follow our example and that we will be there to help them along.

A dispute over borders with your neighbour Slovenia prolonged the process of accession. Arbitrary judges met for the first time to dissolve it just yesterday (January 10th) in Brussels. What are Croatian expectations?

The whole process of negotiations was basically blocked because of this dispute. But it should not be forgotten that Slovenia was always very much supportive of Croatia in its accession, we have always had excellent relations. At the end, the way out of problem was found in arbitration and we were able to continue to communicate. But it is difficult to talk about results as we are only in the middle of this process. We think the solution is here and arbitration will be carried out. We are currently awaiting a list of possible judges for the tribunal. Hopefully, it may be resolved this month and the process will progress by itself.

Don't you fear even a slight possibility that Slovenia may veto Croatian membership, which is still possible, due to this issue?

No, that is not possible here. This situation keeps processing. Apart from the odd delay, we do not envisage any problems. And the process will continue.

What are your relations like with other neighboring countries? Croatia can be a bright example at the EU engagement reaching for them. In what ways Croatia is supportive?

First of all, we like to be helpful. We are happy to see that things are moving, Montenegro is closer, and relations are improving with Bosnia. Thanks to Croatia, I believe the whole region is moving one step forward. It is very motivational, in the same way it was to us when Slovenia and Hungary, our neighbours, became part of the EU.

And what about the rest of the Balkans? Croatia recognizes an independent Kosovo, does this have a negative impact on relations with Serbia?

We think that Serbia and Kosovo have to find a solution. We did recognize Kosovo the same day as Hungary and Bulgaria - three neighbors of Serbia jointly recognized Kosovo as a message to Serbia. But with this recognition, we are also willing to improve our relations with Serbia. Frankly, I don’t see our how are relations would have deteriorated with this act. Croatia needs to be kind of a mediator because we need to have a stable and prosper neighborhood. For this purpose, our prime minister handed over a translation of the key aquis communitaire to our neighbors. We translated them all at our expense. As some countries are in the process, we will transfer to them them our know-how, like done in the past, and how, for instance Slovakia did for us.

A referendum on Croatian accession will be held in Croatia in January 22nd. Polls are talking about support only slightly over 50 per cent. What do you expect and why numbers are not higher?

"The EU is not really a question of choice for us,
it is our destiny."
It is interesting that, after elections were held in Croatia over a month ago, all parties in the Parliament are now pro-European, except maybe one seat of one party. Parties that were against the EU did not even make it to the Parliament. We live in a democracy and everybody has a right to express his or her view. We know that other countries have some Eurosceptics, but Croatia is a very open country and very pro-European. This year, we had about 10 million tourists in Croatia and about 80 or 90 per cent of them were from the European Union. Our trade is connected to the EU by more than 80 per cent. Being part of the EU is not really a question of choice for us, it is our destiny. It is irrational saying we do not want to be part of it, as we are already there: in geographical, economic, and diplomatic terms. We know there are certain groups, for instance young people, who are not sceptical but rather a bit ignorant. They do not care as much because they take the things they enjoy for granted. They are not very motivated, as they do not need to fight for it. So now, we try to reach them by social media and discussions rather than by political involvement. But still, I am an optimist and I believe we will have the support of 60 per cent of our citizens.

Are there any remaining issues that Croatia needs to work on by its full accession in July 2013?

We follow certain monitoring tables. The Commission will prepare a follow-up concerning certain obligations, particularly in chapter 2 - human rights, fundamental rights and judiciary, and also in the chapter on competition where we have a ship-building industry issue. But the Commission will check and inform the Council on how we are progressing. Negotiation has now finished but certain things still have deadlines in place. There is nothing that we have refused to do, there are no surprises. For us, most of those things are a matter of something we would do anyway.

In these economically hard times, is Croatia still as excited about joining a slightly tattered EU as  it used to be?

Some people, even as a joke, often ask here, in Brussels: are you sure that you would like to join us now? During the last couple of months, support for ascension to the EU was growing in Croatia, despite the crisis, which was also growing. But we always say to our dear friends in the Union: yeah guys, you have your problems. But you don’t understand that being out of the Union remains a bigger problem. Of course we know the Union has problems, but those problems are rather structural and we see them as a challenge. We are now at the doorstep of a new phase in the life of the Union. Every birth is painful but I am convinced that at the end, we will come to be a different, changed, but a better functioning Union. The world will not wait for us.

By Lucia Mrázová

Job Hunting? The Career and Job Fair Sc gives you some advice

Meeting of the Career and Job Fair
What is the objective of the Career and Job Fair subcommittee?

Our subcommittee's main goal is to help identify career opportunities for stagiaires during their Traineeship Program, to inform them of employers needs and requirements, and to help match stagiaires with potential employers. The activities organised by the Committee should eventually enable stagiaires to improve crucial skills such as networking, how to act during job interviews and CV and cover letter writing.

What have you organised so far and which activities are you currently working on?

The most immediate activity that we are preparing at the moment is the Job Fair, which is the biggest and most important event organised by the Career and Job Fair subcommittee. It will be held next Wednesday the 18th January in the Charlemagne building, with Panel discussions, Workshops (The art of writing a cover letter; Networking) and on-site interviews taking place throughout the day.

And very soon we will organise the "Speed-dating" with officials, which could be a fun way to have a meeting between stagiaires and officials in the various Commission DGs during an appropriate timing (for ex. lunchtime). It could be organised in cooperation with the porte-paroles of the various DGs. The past activities that we organised consisted of: A Survey, in which the stagiaires provided information about their background, career prospects, interests, as well as their preferences for the Fair exhibitors. A CV-book has been created by compiling stagiaires’ CVs and which will be provided to companies participating in the Job Fair. An Interview workshop, in which companies specialised in staff recruiting and representatives of different DGs were simulating on-site interviews in order to give us some tips on how to prepare for and act during a job interview. Andras Baneth, expert on EU competitions organised by EPSO and author of Europe's no.1 bestseller book on EU exams, gave also to us some tips on how to get an EU job. And, last but not least, we offered to the trainees the possibility of getting a good deal for business cards and in order to use them in the Job Fair and other events the stagiaires might be attending before the traineeship ends.

How many stagiaires are involved in the Career and Job Fair subcommittee?

The Career and Job Fair subcommittee counts already 54 members. Around ten of them form the core of the Committee, being the responsible officers for the several activities, as well as the two treasurers, communication officers and secretaries.

What have been the main challenges?

Organisational Chart of the Career and Job Fair subcommittee
The Career and Job Fair subcommittee is working upon a voluntary basis to offer to all the trainees the above explained activities during the period of our traineeship. Thus, first of all the members had acquired a commitment and a heavy involvement with this subcommittee. We work as a team and by doing that we have faced the challenges that an interdisciplinary and multicultural environment implies. That has offered to the team-members the possibility of getting to know how to organise and coordinate our different skills to achieve our shared goals. It has been also a very enriching experience to get knowledge on the protocols and requirements that setting up an event within the European institutions demands, particularly in terms of logistics and communication. It has been also important to develop our ability to present information effectively and advertise it through the different available communication channels with the target of motivate and attract our fellow stagiaires to participate in the activities we have been organising. And finally, we also gained experience on how to approach to companies and attract them to collaborate in the activities we have been preparing.

Was there any particular achievement?

The best reward that we could have is that our fellow trainees are satisfied with the different activities we have set up to now, either by helping them to improve their professional skills for job hunting or ideally by assisting them finding a job through the Job Fair.

Could you describe the Job Fair Event that you are currently preparing?

The Job Fair is the biggest event organised by the EC stagiaires Career Subcommittee. Its main purposes are to help fellow stagiaires to identify career opportunities, to optimise their skills and qualifications, and, ideally, to match stagiaires with potential employers, represented by our carefully selected companies and organisations. The Job Fair usually takes place twice a year, in the Charlemagne premises. This year it will be held on the 18th of January, room Alcide de Gasperi. The Fair will start at 11 am with short presentations of the companies, followed by several workshops and panel discussions. After lunch, and in parallel with the stand exhibitions, real job interviews will be held until 6.30 pm, in time for the official closure and networking cocktail. Around 400 stagiaires from all European Institutions are expected.

Could you give some hints regarding job hunting for current stagiaires?

Prepare a nice CV.

ii. Search in the different job platforms available for you in Brussels, Belgium and abroad (Eurobrussels, EurActiv, Eures, etc.), use your contacts to ask about job vacancies, visit the job opportunities websites of the different international organisations, attend Job Fairs.

iii. Understand the requirements of the job you are applying for. Study the minimum requirements and the selection criteria and think of your past or current work experience or qualifications which are related in order to write a a convincing cover letter highlighting your skills.

iv. If you get an appointment for an interview, prepare yourself beforehand by researching the criteria and the corporate philosophy of the enterprise and by learning as much as you can about the Department and Office you are applying to and the work it does.

v. Be ready to discuss your strengths and your ability to learn from past experiences. Also think about how you could contribute to the work of the Organisation and to the specific position you are applying for.

vi. Practice your answers, although there is no set format that each interview follows, prepare answers to some of the most common questions about strengths and weaknesses.

vii. Stay calm. Good preparation is the key to staying in control. Remember that your interviewers are just normal people!

viii. Ask questions about anything that is unclear about the position. The interview is your chance to ask all of your questions.

By the Career and Job Fair Subcommittee

OUT & ABOUT - Week 3

Learn about the history and process of making chocolate
at the Museum of  Cocoa and Chocolate

Act on your chocolate desires in the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate and dance off the calories at one of the many parties being organised this weekend. Brussels Up! Soundsystem at Bonnefooi on Thursday, the Vintage Party at Barrio Cafe or Midnight Club at Bar Les Nouveaux Ruses on Friday and  House of Vice at Mr Wong on Saturday.

Chocolate!!! It's difficult not to get excited about that! The stage committee invites all chocolate lovers and cocoa connoisseurs to join them on Saturday the 21st for a visit to the Museum of ChocolateCost: €6.50 (Entrance & Guided Tour. You can buy your ticket in the Stage committee office (Madou tower, 24/ 32). 

Why not start the weekend on Thursday at Bonnefooi where Brussels Up! soundsystem will play all night long.  Brussels Up! soundsystem consists of Brussels based DJ`s SebCat, LeBlanc, Darcyr and Sonidero Quilombo. They share the same interest in non western, street level music. On January 19, from 23:00 onward, expect to hear acoustic, lo fi and electronic folk pop from around the world. Entrance: FREE

Friday, the 20th of January, Barrio Cafè hosts the Vintage Party which will take you through the intense atmospheres of ’60, ’70, ’80 and ‘90 music: funk, surf, rock, soul, disco, indie and lentos.

Another option for Friday is The Grand Opening of Midnight Club in Bar Les Nouveaux Ruses. Two Brussels based DJ's, De Ville and Mombo will play House and Electro from as early as 20:00. Bar Les Nouveaux Ruses serves a number of tapas for those who need some energy before a long night out. Entrance@ FREE

On Saturday, House of Vice celebrates its first anniversary at Mr Wong. The party will feature three live bands from Lille (My Disco Jacket, Diederdas and Douglas and the Beauties), a DJ set by Rick Shiver, a funny photomaton, a runway, and the distribution of goodies! Doors open at 22:00. Entrance: €3 before midnight, €5 after midnight.

Head to Cinema Nova on Sunday evening for a screening of Eight Deadly Shots (1972), a Finnish television series about a farmer who kills four cops who have come to arrest him. The four episodes explore the tragedy and hardship of rural life. Ticket: €5.

The French ensemble Les Witches, who never fail to 'bewitch' the stage, invite us to discover "Konge af Danmark (1550-1650)" on Friday, the 20th of January at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels. Tickets: €19/€30.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Memos from Member States

Italy: Cruise ship runs aground off the Italian coast 

Three people were confirmed dead on Saturday after the Italian Cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground on Friday night. The accident happened on Friday night as the ship hit a cliff cutting a 70 meter wide hole in the big ship causing it to take in water. Experts have been puzzled as to how it could happen, as the waters are a popular route for cruise ships.

The first accounts from the accident reported that some 30 people were missing, but later on Saturday that number more than doubled to 70. Reportedly, 14 people are injured and at least three people have died.

Costa Concordia managed to get closer to land before going under and is now laying on its side on the bottom of the lower waters about 200 meters from the coast of the small Italian island Giglio.

Approximately 4,000 people, mainly Italian, German, British and French nationals, were on board when the accident happened.

France: US ratings agency cuts France’s triple-A rating

On Friday the American ratings agency Standard & Poor's downgraded Fance’s triple-A rating. At the same time, S&P's downgraded seven other Eurozone economies as well and expressed a lack of confidence in the EU’s new fiscal treaty.

According to the EU Observer, the agency stated that the EU draft fiscal compact "does not supply sufficient additional resources or operational flexibility to bolster European rescue operations."

Along with France, S&P also downgraded Austria, Cyprus, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain. Friday’s downgrade means that Cyprus and Portugal have now moved into the junk category.

However, it wasn’t all bad news from S&P: it kept Germany’s triple-A rating and gave the European Central Bank a pad on the back for “relieving the near-term funding pressures for banks.”

Denmark: Queen celebrates 40th anniversary

The Danish queen, Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II, celebrated her 40th anniversary as head of state in the Danish Kingdom on Saturday.

The people of Denmark are ecstatic about their queen these days. Saturday thousands of people gathered in Copenhagen to hail the queen as she and her husband, Prince Henrik of Denmark, drove through Copenhagen in a gold coach to greet the people.

Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II of Denmark was just under 32 when she took over the Kingdom of Denmark from her father, the late King Frederik IX, who died after a short period of illness on January 14 1972.

Formally, the queen is the head of state in Denmark in that she signs every law decided by the Danish parliament. The job is mostly ceremonial in nature, and does generally not represent real power.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

OUT & ABOUT - Week 2

Europalia.Brasil, until January 15 2012
This week is your last chance to visit the Europalia.Brasil exhibition. Europalia is a major international arts festival held every two years to celebrate one invited country’s cultural heritage. This year, the festival takes you to Brazil. Europalia.Brasil takes place in more than 200 venues across Belgium. Visit the two main exhibitions ‘Brazil.Brasil’ and ‘Art in Brazil’ at the Centre for Fine Arts or listen to Brasilian music at Bozar.  

Do you feel more like getting your hands dirty yourself? On Sunday January 15, Botanique organizes the workshop Curieux chassés croisés as part of the exhibition Wunderkammer.  This workshop will introduce you to different art techniques by letting you create a strange or obscure creature under the guidance of animation experts. Let your imagination run wild!

Zola Quartet is playing in Bar du Matin at 21:00 on Thursday. By combining traditional Spanish music with contemporary Jazz, the Zola Quartet takes its inspiration from the common roots: the energy and the improvisation. The quartet invites you to experience their music in is most sincere form.

Not a Spanish Jazz fan? Then head to Madame Moustache on Saturday for a broader mix of music. From 22:00 onwards Dusty Grooves will spin records from a wide range of music genres, including 80s, funk, disco and house. Entrance: €5.

On the same night, Eurocrats hosts another Resident's Night at Aloft, the design hotel situated in the heart of the European quarter – between Schuman and Place de Luxembourg. The doors open at 22:30. Make sure to dress modern, trendy, classy or all of the above.

FILM Isabelle Lavigne and Stéphane Thibault's documentary At Night They Dance (2010) will be screened at Bozar on Sunday. The film takes us into the heart of a clan of women in which the profession of dancer is traditionally passed down from mother to daughter. Gradually, we become aware of the uncertainties of this life and of its connections with the anxieties of a chaotic reality.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Europe: One man down, Part II

Mr Sarkozy’s grand declarations of European strength in adversity, the 12-digit financial pledges to the EFSF and the IMF, and the commitment to fiscal integration that seemed set to make the December euro-summit the stuff of history, soon became a distant memory in Brussels as the gluvine was opened, the fairy lights went up, and the eurocrats returned to their member states for the Christmas break. As 2012 arrived, Europe seemed to have lost its assertiveness once again as news broke that Italy and Spain’s service sectors were rapidly shrinking; that inflation was up from 2.8 to 3 per cent; and that the unprecedented €489 billion in loans made available by the ECB to banks across Europe in December was re-deposited in record amounts at the same institution come January.

Despite bearing an inter-governmental treaty which will bind signatory countries in a ‘fiscal compact’, as with euro-crisis summits before it, the December meet of EU leaders will not provide a golden ticket to European recovery any time soon. In fact, the European Union is expected to slip back into recession in the first half of 2012.
If the December summit is not to be remembered as definitively bringing the euro-zone crisis under control, it will be recalled as a pivotal moment in the shaping of the UK’s relationship with the EU.

Three weeks ago, I wrote an article on Mr Cameron’s decision to veto the treaty. My initial response was one of horror: I felt that he had sidelined Britain within the EU, and that his decisions were made solely on the behalf of two parties: the City and Tory backbenchers.

I stick by my initial response: Mr Cameron certainly has isolated Britain in the sense that we are not part of what would otherwise be a comprehensive EU treaty, and his motivations for doing so were not on behalf of the UK population, but rather to gain political brownie points among his eurosceptic party members and with London’s financiers.

However, spending time in the UK over the Christmas break caused me to reflect again on Britain’s use of its right to veto. Although I almost exclusively disagree with Mr Cameron’s reasoning and motivations, and in spite of my pro-European leanings, I am not wholly convinced that, had I been in Mr Cameron’s position, I would have signed the treaty either. Here’s why:

The measures emerging from the December talks included a new fiscal compact, further economic policy coordination, and the development of EU stabilisation tools to face short-term challenges. While in principal, the inter-governmental treaty’s requirement that government budgets be balanced or in surplus seems sensible and, in fact, is a long-term policy extension of the UK’s own current austerity objectives, the move to ‘stronger policy coordination and governance’ on fiscal matters proves more problematic for me.

The statement issued by euro-area heads of state and government stipulates that ‘all major economic policy reforms planned by euro-area Member States will be [...] coordinated at the level of the euro area’. Although it is widely recognised that this move towards fiscal integration should have occurred at the advent of the single currency, the implications of this development on member states’ sovereignty must not be underestimated: this is significant step towards European federalism. Had this appeared in the Lisbon treaty, the already controversial accord would have proven even more difficult to sell to the European people.

While euro-zone countries must further integrate out of necessity: recent events show that a shared currency must be matched with a shared monetary and fiscal union, the UK, along with the nine other non-euro-zone countries should think long and hard about whether they want to sacrifice sovereignty in this historically sacrosanct area. The statement issued following the December summit is worryingly opaque, not just about the status of the non-euro-zone members which wish to participate within the treaty, but significantly, the actual fiscal implications for all signatory countries. Call me traditional, but I was always taught not to sign my name to anything I didn’t properly understand. Especially not in such a rush.

Mr Cameron’s decision to veto must not, and cannot be seen as a victory for the Brits. On a soft political level, it is true that EU member states will get used to working without the UK. Nevertheless, handing over fiscal competence to Brussels without serious consideration of the implications – both good and bad, would have been foolish of the Brits. In my mind, Cameron would have done well to take the matter back to the UK parliament. This may have given him the opportunity to better consider his strategy and to mitigate against what was ultimately considered an isolationist move.  This, as show in the case of Sweden, may have enabled him to participate in the treaty and thus retain influence in the EU, while protecting British interests by negotiating different terms than those of euro-zone member states.

By Sonia Jordan