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JULY 8:

I want to write about Bismarck today. Why? Because he was a German statesman, who played an important role in Europe during the second half of the 19th century.  Not an easy politician to deal with   And also now and then brutal, when he wanted to reach his goals. But at the same time a man with a plan, which he did his best to implement.  He is perhaps by most people remembered as a war monger. But actually, there was peace in by far the biggest part of his time.

Bismarck was born in a Prussian noble family in 1815 – a couple of months before Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo.  He was trained as a lawyer and later a diplomat. And he entered the political arena in 1862, when the Prussian king Wilhelm nominated him chancellor of Prussia.  His main aim was to unite Germany, which until then consisted of many small states and principalities. His first move was to take Schleswig-Holstein from Denmark in 1864.  The rather pompous Danish government had on its own decided to include Schleswig into Denmark and thereby split it from Holstein.  This gave Bismarck the opportunity to start a war. Its result was that the whole of Schleswig-Holstein became part of Prussia, including the Danish speaking South Jutland. About 10 % of Denmark became German.

Bismarck’s next move was two years later, when we won a war against Austria-Hungary. He had always been against that empire, which he believed worked against German unity. And finally, he won a war against France in 1870-71. This brought Elsass-Lothringen (Alsace-Lorraine) to Germany. And Bismarck also organised that king Wilhelm at the end of the war was declared Emperor of Germany. It took place in the Hall of Mirrors in the castle of Versailles.  This was a humiliation the French never forgot.

After those wars Europe by and large experienced peace for a long period until World War I in 1914.  This period is called LA BELLE EPOQUE.  This was, of course, not only due to Bismarck and his policies. But it was certainly in line with what he wanted to see. Trade, the economies, culture, travelling, democracy – blossomed over most of the continent.

Domestically, Bismarck also had a plan.  On it was a range of social laws, which intended to benefit the working class in Germany.  This was, of course, also part of his political battle with the socialists.  Infrastructure projects were built, not least railways. This included a railway connection between Berlin and Hamburg. Very practical also for Bismarck himself. He lived at his castle Friedrichsruh in Aumühle, 25 km south-east of Hamburg.  A special train station was built at the entrance to his castle. This made it easier for him to get to and from work 😊

Bismarck’s close cooperation with emperor Wilhelm functioned well all until 1888, when the emperor died.  The new emperor, Wilhelm II, by the way the grandchild of queen Victoria, was a totally different type. He was a I-will-do-it-all-myself character. So Bismarck was dismissed in 1890. Then he had time to write his memoires, before he died 83 years old in 1898.

Why is it in my view also important to discuss Bismarck today?  Because he is an important politician not only in Germany, but in Europe.  And because his reputation needs to be seen with its many different angles.  Yes, he was a warrior, when he thought he needed it to reach his goals. But he was also a reformer and a supporter of peace and cooperation in Europe.  And like everybody else:  he has to be seen as part of his time. Not as part of our time today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JUNE 13:

As many of you will know I think birthdays are very important.  That is why we should always remember to greet each other in different ways at their occasion 😊

Tomorrow – June 14 – Donald Trump will turn 74.

And whatever each of us think about him – and we certainly do   - I also think that we have to do something at that occasion.

One of the “surprising” things Trump has done recently is to refuse to install a painting of his predecessor, Barack Obama, in The White House.  This has always been a nice tradition done by previous American presidents.

Therefore, we should – in my view – all mark the president’s birthday tomorrow by putting the Obama painting on all our social media sites ( Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. ).  Or wherever you want to put it. And encourage others to do the same!

If really many of us do that it is my feeling that Trump will feel, that he and his birthday are not forgotten 😊

We could write with the Obama portrait: 

Dear Mr. President,  Isn’t there something you have forgotten…

 

JUNE 5:

An editor has many advantages. He can write about very different topics every day, if he wants to. This is what I will do also today.

Yesterday my lovely daughter, Cecilie, in Australia had a very tough and painful day. How? She was sitting in the dentist’s chair for two full hours. And why? Because she had to have two wisdom teeth removed. This was a very hard time for her as well as for the dentist

This inspired me to find out what a WISDOM TOOTH actually is? And why it is called so?

I could tell Cecilie that I have NO wisdom teeth.  And she replied:  Oh, I see. This explains a lot !

A wisdom tooth is in Latin called dens serotinus. But that does not make it less difficult and at times painful. It is the name of the teeth at the very back in as well the upper part of the mouth as the lower part. So, if you are fully equipped you have 4 wisdom teeth. They will normally appear only when you are between 17 and 21 years old. This means that they arrive, when you have acquired (some) wisdom, some knowledge.  This is why they are called what they are.  In French they are called the same: DENT DE SAGESSE.  Also in German: WEISHEITSZAHN.  And in Danish: VISDOMSTAND.  So, we all have the “pleasure” of having them. Except me. Actually, only 2 % of the population does not have them.  It is good to belong to the few – just now and then!

The fact is that the wisdom teeth should not be there anymore. They are a relic from a much earlier stage in the evolution of man. We needed them when we were still living from eating very coarse plant food. We needed a very solid bite to eat it. When we much later were eating in a much more “civilized” manner with prepared food the wisdom teeth became unemployed. And it has as a matter of fact made them genetically unstable. They often have a strange position on the jawbone.  And you often risk getting inflammation in them.   Until a few years ago the dentist would often remove them, if he was pulling out other teeth. He does not do that any longer. He only does it, when they start making trouble for the owner.  In the same way the doctors no longer remove another relic from old days, the APPENDIX, when they do another operation in that area of the body. They are not sure, if it still has a positive function one way or another. Perhaps the situation is the same with the wisdom teeth.

Talking about relics from earlier stages of human life I also want to mention the COCCYX, the “tale bone”. It is the far “southern” end of the spine.  This is the only bone left from the tale we all had earlier on.  Normally, we do not think about it or notice it.  But an old friend many years ago were falling on his “rear end” on his terrace. He broke his “tale bone”. It was very painful, and he had for months to sit on a big rubber pillow. He did not find it very funny, especially not when we were all making funny remarks and laughing of his situation.

So, our ancient history as humans now and then comes back and makes our life difficult and even painful. Not much to do about it.

 

JUNE 4:

Today I want briefly to make a follow-up to three of my previous stories:

HAMBURG:

Yesterday – 100 days after the local elections – a new cooperation agreement between the two parties in government was presented: SPD under Lord Mayor Peter Tschentscher and THE GREENS under mayor Katharina Fegebank.  The new agreement has strengthend The Greens, who will now get one more post as mayor. This mayor will be responsible for transport questions – one of the top priorities of the party.

You may follow events in Hamburg in English on this website:

www.hamburg-news.hamburg/en 

BELGIUM:
The government’s corona Crisis Committee yesterday decided to start Phase 3 in the removal on the lockdown of the country. This is possible, because the development in the health situation is positive and satisfactory.

The main points are:

  • Freedom is now the rule. The limitations the exception.
  • The rules about keeping 1,5 m distance, about frequent cleaning of hands, etc., and the prohibition against big gatherings are maintained
  • From Monday, June 8,  restaurants, cafes and hotels may open. It will be allowed to take holidays for many days inside Belgium. Cultural centres open. Sportsactivities may start ( June: max. 20 persons; July: max 50 persons ). Fitness centres may open.
  • From Monday, June 15:  all Belgium’s borders will open.

USE OF FAX MACHINES:

I wrote earlier that all use of fax machines has stopped. This is not completely true. You can still buy small modems making it possible for computers and laptops to work as fax machines.

One remark more:  until around 2005 there was still doubt, if e-mails were legally binding. This made the normal fax machines live for longer than technology decided.   But this problem is out of the way for a long time now.

 

JUNE 3:

Today I want to write about THE UGLY AMERICAN.  This was the title of a book in 1958 about Americans in South East Asia.  I have never understood the main point in the book. And more important:  I have never met him, the Ugly American. I have tried many times and had lots of possibilities to run into him.  I have over 55 years visited more than 60 of the states in the US.   But right NOW I have a feeling that – unfortunately – I am close to finding him

My personal experience with the US goes – as I already mentioned – 55 years back. At that time I was a young student and made a gorgeous trip across the states from San Francisco to Washington DC and New York. By train and bus.  But I never met the Ugly American.  Lots of things surprised me and made me wonder. But no ugly stuff!  We were all at the time fans of president Kennedy. And it was a great moment to visit his fresh grave on Arlington.

My next American journey took place in 1979. I had been asked by the EU Delegation in Washington to go on a speaking tour about Europe in the Deep South and in the Midwest.  I met a lot of interesting people everywhere. And experienced lots of exciting things. Such as when an elderly gentleman in one of my meetings apparently got so excited about what he heard that he asked:  Tell me, Sir, where do we here in Louisiana sign, when we want to become a member of the European Union?! Or when I ran into participating in an up-and-down-the-street canvassing campaign together with George W. Bush in Iowa.  He was actually at the time more interested in jazz and a good beer than in politics. We had a good time.  But an Ugly American?  Not in sight anywhere!

In 1983 I was on my way again. I was invited by the US State Department to go anywhere in the US to see what I wanted and to talk to anyone I wanted to talk to. All paid, even some pocket money. Everywhere I came the local “International Relations Association” took care of me. Very exciting.  From the Mormons in Utah to the Europe-minded Californians in SF and LA, from around Texas, where I also visited the Space Center, to the Scandinavian-German influenced states in the northern part of the Midwest, from the biggest Polish city outside Poland, Chicago, to swinging New York.  One of the things which took me by surprise in many places was how dominant the American women were – not towards me, but towards their husbands. One of these husbands in Chicago took me out for a walk to pick my brain on what he should do about it.   But the Ugly American?  Not to be found anywhere I came.

Later I have been “over” again to show my kids around on the east coast and also been there in connection with EU projects. And after joining the Golden Age of Seniors we have been to the US in connection with a couple of cruises out of Fort Lauderdale and Seattle.  The Ugly American?   Still impossible to trace down.

Everywhere you are met with open arms and hospitality.  People are keen to know who you are – and why you eat with knife and fork and not just with a fork like the Americans do. They want to know about the world you come from – and the places you have visited. The average American does not have personal experience with travelling outside the US.  A few years ago I was told that only about 20 % of all Americans have a passport.  And they are very keen to show you their fantastic country and all it has to offer.   All this – and much more – belong to what I have experienced with Americans and America.    And nowhere I have seen the Ugly American turn up 😊

That is why my sadness and my worries reach unseen hights – or depths, when I just by turning on our TV see and hear what is happening the US now.  How did it get to there?  What went wrong?  How can this great country elect such an ignorant, self-centered, dividing, spoiling person as their leader?? Where are all the Republicans, who over the years have been very internationally minded ?  Where are the Democrats with credible alternatives? Where has all the creativity, the drive and the openness which we all know exist in America, gone ? Where is the America, which since World War II has gone out of its way – politically and economically – to make the world, not least Europe, work closely together?

I am unfortunately afraid that I without looking for him and without travelling anywhere have ran into the Ugly American     And I am not the only one.

This is in all honesty a very sad situation. But I am sure that there are better times ahead.  Better times for everybody. Perhaps except for the Ugly American.  You will not be missed 😊

 

MAY 31:

Today I want to write about culture. About BOOKS and their importance. My point of view is that we all have a lot to learn from France.

In France you consider books as equally important for the survival of the nation and for everybody’s well-being as food and drink.  Or as president Mitterrand once said:  People lose contact to reality, if they are not surrounded by books!   This is in a way a continuation of what the old Roman author and politician Cicero once wrote:  If man has a lovely garden and a big library he does not need more!

This fundamental attitude to books was also very important at the start of the present corona crisis in France.  The French government decided at once that bookshops and newspaper kiosks were of fundamental importance and had to continue to be open.  That was what happened – except in cases where they closed temporarily due to the safety of the staff.

At the same time the on-line sale of books via Amazon exploded during the crisis.

What do the French authorities do to support bookselling and bookshops?   They have put the VAT rate at only 5 % for books.  And they also expropriate or buy many small shops at street level in Paris and other cities and towns and let bookshops rent them at a very low cost.  In addition, reading books is strongly stimulated by a French tradition that everybody reads books – also people who are not well-off, even homeless people.   The French know their classics!

It is evident that with a population of 67 million it is possible for the French publishers to sell many more books than in countries with a smaller population.  At the same time it is a policy in France that books normally should cost 20 € at the most, making it possible for everybody to buy them.

The number of bookshops in France is for these reasons higher than in many other countries. In Paris alone there are about 400 of them – a number which is very stable.

About 90 % of all books in the world have been printed since 1960.  And we all have books. We might even have read some of them 😊  Other books are out of date – or you have lost interest in them.  Then you either throw them away or give/sell them to second-hand bookshops.

These second-hand bookshops are very often the basis of the many BOOK TOWNS or BOOK VILLAGES around the world.  They exist in most countries. And they are often supported in one way or another by the local bookshop, if it exists.

In Belgium we have very interesting bookshops in REDU in the Ardennes and in DAMME in West Flanders. 

They have an international association called the International Organisation of Booktowns.     See more here:   http://www.booktown.net

We have for many years been active to promote the ideas behind booktowns.   Have a good look at them. 

Under all circumstances books are very important and stimulating 😊   Join in – to support the book, the bookshops and the book villages.  Then you have done something really good – not least for yourself 😊

 

MAY 26:

 

Today I will write about something, which might bring me difficulties    My two sons are professional historians.  They will definately criticize my topic.  I want to write about something, which never happened.

My topic is:  If … history. Some people call it alternative history.  It is description of what might have happened, if what actually happened had not happened. It is called Contrafactual History – the history about what did not happen.

You may start with yourself:  What might have happened, if your wife had not chosen you?  Or your husband did not choose you at the time? Or what might have happened, if you had chosen to do or study something very different than you did? Or if things had turned out differently at occasions, when you were close to be involved in an accident of some sort?   Our life is certainly full of unplanned coincidences.

Try to take a short break and think about 3 concrete moments in your life, where things very easily could have turned out very differently than they did!

You can do the same with history in general:

What might have happened, if the Romans had not been defeated in the Battle of Varus near Osnabrück in year 9 AD?  Would we all have been descendants from the Romans today?   Or if Napoleon had won all the wars ?  An English historian said some years ago:  Then the English trains might have been punctual today!  Or if the Serbian student Gavril Princip had not killed the Austrian-Hungarian archduke in Sarajevo in 1914 ? Or if Hitler had been killed, when he during World War I was a German soldier in West Flanders?

This is, of course, all speculative history. There are no real sources, which you can use as background. On the other side there are actually serious historians, who consider it useful to a certain extent. Many authors have written book, essays, novels about the future, etc.  Films have also been made.

This website UCHRONIA has 3.400 books, essays, etc. from around the world:

http://www.uchronia.net

All this work is at least stimulating for your imagination – and for a good discussion 😊  

 

 

MAY 20:

Today I have decided to write about WHO – the World Health Organisation.  It is one of the specialised organisations under the United Nations.  It is – as we all know – very much in the media and the discussions right now because of the pandemic COVID-19.  It is so because of its fantastic work to coordinate the work to stop this pandemic.  And it is also in the debate because of “gunboat president” Trump.  He is against WHO – like he seems to be against almost all forms of international cooperation   

When I many years ago was studying political science at the university one of our professors gave lectures about all the international organisations.  When he came to WHO, I clearly remember his introduction to this topic. He said:

What is the main task of the WHO?  It is to ensure that we get a state of total health in the world. And when have we reached that goal?  Our professor made a short break and looked at us – his students. As none of us had an answer to his question, he gave one himself:   We have a state of total and complete health in the world, when everybody is lying in her or his bed in the morning.  And when the alarm clock rings everybody shouts:  FINALLY  !!   He added:  I think WHO has arrived to stay!

When the UN was created in 1945 everybody agreed from the start that one of the special organisations under the UN should be a World Health Organisation.  The work started right away. And on April 7, 1948,  WHO started.   This day has since been celebrated as WORLD HEALTH DAY.  A day when we all focus on the health situation in the world.

WHO got its headquarters in Geneva in Switzerland, and it has 6 regional offices around the world.  The regional office for all 53 European countries is in Copenhagen, Denmark. Its director is the Belgian doctor, Hans Kluge.

The director-general for the whole of WHO is since 2017 the Ethiopian researcher, Tedros Adhanom, b. 1965.  He is the first African on this post.  Earlier a Danish doctor, Halfdan Mahler ( 1923-2016 ) was director-general from 1973-88.  He was a specialist in tuberculosis.  Later the Norwegian doctor and former prime minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland, was director-general from 1998-2003.

WHO has today 194 member states, i.e. almost all countries in the world. Its two-year budget for 2020-21 is 4,8 billion dollars.  About 80 % of that amount is voluntary payments from member states, foundations, private citizens, etc.

WHO’s main tasks are to coordinate the work to promote health all over the world. It means in particular very active campaigns against epidemics and dangerous illnesses like tuberculosis, malaria, AIDS, cancer, leprosy, measles, flu, etc.

The work consists of strengthening the cooperation and exchange of best practices between public authorities, medical institutions, doctors, etc.   And it also works hard to strengthen research in health related areas.

If you want to know more, go to WHO’s website:  https://www.who.int

 

 

MAY 19:

Today I want to write about the Portuguese island MADEIRA.  It is pronounce Madaira – if you want to say it correctly. It meant originally: Forest.  The size of the island is 801 sq.km, and about 270.000 people live permanently there.  Nowadays 1 million tourists normally come to Madeira every year.  It was first discovered by the Portuguese in 1418. Sailors often call it “The Lighthouse of the Atlantic”.  The capital is called Funchal. It has its name after the plant fennel ( in Portuguese:  funcho ).  The first discoverers saw a lot of that plant around the area, where Funchal is today.

As we all know wine-growing is very important on Madeira.  And it is not surprising that they called it Madeira Wine 😊   It is famous all over the world. It was all well-known in the good old days.  This is what I want to tell a small story about.

While Denmark until 1917 was still the owner of the Danish West Indian Islands ( now the US Virgin Islands ) in the Caribbean a Danish frigate was always present in the islands – to ensure order and to keep others away. It wasn’t always the same ship, so when a frigate sailed back to Denmark it normally stopped at Madeira – to buy supplies and also to buy Madeira wine for the Naval Officers’ Clubs in Copenhagen.  On one of these stays in the mid 1860ies a couple of Danish cadets stole two seedlings of the Madeira wine and brought them back to Denmark.  It took 7 months to sail to Denmark. But they managed to make them grow on the naval base in Copenhagen.

A few years later a disaster happened to the wine growing in Madeira. A special invasion of lice killed all the wine.  And though the locals afterwards tried out an imported American wine it did not work. It wasn’t the true Madeira wine.

One day a Danish diplomat visited Madeira. He happened to be an old naval officer – and he had been serving on the frigate, where the two cadets had brought the Madeira seedlings to Denmark.  He knew that they were growing and growing in Copenhagen. So, in 1874 he rescued Madeira’s wine growing by sending back some new seedlings.  And that is why the present day Madeira wine in fact is “sort of Danish”  😊

I have heard that similar stories are told in the British and in the Dutch navy.  But they must be wrong. Because could they have done what – of course – was done by the Danes !    As I sometimes say as a proof:   I have myself spoken to the man, who told me about it  😊

 

MAY 18:

I will today write about another European country. I have earlier written about, Ireland, Slovakia, Poland, Bavaria, Hamburg and France.   Today I have chosen PORTUGAL.

This is – as you know – the European country at the south-west of our continent. Its size is 92.000 sq.km. And it has about 10 mill. inhabitants. See map below.  You say about the Portuguese that they in particular are interested in the 5 Fs:  Fé, Fatima, Familia, Fado and Futebol 😊  In my view they are probably the most sympathetic and friendly people in Europe.

Politically Portugal was a dictatorship from the 1930ies and until the so-called Carnation Revolution made an end to it in 1974.  Around the time of the revolution there was a risk, that the right wing dictatorship would be replaced by a left wing one.  But it did not happen. A solid democracy took over.  And Portugal became a member of the EU from 1986.

Portugal was an old colonial power. Its colonies, Angola, Mozambique and CapVerde, became independent during the 1970ies.  Many people from the former colonies moved to the mainland. And they were and are very well integrated.  This openness to immigrants has also in recent years opened the country for immigrants from the war zones in Syria, Iraq, etc.

The Portuguese islands Madeira and the Azores have an autonomous status inside Portugal today. Madeira is about 1.000 km southwest of Lisbon – and the Azores 1.500 km to the west.  Both places are definitely worth visiting.  Many years ago I visited the Azores for a conference on the EU. I arrived there by plane from Boston the US. It turned out to become a very exciting experience. Many people from the Azores had over many years emigrated to the New England states in the US.  And on my plane many of the passengers were visiting their land of birth for the first time for many years. As we approached the Azores the mood among them became almost ecstatic!   Wonderful to see.   The Azores are volcanic islands.  In some places you can fry an egg just by putting it on the ground.

The whole of Portugal is very interesting. We have visited it many times. A special experience was a one-week cruise on the 900 km long Douro river in the north. Fantastic scenery. Lovely wine.   And when you travel through the country you should also try the Pousadas.  These are nice hotels built in old manors or small castles. There are 33 of them spread over the country. The Portuguese wine, Vinho Verde, in the special boxbeutel bottles is very recommendable. So is the Port wine.  If you love port, you should visit the special PORT INSTITUTE in Lisbon.   This is a nice bar, which seems to have all sorts of Port – old and new.   And when you enjoy some of these wines you have to listen to the special Portuguese songs called FADO. They are sort of melancholic – and have a long history back in time.  And you should try to visit a place, which has the famous Portuguese TILES on the walls.  They go back to the time of the Moors.   See photo.

My own very special relationship to Portugal – and esp. to Lisbon – goes back to 1998. I was responsible for EU’s pavilion at the world exhibition EXPO 98. We had built a very nice and impressive pavilion, which looked like a ship bow over the river Tejo.  The exbibition had 11 million visitors over six months and was a great success.  We also learned how to manage unforeseen situations.  During the whole building process we often had problems with our Portuguese builders and suppliers, as they did not always respect agreed deadlines.   And on the very morning when the EU Commission’s president, Jacques Santer, arrived at 9 a.m., the last Portuguese workers left through a backdoor.    But everything was ok.  The building is today called the Vasco da Gama Tower ( after one of the famous Portuguese discoverers ). And as far as I know it is part of one of the universities in Lisbon.  

 

MAY 17:

I have earlier written about Belgian culture. Today I want to tell you about Belgium’s INDUSTRIAL CULTURE.  In the beginning of the 19th century the southern part of Belgium, Wallonia, was the most industrialised part of Europe – apart from England. It was based upon coal mines, iron and steelworks and a big network of internal waterways for transport.  East of Mons you can f.ex. see a former huge industrial complex, which today is an art museum.  The owners in 1810 built a lot of houses for their workers around the factory.  These houses are still there. The place is called GRAND HORNU.

A very special side of the Walloon industrial culture was and are the so-called SHIP ELEVATORS.  They are huge elevators, which can lift ships up and down from different heights of the canals in the area. The first one in Houdeng-Goegnies was build in 1888. It can lift ships 15 meters up and down. Three more were added in 1917. Each of them can lift 17 meters. These old elevators are no longer in use. And they have got the status as UNESCO World Heritage.

Read more:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boat_Lifts_on_the_Canal_du_Centre   

A special elevator was built near the village of RONQUIÈRES. It functions as a sloping lock. Its length is 1430 meters. It functions with two huge “bath tubs”, which can take a ship of up to 5.200 tons up and down the slope.  The difference in height is 68 meters. See photo below.

The newest ship elevator is in STRÉPY-THIEU.  It was built in the years 1982-2002. The older elevators had become too small for new ships / barges. It can lift ships of a weight up to 1350 tons vertically up and down – 73 meters. It is the second biggest in the world. See photo.  The biggest one is in China.    The traffic on the canal increased from 256.000 tons in 2001 to 2.295.000 tons already in 2006.   See photo.

And why was all this work initiated?  There were economic as well as political reasons for it. The economic one was to shorten the water ways – and thereby reduce the transport costs.  The political reason was that until the elevators were built the Walloon industrial areas did not have access to Belgium’s biggest port, Antwerp.  There is a ridge between Wallonia and Flanders, where Antwerp is placed. Instead they were dependent upon the French sea port in Dunkerque.  They did not want to continue that way. That is why the ship elevators were built in order “to lift the ships” up on the other side of the ridge.   And it was all based on the fact that sea transportation in average is seven times cheaper than the second cheapest way of transport.

A visit to the ship elevators is highly recommended.  They are unique!

 

 

MAY 12:

Three days ago our 52 days with lockdown ended here in Belgium. It is now gradually being lifted.  I want briefly to describe what happened during the 52 days.

The purpose of the lockdown was, of course, to stop the corona pandemic from spreading further and to remove it step by step.  The government got special legislation approved, so that it could take decisions and act without the approval of Parliament each time.  A National Crisis Committee was created – chaired by the federal prime minister and including the prime ministers from each of the Belgian regions.  A scientific advisory committee advises the government and the crisis committee. A special Crisis Centre has 40 staff and is operational 24/7. It collects information from all sources, also from abroad, and it does the analysis and prepares recommendations.  One of its staff – not a politician – makes a press conference every day to explain the situation.  TV news also cover the development closely, often with independent experts from the universities.

The main initiatives as of March 12 were:

Closure of all schools, shops, restaurants, bars, cafes, cinemas and big events.

Request to everybody to stay at home – and not have any visitors at all.

Only food shops, pharmacies and gas stations were allowed to be open. And only for few visitors at a time.

Excursions were forbidden.  Only short walks in the neighbourhood of your house were permitted.

If you had to work you should work from home.  If this was not possible, you should be able to tell the police where you were going and why.

Control was everywhere, esp. where risks of many people being there together.

Face masks were and are strongly recommended, but only obligatory in public transportation and in railway stations.   The authorities distribute masks for free.

 

This lockdown was – as you see – more strict than in many other countries.

Belgium with its 11 mill. people, often living very closely to each other, was hit hard by the pandemic.  The Belgians were and are in general very good at following the instructions from the crisis committee.   The total number of infected were until yesterday ( May 11 ) 53.449. And the total number of deaths was 8.707.  It is, though, very difficult to compare these figures with other countries. The reason is that Belgium includes more possible infected people and more possible deaths from corona than others.  Experts here say that you probably have to reduce the figures with 50 % to be able to make an honest comparison with other countries.

The 103 hospitals in Belgium have been able to cope well with the pandemic. They have all the way had extra capacity to deal with intensive care, when this was needed. But in the Homes for Elderly People etc. many problems have arisen. This was partly due to the fact that the staff was not trained to handle such a pandemic. And they also lacked the necessary equipment, especially in the beginning.

The communication around the pandemic has been very good and professional. A special home page was quickly established in four languages ( French, Flemish, German and English ):  www.info-coronavirus.be  It contains lots of very useful FAQs  ( questions-answers ).  A special Call Centre was available every day from 09.00 to 18.00.   And as already mentioned one of the staff of the Crisis Centre made a special press conference every day.

The new 45 year old liberal prime minister, Sophie Wilmès, is in charge of it all. She has an education in communication, is fluent in several languages, married to an Australian,  and has three kids.  She was earlier like me working in the EU Commission, but I do not know her personally.   She is very good at making the different political parties work together in this difficult situation. She is herself hard working and able to focus on the essentials.  She is an excellent and very active communicator.  People feel that she is talking to them and with them – not just teaching them. And she has during this crisis gone from being almost unknown to be very popular and supported all over the country.   Se photo.

How did WE then experience this lockdown period?  As active and healthy seniors it has been easier for us than for many others, who had to look after their work and their children.  The other day we agreed:  In a way we have never felt better. No stress. No time pressure!  And yes, we have done things.  But not necessarily what we ought to have done – like sorting things and thrown out what we do not need any more !  And we have been active users of electronic services like Skype, Zoom, What’s App, Viber, etc.

Of course, we were missing contact to other people. And also missing the possibility to go seeing things in our lovely country.   We are very happy that it all happened during spring time and not during the dark and cold winter months.  Our garden has seen more of us that it normally does 😊

And we have also experienced how the Belgians we met during our walks and our shopping were more smiling and even more friendly than they normally are.  They sort of showed the attitude:  yah, we are all in this together. So what not get the best possible out of it together!  I hope they felt the same about us!

At a later occasion I want to write about how we believe the long-term effects of this long lockdown will be.  We are sure that also a lot of good things will come out of it!

 

MAY 11:

 

I have been asked what the history and meaning of the European blue flag is.  Here is my short description:

The European flag was adopted by the Council of Europe in 1955.  The proposal was made by a French-German designer, Arsène Heitz, from Strasbourg.  He lived in the years 1908-89.  He made it in close cooperation with the Belgian journalist and professor, Paul Lévy,  ( 1910-2002 ), who was a holocaust survivor and director of information in the Council of Europe for many years.

The flag is meant to symbol Europe’s identity and unity, also in a wider sense of the words.

The blue colour refers to the blue sky over Europe. And the 12 golden stars in a circle symbolise unity, solidarity and harmony between the peoples of Europe.

The number of stars, 12, has nothing to do with the number of member states. The Council of Europe had in 1955 15 member states. Today it has 47.  And EU has today 27 member states.  The flag remains the same also when new members join in the future.

One small, but important detail:  the European flag has to be presented in such a way that the 12 five-pointed stars each “stand on two feet”.   Now and then you see the flag presented in a way, where the stars are standing on their head.  This is wrong.

The Council of Europe encouraged the new EU institutions to use the same flag.  The European Parliament decided to do so in 1983. And all member states agreed in 1985, that the flag should in the future also be the flag for the European Union.

Everybody in the EU has the right to use the European flag. Ministries, city halls and other public buildings in most EU countries use it on their building all year around. Others do it on Europe Day, May 9.   The embassies of all EU member states use it together with their national flag.

And private people may also use the European flag, when they want to. They do not need any permission.  If they want to use the flag of another country, they normally have to ask for permission, normally from the police.

 

MAY 5:

Today I want to write about the HUGUENOTS.  They are also a very important part of European history over the centuries. And they are still around, present and active in many of our countries.

 

The HUGUENOTS were the French protestants.  We are back in the 16th century, when religion was very much on the agenda.  A number of catholic monks and priests revolted against the catholic church and the way it was managed. Martin Luther ( 1483-1546 ) was one of them. He started what is today the Lutheran protestant church.  Jean Calvin ( 1509-64 ) was another one. A French priest, who founded what is now called the Calvinist protestant movement.  He wasn’t very popular in France, where the catholics did not want to see the protestant movement grow.  So, he moved to Geneva in Switzerland, where he lived and worked most of his life.

The Huguenots are the French Calvinists.  The word Huguenot is sort of a French version of the Swiss-German word Eidgenosse.     They are also called the Reformed Church.  They have churches without paintings or pictures. This is one of the reasons why Jews converting to Christianity normally join the Reformed Church.

At a certain moment about 10 % of the French population were Huguenots.  They were thriving craftsmen and traders.  But they were persecuted in France. On the so-called Bartholemew night in 1572 thousands of Huguenots were killed.   This made many emigrate to other countries, where protestantism had already been accepted. It was at the time in particular Brandenburg in Prussia in Germany and it was The Netherlands.

The Danish king, Christian V ( 1646-99 ) was married to Charlotte Amalie ( 1650-1714 ). She came from a very protestant-reformed family in Kassel in Germany. And she persuaded the king to invite Huguenots from Brandenburg to Denmark.  The first families arrived to Copenhagen in 1681. And about 70 families came in 1719 to settle down in the town of Fredericia in Jutland. It was a town the later king wanted to develop. Their part of the town is still called the “parsley neighbourhood”, because they planted parsley around their gardens.  It was also called “Little France”.

Those Huguenots were specifically tobacco growers. And they also brought the potato to Denmark – and taught the Danes to eat potatoes.

There are still many descendants of the Huguenots in Denmark. They have family names like Honoré, Dupont, Devanter, Hermann, Lefevre, La Cour and Deleuran.

The Huguenots did not only move to Brandenburg, the Netherlands and Denmark. They came to many countries around the world.  We have met their descendants in places like South Africa and the US Virgin Islands.

Many famous people are descendants from the Huguenots – such as  George Washington, Gustave Fabergé, Lawrence Olivier, Samuel Beckett, Georges Clemenceau, Joan Crawford, Davy Crockett and Robert Ladbroke.

Today about 80% of the Huguenots live in southern and western France.

 

MAY 4:

I want to introduce you also to the cultural life in our country, Belgium. Earlier I wrote about Adolphe Sax, the Belgian inventor and first producer of the saxophone.   Today I want to tell you about another world famous Belgian musician, TOOTS THIELEMANS.  Actually, this was not his real name. It was Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Isidor, baron Thielemans.  But he was all the time called Toots. He lived in the years 1922-2016. He was born in Brussels, and he also died there. As most people know he was a jazz musician. He played harmonica and also guitar.  Not at the same time, though – as far as I know 😊  He played together with a lot of other famous jazz musicians such as Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald.  And not least together with the probably most famous Danish jazz musician, Svend Asmussen.  They were close friends and performed together often. They called themselves “Toots & Svend”.  Listen to one of their performances here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kaacux3khjM&feature=youtu.be  

It was for many years a tradition that Toots Thielemans opened the annual Brussels Jazz Festival. Normally on Grand Place.  We have seen him do that.  He was also known for walking quietly around the city during the festival to listen to the music in many places.  And if he really liked what was being played, he pulled his harmonica out of his pocket and joined the band.

And Toots Thielemans did not only play jazz music. He also wrote it. One of his most known pieces of music is BLUESETTE:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yKnG_9q4crA&feature=youtu.be

Once he visited Aalborg in Denmark. It was in January 1992.  He performed in the local concert hall. And in that connection he was – like many other visiting artists – invited to plant a cherrywood tree in the public park next to the music hall.  The initiative to the park was taken in 1987 by the director of the Concert Hall, Ernst Trillingsgaard, and the first to plant a tree was Cliff Richard.  Today there are 85 trees in the park, including that planted by Toots.  And next to each tree you have a small stand. If a visitor pushes the button on the stand, you will here music and/or songs by the artist, who planted that tree.  They are called THE SINGING TREES.   They are certainly worth a visit 😊

Toots Thielemans was for many years honorary citizen in our neighbouring city, LA HULPE. To honour him they have started cultural centre called ESPACE TOOTS – and in front of the centre – in the middle of the main street – you see a nice statue of whom ?  Of Toots, of course.  See photo.    He opened the centre himself a few years before he died.

 

MAY 3:

Yesterday I wrote about all the Germans who came to Denmark and Russia in the 18th century to help developing these countries, especially in agriculture.  They are certainly not the only people, who either move to other countries or who are involved in important projects outside their own country. 

ARCHITECTS have for centuries been very active also in many other countries than their own.

To start with my own country of birth, Denmark:   the famous castle KRONBORG ( the castle of Hamlet ) was built in the 16 century. The Danish king invited two Belgian architects to be in charge:  First Hans Hendrik van Paesschen ( 1510-82 ) and later Hans van Steenwinchel the Elder ( 1550-1601 ).   Their castle is today on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage.

Another Belgian architect, Jean Delogne ( 1923-2017 ) was in charge of constructing one of the nicest parks in Copenhagen today,  AMALIEHAVEN.   I lived in a nice warehouse, The Yellow Warehouse, when it was built in 1983.  There were a lot of very noisy demontrations against it just outside my windows, because the project was not given to a Danish architect.  But today everybody is very happy about the park.

Many other architects from abroad have also made their footprints in Denmark over the years. In recent times the French architect Jean Nouvel was in charge of the Concert Hall of Denmark’s Radio.  And the English architect, Norman Foster, built the new Elephant House in Copenhagen Zoo.

 

In the same way Danish architects have also been in charge of lots of important projects around the world.   Jørn Utzon is the architect behind the Sydney Opera HouseJohan Otto von Spreckelsen made the new Grande Arche in Paris. Henning Larsen was the architect behind the new Siemens headquarters in München and the Spiegel House in Hamburg.  Arne Jacobsen built the City Hall in Mainz. Bjarke Ingels the Big Maze Labyrinth in Washington DC.  Jørgen Bo ( Louisiana’s architect ) was also in charge of IBM’s former education centre in La Hulpe in Belgium.  Now a Dolce conference centre. And C.F. Møller seems to be on his way to win the competition for the new Ministry of Environment in Berlin.

 

It is a pleasure for us all that architectural skills and imaginations do not know any borders 

MAY 2:

As I mentioned earlier I find it very interesting to see how all our populations are mixed together over the centuries. In Europe it always happened – all the way back to the Cimbrians a hundred years BC, even before.  And later on after the fall of the Roman empire in the 5th century.  Lots of long-lasting wars and the subsequent misery and famines made millions of people move to new places to try to start a new and better life.

This is also the background for my brief story today.  Following the for everybody disastrous Thirty Years War ( 1618-48 ) many areas in Central Europe ( where the war took place ) were almost inhabitable.  So, the Danish king Frederik V (1723-66) decided to take action.  Denmark had lost big areas of its land in wars with Sweden. So, he wanted to make the huge parts of Jutland, which was still heaths, into farmland to replace the lost parts of the kingdom.  Therefore, he asked the Danish envoy in Frankfurt in Germany to put advertisements into German newspapers and invite Germans to come to settle in Denmark. They were promised a lot of privileges such no taxes, freedom of religion, no military service – and not least farms with land, animals and equipment.  Altogether 965 persons ( 265 families ) accepted the offer.  They came from southern parts of Germany ( Pfaltz and Hessen ). That was where the newspapers with the advertisements were published.

When they arrived to Denmark their disappointment was second to none.  The heaths were unpleasant areas with no infrastructure at all.  The Germans had no idea what it was and what to do with it. They did not know – but found out in the hard way! – that heather which was growing all over the place created a very, very solid and almost impenetrable layer just under the surface. A layer, which requires good equipment ( plows, pickaxes, etc. ) and a lot of hard work to penetrate.  Furthermore, most of the arriving Germans were not farmers. They were mostly craftsmen and former soldiers.

The result was that most of them left again.  And where did they go?  All the way to Russia!  The German-born Russian zarina, Catherine II, had around the same time invited European, though not Jews, to come to Russia to help her cultivate the huge areas east of the Volga river.  More than a million Germans came.  They were later called Volga-Germans. They settled in the area near the city of Saratov ( which we visited some years ago ).   Most of the “Danish” Germans went all the way there. It was more than 3,300 km by foot and with carriages and equipment. Quite an accomplishment.

Centuries later these Volga Germans were sent to Kazachstan and Sibiria by Stalin, when the Nazis invaded Russia in 1941.  Many have later emigrated to Germany and America. But there are still about 600.000 ethnic Germans in Russia and Kazachstan.

Back to Denmark:  59 families stayed and worked very hard on cultivating the heath.  They were and are called “potato Germans”. Why?  Because they knew from back home that the yield from potatos were three times better than from grain farming.  And also because the soil in heath areas is very good for growing potatos.

You still have a lot of descendants from these Germans in Denmark. German surnames like Bitsch, Frank, Öhlenschläger, Marquart, Ganzhorn, Roth, Würtz, Krath, Meyer and Wacker are frequent, especially in the area, where the immigrants arrived to.

You can find a small museum in Grønhøj in the area. And you can also read more in English about this important part of Danish and European history by looking up: POTATO GERMANS on Google.

 

 

MAY 1:

When you talk about May 1, you often think about the International Workers’ Day. I will come back to that.

This day and the days around it has always in most countries been used to celebrate the arrival of spring and all its flowers – if you are on the Northern hemisphere.  The Romans organised during the days from April 27 to May 3 the so-called FLORALIA festival.  It was to honour Flora, the goddess for flowers.  It was later developed into many different forms in most countries in Europe. You were dancing, singing, eating cakes – and did other entertaining and pleasant things.  It was a real day of feast in most cultures.

This article in Wikipedia tells much more country by country:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_Day 

The workers all over the world later made this day their International Workers’ Day to fight for their political goals and rights it started back in 1856 in Australia.  It was in the beginning on April 21.  The next country to follow this tradition was the workers in the USA from 1886 and onwards.  They chose May 1,  took off from work and made big demonstrations.  Three years later, in 1889, the Second Socialist International was founded in Paris. And one of its decisions was to make May 1 the International Workers’ Day.  It has been like that ever since – except during the two world wars.  

They were in the beginning all fighting for a 8 hours working day and for equal pay for men and women.  As these and other goals were implemented step by step the new goals have been in the forefront.

When Denmark is concerned the first May 1 demonstrations took place in 1890.  And some of their main goals have been fulfilled step by step later on – such as:  1919: 8 hours work day.  1938: law about paid holidays. 1974: 5 days’ work week.

 

PS: When you at sea call MAYDAY it has nothing to do with May 1.  It comes from French M’AIDER  -  and is the international emergency call from ships in great danger.  It is equivalent to SOS.

 

 

April 27:

 

Today it is 40 days since the lockdown in Belgium started.  It was on March 18. It has been – and still is – a very strict lockdown. And it has also been managed very systematically.  It has now to some extent given the intended results. The number of infected people in hospitals is going down, and so is the number of deaths.  At the same time the testing has been very active – and it will be further strengthend in the near future. 

 

Yesterday the main figures were:

 

Total number of infected:    46.134 

Total number of cured:           9.800

 

Total number of deaths:         7.094  ( of which more than half happened in the Nursing Homes )

Many people ask:  Why are the figures so relatively high in Belgium compared to other countries, esp. in the number of deaths?

 

I do not have a full reply.  The Belgians say that the high number of infected is caused by the fact that a lot of tests have been made. And then you, of course, find more of the infected people.  

 

About the high number of deaths a part of the explanation is that the Belgians include all deaths in their figures, if there is the slightest suspicion that corona infection might be involved. And they also include all deaths in the nursing homes.  This is not the case in many other countries. In Germany you only include those deaths, where you have a corona positive result. In this way the Belgian figures will be higher than those of other countries. A Belgian expert said the other day that you probably have to reduce the Belgian figures with 50%, if you want to compare with the figures in other countries.

 

If you want to follow the development in each country, including Belgium, you can easily do so every day on this website:    https://newsnodes.com  

 

Another frequent question is:  Is the mortality rate higher than normal?   In Belgium about 110.000 persons normally die every year. A special web site follows the mortality in many countries in details:

 

EUROMOMO  ( MOMO = “mortality monitor” ):  https://www.euromomo.eu

 

You can find a lot of information in figures and overviews on this site.

 

Tomorrow I will write about the step-by-step abolition of the lockdown, which the Belgian authorities decided last Friday to happen from Monday, May 4 to Monday, June 8  ( if all goes well ).

 

April 14:

The ongoing corona pandemics has many consequences. One of them is that people start discussing, if it a good idea that we continue to shake hands, when we greet each other.  The American epidemics boss ( not Trump ) has suggested that we stop giving hand, because infections are very easily spread this way.  Let us have a look at other ways to greet each other around the world. What they are called – and what you do. Perhaps we might get inspired. And why not use your time during the lock-out to try some of them out 😊

The tradition with a handshake goes more than 2000 years back. And it has to be the right hand you use. Why?  Because the right hand was normally use to carry your weapon – a sword, a knife, or a gun. And by putting forward your empty right hand you show that you are not armed. It is a sign of confidence, friendship and openness.

In Denmark there is even an association promoting genuine handshakes. You can see more – in Danish – here:  https://haandtryk.dk  

In Thailand you greet each other with the very elegant Wai.  It is a small bow with your body and your head – while you at the same time hold your palms together. And the higher your hands are in relation to your face, the more respect you show.

In Japan you traditionally greet each other with a small nod with your head – or a bow, which in some cases might go all the way down to 90 % in relation to your waist.

In China you often use the old Mandarin greeting called KowTow.  You fold your hands and bends forward – sometime so much that your head reaches the floor. In this way you show your greatest respect.

In Tibet they do it in a very different way. The country had a terrible king many centuries ago. He had a black tongue. And people were ever since afraid that he would return via reincarnation. That is why they greeted / still greet ? each other by sticking their tongue out – just to show that they were / are not the reincarnated king 😊

If you come to Kenya you are often greeted by the energetic Masai dance called the springing Adamu dance. You might well be invited to join in!

The Eskimos in Greenland have a different way to greet strangers. You have to push your nose and your upper lip towards the other person’s skin – and at the same time breathe. PS: Do not do it, if your nose “is running”. They you risk to freeze and get stuck with the other person’s skin.

And then we have the Maories in New Zealand. They use the century old greeting called Hongi.  You make your noses meet. By doing that you are shown that you are no longer a stranger. You are one of ours. Remember to keep your eyes open on the way to the other person’s nose. If not, you risk to misplace your nose giving your friend a black eye or a wounded nose 😊

The Romans used a special greeting: they raised their right arm about 45 degrees in relation to their body – with the palms downwards and the fingers kept together on each hand.  This greeting was later compromised by the nazis and the Italian fascists. They wanted to be seen as the successors of the Romans.

I am still on the outlook for information about how my ancestors, the Cimbrians, greeted each other. Can anybody help?  And how about my other ancestors, the Vikings?  I know they said “Heill ok Sæll” ( health and happiness). But what did they do when saying that?

But now you have something to do in the days to come 😊

 

April 12:

Today I want to write about POLAND. This is a country of 312.696 sq.km and with 38 mill. inhabitants.  It became a member of the EU in 2004.  But today it is together with Hungary one of the naughty boys in the class. How? Because it in important issues do not respect rules, which it signed up to by applying for membership of the EU.  One issue is the full independence of the courts. This principle is an unconditional condition to be a member.  This principle has been violated in Poland, where the governmnet my now influence the courts and their Work, incl. dismissing judges, if they do not Work as the government wants.  The EU Supreme Court in Luxembourg has in more cases, also very recently, rules that this MUST change, if Poland wants to continue to be an EU member state and profit from the advantages of membership.
Another dispute is Poland's refusal to receive refugees. Another EU court ruling has said that the country is obliged to receive them according to EU rules.   And a third issue is the fight for the climate, where coal producing Poland is a very difficult partner too.
 
What does this then mean concretely?  EU has no article in its treaty saying how to expel a member state.  But I am certain, that these repetitive breaches of important EU rules and principles will play an important role whan the new EU budget for the coming 7 years will be negotiated and when new rules on refugees will be decided.  In politics it is an old rule that nobody can get away with constantly breaking the common rules without having to feel serious consequences.  
 
A very interesting factor is that the Polish population according to the opinion polls is one of the most EU positive populations in Europe.
 
Poland will have election for the post as the country's president on May 10.  The present president, Andrzej Duda, belongs to the ruling party and is therefore supporter of its politicies, also in Europe. He is a candidate for a new period as president.  The leaders of the party are very worried that he might not be re-elected, if the election is postponed due to the corona crisis. If so, the very negative economic consequences will most certainly bite, if the election takes place later in the year. Therefore, they have suggested to go ahead with the election on May 10 - but exceptionally only with voting by letter.  The opposition is obviously against that.
 
If you want to follow Polish affairs, you can do it in a couple of English language media:
Polish Radio:      https://www.polskieradio.pl/395 
Poland.pl:           https://poland.pl/politics/
 
A very well-known and highly respected American journalist - and married to a Pole - Anne Applebaum, knows a lot about Poland and writes about it:
Blog:      www.anneapplebaum.com
Twitter:   @anneapplebaum

 

April 8:

Where does the word EASTER come from?  And the word OSTERN?  They both have the same origin.  The name comes from a pre-Christian goddess for spring and fertility. In Celtic she was called Eostre and in Germanic Ostara.  It was a tradition to arrange a  big feast for her and for the arrival of spring.  The early Christians in those areas made a good “spin” of her name and made it the name of a Christian celebration.  In exactly the same way as we Vikings made a spin around the pre-Christian name Jul / Yuletide and linked it to a Christian event.

In most other countries Easter is called something very differently. They origin of the name is the Hebrew PESACH.  This was and is the Jewish celebrations of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt.   Well before that the name was used for a very old Israelitic celebration of the arrival of spring and of fertility of the cattle.

So, the name for Easter in many countries have the same origin:

Greek: pascha; Danish: påske; Swedish: påsk;  Norwegian: påske; Finnish:  pääsiäinen; Russian: paskhalnyy; Dutch:  pasen; French:  pâques; Italian: pasqua; Spanish: pascua.

If you want to learn how to pronounce these names, just download and use the app Google Translate. It gives you all the spellings and the pronunciations.

 

 

April 6:

There is a lot of talk about EU countries like Hungary and Poland, which in many ways are the naughty boys in the class. They do not accept to receive refugees ( and an important ruling by the EU Court of Justice just told them to change attitude on that question ), and they do not follow all the rules on fundamental European values, which is an important part of the EU treaties, and which they both have signed.

Tomorrow I intend to have a go at Hungary trying to explain the serious problems Orban and his people are causing

Today I want to tell about these fundamental European values, which is the basis of the European Union and all its members.

The EU agreed in 2000 a Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. It consists of 54 concrete articles.  And as the Charter became part of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, it is now legally binding for all member states, and for EU institutions alike.  When you as a country have signed the Treaties you are obliged to follow the rules.  And if need be the European Court of Justice - and all national courts - are obliged to follow them.

That is why Poland's and Hungary's actual behaviour against some of these values is not only politically unacceptable. It is also legally unacceptable.

What are the main chapters of the Charter?

1. Human dignity:  the right to life, prohibition against torture, slavery and death penalty and human cloning

2. Freedoms: to liberty, personal integrity, privacy, protection of personal data, marriage, thought, religion, expression, assembly, education, work, property and asylum

3. Equality:  equality before the law, prohibition of all discrimination incl. on basis of disability, age and sexual orientation, cultural, religious and linguistic diversity, the rights of children and the elderly

4. Solidarity:  social and workers' rights, incl. the right to fair working conditions, protection against unjustified dismissal, and access to health care, social and housing assistance.

5. Citizens' rights:  the right for EU citizens to vote in elections to the European Parliament, and the right to move freely within the EU. 

6. Justice:  the right to an effective remedy, a fair trial, to the presumption of innocence, the principle of legality, non-retrospectivity and double jeopardy

These European values show the difference with the situation in most of the world, including  Turkey, Russia, China, and to some extent the United States.  

And any European country wanting to join the EU as a member has fully to subscribe to these values. It does so when it signs the accession treaty.

The binding European values are a very important part of what makes Europe special and what makes it much more than just a single market and an economic entity.

 

You can read more here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_of_Fundamental_Rights_of_the_European_Union  

 

 

April 3:

Today I want to tell about the population of the world – and how it is composed.  It might be an inspiration to reflect upon many questions, including the small part we Europeans actually are.

The point of departure is that we put the world’s population at 100.  Then the more detailed information:

 

 

Geography:

60 Asians, 16 Africans, 13 Americans ( incl. 8 North-Americans ), 10 Europeans, 1 from the Pacific

Language – what is the main language of people:

12 Mandarin, 6 Spanish, 5 English, 4 Hindi, 3 Arabic, 2 French, 2 Russian, 2 Japanese.  The majority are speaking about 6.000 different languages, of which half are threatened by extinction.

Man-Woman:

51 men , 49 women

Age:

25 under 14 years, 8 over 65, 67 between 14 and 65 years

Wealth:

20 own 75 %

Famine and overweight:

11 are starving or has poor nutrition

35 are overweight

Analfabetism
14 can’t read

Internet:

47 have access

 

April 2:

Following yesterday’s story about Fools’ Day I have been asked what the history behind that tradition is.

Nobody is totally sure about that. We know that India thousands of years ago had a celebration around April 1, where it was normal to tell people all sorts of stories, which were fun, but not true.  But it is unlikely that our tradition comes from there.

Most people believe that our tradition started in France in 1564.  Until then people  celebrated the arrival of the new year at different times of the year.  The traditions varied from region to region in the country. Some celebrated it around Christmas. Other on March 25. And most on April 1.  The king wanted to make an end to this mess, so with the permission from the Pope he declared that the new year started on January 1. Basta.   Many, especially the very Christian people, were dissatisfied with that. They wanted the year to begin around Easter, i.e. April 1.  And they continued to act like that.

At the time it was – like today – a habit to serve nice food at the beginning of a new year.  As long as the celebration took place around April 1, fish was always served. Why?  Because this was part of the 40 days before Easter, when it was not allowed to eat fat dishes.  So fish was on the plate.   After the change to January 1 people started making fun of the “fools”, who still wanted April 1 to be the first day of the year. You often sent “false fish” – fish dummies – to the fools.

Nowadays this tradition is still there, but in a less direct way. You try to put a paper fish on the back of others.  You pat somebody “friendly” on her or his back – and at the same time you paste a fish of paper on the back. They are called “poissons d’avril” – “April Fish”.  So when you next time meet somebody, esp. in the French speaking countries, you’d better check out, if they have a “fish” on the back. Or give them one 😊

And you did not only send the dummy fish to people. You did all you could to tell “these fools” stories, which were fun and interesting, but not true. 

This tradition moved on to Germany and later further north in the 17th century.  And in the Anglo-Saxon countries the same tradition was and is called “Fools’ Day”, the day of the April Fools.

Today the tradition about “telling stories”, which pull peoples’ legs, have been kept alive by the media.

 

APRIL 1:

This day is – as most people know – something very special. According to the tradition you are allowed to cheat people – to pull their legs.  Normally by telling them stories which sound exciting and very interesting. But is far from being true.

I remember a special event, where I personally got into some trouble because of all that – on this very day, April 1.

 

It was during my time as head of the EU Office in Denmark. It was in the mid 1980ies, and we published a range of publications about what the EU was doing on many fronts.  It was well before the time of the internet, so the printed word was still one of our main instruments.

 

One year in the run-up to April 1 we couldn’t resist the temptation to make a bit of fun. In one of our bulletins we wrote the following story:

 

EU’s department for environment has as one of its main tasks to ensure that people of all kinds have the possibility to enjoy our fantastic nature.  This is also the case for the nudists. Therefore, the EU has given permission to build a nudist camp on the Beach of Tisvilde, one of the most popular beaches north of Copenhagen.  And to support it the EU has also decided to give a substantial grant to a nice fence around the camp.

 

Our bulletin was sent out, also to the whole Danish press.  Within a day or two hell broke loose.  An editor of one of the Danish national newspapers, Aktuelt, was fuming. She wrote that she was normally a strong supporter of what EU was doing, also in Denmark. But this initiative was according to her far over the top.  Whatever people thought of nudists it according to her certainly not up to the EU to  decide anything about camps for nudists, where they should be built and even support them economically.   Her article had a prominent place in the paper, so we were aware that this was her serious opinion.

 

Now, we were in trouble. What should we do?  Just forget it.  Say like the Brits do: Let those waves die against the cliffs!  No, we decided to react. We had to bring our story back to where it belonged:  The Fools’ Day box.   So I wrote a short article to the newspaper, and my main message was:  It is only on April 1 that EU takes off its clothes!

 

This was like putting gasoline on the fire!  Madame editor was even more angry – and wrote that she would never again believe anything of what we said or wrote from our Office.

The died a few years later.  I do not hope we were part of the reason.

 

That’s how things can go.  But this did not prevent us from trying to be creative on April 1 the coming years. 

 

To contribute to your day I have found this link to a list of Fools’ Day jokes:

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_April_Fools%27_Day_jokes  

 

MARCH 29:

Today I want to tell a short, real story from daily life in our corona time:

I was as usual working in my “home office” of this and that, incl. my morning greetings. As it now and then happens, I got hungry half way through the afternoon. I sneak into our kitchen, grap hold of the rye bread and a huge bread knife. And I have often been told that this is not an axe, so do not chop. You have to cut.  So that was what I did.  Now, the rye bread seems to be quite nervous. It was moving left and right on the table.  You are not going to cheat me, I said to myself and took a firm grip of it.  And the knife and I made solid progress on our way through the bread. Concentrating on that I had forgotten one detail:  to move my left thumb away before the knife arrived

I did not get a piece of dark bread.  I got a piece of red bread.   My thumb is already making good progress in healing again 😊

PS: All this made me think: what a fantastic thing it is that our body is self-repairing!  I would have hoped that my car was the same !

 

MARCH 28:

The government here in Belgium decided yesterday to prolong the present lockdown until April 19 – in principle the first school day after the Easter vacation.  It was at the same time decided that it will be further prolonged until May 3, if circumstances require it.  The country has in practice in many ways come to a stand-still.  There are companies still working. Public transport functions, but with less frequency than normal. The hospitals and the health sector are, of course, working in full speed.  The hospitals still have free capacity ready, if more patients continue to come in.  Temporary hospitals are also being established.  

The rules on use of parks etc. have been strengthened, as some people do not seem to have understood that getting together in groups is not allowed due to the risk of further spread of the virus.  The police is using drones to monitor the parks. And if they discover groups of people they can via loudspeakers in the drones ask them to move on.  Shopping is food stores has also been more restricted in the sense that only one person at a time from each family is allowed to enter the shops.  We were stopped by the police the other day, when we were two in our car on our way back from shopping.

It all seems to function well in the given circumstances, including the communication.  As an example you can register to get new information from the authorities by sms  ( called BeALERT ), if you want to. 

As mentioned before I have made a special blog  LIFE WITH CORONA  (  https://life-with-corona.blogspot.com ).  The purpose is to invite people to write 10-20 lines about what they are doing, experiencing and thinking in this special lock-down situation.  Several have already contributed.    Please, join in with you short contribution – in the language you prefer.  Ok?

One more point on the crisis:  The Danish minister of finance, Nicolai Wammen, was interviewed by Christiane Amanpour on CNN last night, especially about the way Denmark has decided to try to tackle the crisis.  See the interview here:

https://twitter.com/camanpour/status/1243605476509650946?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Etweet 

 

Finally, one correction:  I told yesterday about the genealogy programme GENEANET – https://en.geneanet.org/   And I wrote that this service has information on about 7 million people.  The correct figure is:  7 billion.   Many overlaps, of course.  But very impressive.  Go hunting for information about your family and ancestors!   You have probably time for it now 😊  

 

 

MARCH 25:

The present pandemic has, of course, also made people ask:  What does the EU do to help solving these huge problems?

The short reply is that the European Union does not have special competences when health issues are concerned.  And it never had so. The founding fathers of the EU chose that these matters are national issues.  So the EU does not have the possibility to adopt regulations or directives about health questions.  And when such possibilities do not exist they are not there either in a major crisis like today, even if there seems to be a general wish that EU should do more.

This being said it is evident that the 27 EU member states can and are using their close cooperation in the EU to coordinate their work and initiatives.  This also happens in the present situation. On February 13, the health ministers from all the member states held an informal meeting. The heads of state and government have done the same.  And they will do that again tomorrow, March 26, in a video conference, where the Corona crisis is main point on the agenda.

The EU has already certain structures in place, which are very active also in the present crisis.  The Cypriot member of the EU Commission, Mrs. Stella Kyriakidis, is responsible for Health and Food Safety.  She has a background as psychologist.  See enclosed photo.  And the EU Agency for Disease Prevention and Control in Stockholm is very active in following the development, collect information, analyse it and make recommendations. See more:  https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en    Its leader is Dr. Andrea Ammon. She is German and comes from the well-known Robert Koch Institute in Germany.  See photo.   And finally the European Medicines Agency in Amsterdam. It analyses and approves new medications on behalf of all member states. See more here:  https://www.ema.europa.eu/en    Its leader is the Italian professor Guido Rasi. See photo.

In addition to help with the coordination EU can also use many of its instruments to support the work in this crisis. Here are some examples of what is being done:

  1. 1.     The Commission has very quickly approved that each member state may break the agreements about their budgets. Each country needs to give massive economic support to citizens, business, etc., to keep society going.  This is giving direct economic subsidies, guarantees, easing of the rules on state aid, etc.  As the Commission has been asked to monitor that the governments stick to the agreements in these areas it is also the Commission which may give temporary permissions not to follow the rules. This has been done to each country very quickly.

 

  1. 2.     On March 17 it was agreed to close EU’s external borders for 30 days. The purpose is to prevent the virus to continue to cross these borders.  So-called Green Corridors are installed to ensure free flow of goods, medicines, etc. despite the closure.   This is also the case on the internal borders, where they are temporarily closed.  Last week a queue of 57 km lorries waited at the German-Polish border.  Such situations have to be avoided.

 

  1. 3.     EU is using some of its research funds ( Horizon 2020 ) to support development of vaccines against the corona.  One case is an 80 mill. € loan to the German company CureVac in Tübingen, which is working on a vaccine.  It seems that president Trump has tried to buy that company to ensure its products only for the American public.  It did not work. And the director of the company left immediately after a meeting in The White House.

 

  1. 4.     The European Central Bank in Frankfurt has created a special fund with 750 billion € to support the European economy and the Euro.  And president Christine Lagarde has emphasized that its support is unlimited.

 

Tomorrow’s virtual EU summit will discuss and probably further develop these initiatives. And they will also discuss a new proposal from their president, Charles Michel, that EU should create a real European Crisis Centre to handle this crisis and other crisis in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MARCH 19:

How was our first day under curfew? Or you can say “under house arrest”.  As I wrote yesterday we have all been asked to stay at home until April 5 – at least.

 

For us it was very relaxed and peaceful. Not least because we do not have a job or kids to look after.  That makes a huge difference.  In this country such a situation has not occurred since World War II.  For obvious reasons we do not remember that. But I recall very clearly the so-called oil crisis in autumn 1973.  Many activities were not allowed, such as driving the cars on Sundays. I also remember it, because I was directly involved in an EU summit in Copenhagen – also on a Sunday. It was a challenge.

 

Back to now and to Belgium. I made my usual walk yesterday. And I have never met so many other people, also out for a walk. Young and old. With or in most cases without a dog. Friendly, smiling, saying hello hello ( as the Belgians always are very good at !).

We also went shopping.  All shops are closed now – except food stores, pharmacies, hairdressers and gas stations.  We went to our small local supermarket Delhaize. Hardly any cars outside. And lots of people inside – most of them staff.  According to the new regulations this shop is allowed to have max. 25 clients inside simultaneously ( 10 sq.m. per client ). We were not anywhere near that yesterday.  The shelves were full of stuff – except hand rubbing alcohol, soap and flour!  Our supermarket has also made a new rule that people who are 65 years old or more have priority – between 7 and 8 in the morning. I am not sure that we will be among them 😊

 

Outdoor markets – which play a very important role in this country – are forbidden.  But you can have your food and dinners brought to your doorstep. Many restaurants which are closed offer that service now.  We will try it out – also to support them.

 

We are not allowed to visit our neighbours. But we can call them or wave to each other.  As our nice Belgian friend and neighbour calls it:  from bunker to bunker !

 

Our telephone company Proximus also makes an extra effort. It now offers – without payment – unlimited internet, free calls on fixed lines, 10 GB more broadband to mobile clients, more films and entertainment to TV clients, etc.  And many museums here, in Paris and in New York offer free on-line access to big parts of their collections.  People here haven’t yet – like in Italy and Aarhus – started singing from their windows, balconies and terraces. But it will hopefully come 😊 

 

All this cannot and should note hide the fact that we are all in a very serious situation. In Germany chancellor Merkel yesterday addressed the nation and compared the situation today to the one during World War II.   President Macron said the other day:  We are at war!   Hopefully this will make everybody understand, also the younger generations, how important it is that we all do what is required and recommended.  As a friend said the other day:  Our young people have never tried anything like this before. It has always been progress and new opportunities.  Perhaps it is good for them to experience, that things can be different!

 

This was my short “report from the front!.  Unfortunately, it will last some time, before we all know, if what we do is helping.

 

March 15:

The corona situation in Europe  ( figures from yesterday, March 14):
Number of infected:   34.790
Number of deaths:     1.501
 
One of our friends made yesterday a good suggestion on how to limit huge panic shopping in food stores:
Remove all trolleys and give one basket to each client !
 
Some of you have asked for information about other pandemics during the centuries.  Enclosed what I wrote earlier about the Black Death / the Plague in the 14th century.  It shows that it was very different from the present situation - fortunately.
 
The Black Death / The Plague:  It was hitting Europe in the middle of the 14th century.  It was a bacterological desease, not a flu.  It started in the Hubei province in China - the same place where the coronavirus started.  And it spread to the West with the Huns and their armies - and also with the Trade Caravans going to the Middle East via the Silk Road.  The first known epidemy in Europe was in Messina in Sicily in 1347. From here it moved very fast to all parts of Europe. People died in millions a few days after been hit by the illness - and it happened with huge pains. Nobody knew what the illness was caused by. Many believed that bad people had put poisen in their drinking water. Soon lots of people were convinced that the Jews were behind it, and many Jews were killed. In Strasbourg alone about 2000 Jews were killed in a few days in 1349.  About half of the population in Europe at the time was killed by the illness. And huge areas were without population for many years.

 

March 14:

I have been asked, if there are more EU agencies than the ones I have written about recently, such as EUROPOL and EUROJUST in The Hague, ECDC ( European Centre for Decease Prevention and Control ) in Frölunda near Stockholm, FRONTEX in Warsaw, etc.

 

The answer is yes.  There are today altogether 40 different EU agencies. They are all part of the EU. And their headquarters are based in almost all member states. One of the first was the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen. It started in 1993.  Its purpose is to provide independent information and evaluations about environmental issues and in this way contribute actively to EU activities related to environment. The number of EU regulations and directives in this area is now about 500.

 

The purpose of all these EU agencies is like for the Copenhagen agency to provide information and analysis of importance to the work of the EU in many different fields. In some cases the agencies are also responsible for the practical implementation of EU’s work. It is like that for FRONTEX in Warsaw. It is responsible for the coordination of the protection of EU’s external borders. Another example is the GNSS agency in Prague. It is responsible for EU’s GALILEO project, the European global satellite navigation system, which is in operation, and is more precise than the American GPS.  And a third case in the EUROPEAN MEDICINS AGENCY in Amsterdam.  It treats and approves thousands of new medical products on behalf of all EU member states.  This agency was recently moved from London to Amsterdam because of Brexit.

 

The United Kingdom decided to leave the EU on January 31, 2020 and is consequently no longer a member of the EU agencies and cannot profit from their activities.

 

If you want to read more about all these decentralised and practical EU activities you can find the information here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agencies_of_the_European_Union

The map of Europe in the start of this website shows where the EU agencies are, and what they are called. And if you click on each of them you will get much more information.

 

March 13:

The CORONA virus continues to move to more and more countries all over the world.  They are hit – not only by the virus itself – but also by the strong measures taken by the authorities to stop it or at least delay it moving on. And the world is also hit by severe economic consequences.  In Europe each country as well as the EU are working hard to address the problems.

If you want to follow, how Corona develops in Europe, you can consult the website of the EU agency, EDCD ( European Centre for Desease Prevention and Control ) in Sweden. The web address is:

https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/cases-2019-ncov-eueea

 

By looking at this site you can very easily follow developments in each country day by day.

 

Here in BELGIUM the government’s CRISIS CENTRE took a number of very important decisions last night.  They make clear that they do not want to go as far as Italy by closing almost everything in the country.  Until yesterday 314 infected people had been identified – and three persons have died from the virus ( 90, 86 and 73 years old ).

The following measures take effect as of Saturday – and will last at least until April 3:

 

1)      All schools and educational institutions are closed and work with distance learning

2)      Cafes, restaurants, night clubs, etc. close

3)      Cultural and sports activities are called off

4)      Shops continue to be open on weekdays ( not Saturday and Sundays ). Food shops and pharmacies are also open in weekends

5)      Public transport continues

6)      If possible, promote working from home

 

All this is decided to try to reduce peoples’ direct contact with other people as much as possible.

 

The EU institutions in Brussels have asked their staff to work from home, if possible.

 

As you might know, president Macron announced very similar initiatives in France last night.   The planned local elections in the country on Sunday will, though, go on.

March 12:

I have already written about EUROPOL and about the European Arrest Warrant. I have been asked, if there is also a close cooperation between the criminal justice authorities of the member states of the EU.

Yes, there is. It is called:  EUROJUST – European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation.

What is it? And how does it work?

The EU agency was created in 2002. Its purpose is to coordinate the fight against serious crimes, which take place in more than one EU member state.  As we all know crimes do not respect borders. Therefore, the fight against it has to take place in a close cooperation between the EU countries.

EUROJUST has its headquarters in The Hague in the Netherlands – like EUROPOL. It treats about 2.300 cases a year.  It organises about 250 coordination meetings every year between the national authorities. And the agency has 10 coordination centres spread throughout the EU.  In the headquarters it has a staff of 240.   The president of EUROJUST at the moment is Slovakia’s member of the board, Ladislav Hamran.  Denmark as the only EU member state is not a member of EUROJUST, as it has decided not to be part of EU’s legal cooperation.

EUROJUST also cooperates with authorities in non-EU countries.

See more on the website of EUROJUST:   www.eurojust.europa.eu

March 11:

The European Arrest Warrant (EAW) is valid throughout all member states of the European Union (EU). Once issued, it requires another member state to arrest and transfer a criminal suspect or sentenced person to the issuing state, so that the person can be put on trial or complete a detention period.

It started in 2004. It is used 10-15.000 times a year. At it shortens considerably the time it takes to get a suspect or a sentenced person back to the country demanding his or her arrest.

This is part of joint concrete steps of making Europe safer.

 

It has functioned very well to full satisfaction of all EU member states.

Last week extradition was for the first time refused.  Poland had asked Germany to extradite a person accused of fraud.   The German Supreme Court in Karlsruhe rejected it, because it feels that the Polish courts are no longer independent of the government – and that individuals therefore no longer are guaranteed a fair trial in Poland.

Though the Poles probably will claim that this is a breach of the arrest warrant, it is not. On the contrary.  It shows that the very important principles behind the arrest warrant function.

The president of EU’s Supreme Court, Mr. Koen Lenaerts, recently said the following in a speech in Warsaw:  A country that does not guarantee the independence of its courts cannot be a member of the European Union..

March 10:

Today I want to write about BAYERN – BAVARIA.  Why? Because they have local elections on Sunday, March 15 – and again a second round on Sunday, March 22.  It is good for all of us also to know (more) about important local affairs in Germany.

First, some information about BAYERN – Germany’s biggest and southernmost state.  Its area is 70.550 sq.km. This is about 20 % of Germany’s total area. It has 13 mio inhabitants. The state has different regions such as Bayern itself, Franken and Schwaben. And the biggest cities are the capital München ( 1,5 mio inhabitants ) and Nürnberg.  Bayern is calling itself FREISTAAT BAYERN  ( Free State Bayern ) – though it for a long time has been part of Germany.  They still make statistics on their foreign trade, where the rest of Germany is part of “other countries”.

The state is very industrialised, such as its car and motor industry BMW and AUDI.  It also has an important agricultural sector. And it is Germany’s beer country. It has today 624 breweries, f.ex. the well-know Löwenbräu from 1383.  The Bavarians manage to drink a good part of their beer. Each person consumes in average 140 l beer a year ( the average for the rest of Germany is 107 l ). And it happens in particular during the famous OKTOBER-FEST each year – a tradition since the early 1800.

It is also interesting to think about why beer is and has always been so important. It is actually considered – at least in Germany – as a Lebensmittel, as food. Originally it was already in the Middle Ages necessary for survival – and not only in Germany.  You could not drink the water. It was heavily polluted. So you had to drink beer – in mornings, for lunch and for dinner. And also in between. So people were constantly a bit drunk. Apart from the dangerous water, life conditions were so tough that it helped to get your chunk of beer.  An additional angle to all this is that also today a beer is often called a “bajer” in Danish. This is because beer came from Bayern. 

Bayern is a very nice area to visit. München – the capital – is the pearl. It is very lively and has an atmosphere like in the south of Europe. People often call it “Italy’s most northern city”.   The region of Franken is famous for its wine. Do not miss it !

And now some information about the coming local elections:

Bayern has 2.031 municipalities ( Gemeinde ) and 71 regions. Altogether 39.500 posts are up for election. You can vote, when you are 18 years old. Citizens from other EU countries may vote and be candidates.  The Brits no longer, of course.  The election period is 6 years.

If no candidates get over 50 % of the votes in the first round on March 15, a second round in the municipality concerned will take place a week later – and the two candidates with most votes compete with each other.

Politics in Bayern has for many years been dominated by  CSU, the Christian-Social Union. It is a sister party to CDU in the rest of Germany. But during the recent elections the party has lost ground – to SPD as well as to the Greens.  That is why it is very interesting to see how things will go this time.

Europe is not an important theme in this election. It is generally not disputed.

When the capital München is concerned I will mention the three main candidates for the post as Lord Mayor ( Oberbürgermeister ):  Dieter Reiter ( SPD ) – the present mayor.  And two younger female candidates:  Katrin Habenschaden ( die Grüne ), and Kristina Frank ( CSU ).  See their photos below.

If you want to follow the election campaign and its results you can do it in three English-language German media:

1)      DEUTSCHE WELLE:   https://www.dw.com/en/

2)      DIE ZEIT ON-LINE:    www.zeit.de

3)      THE LOCAL:               www.thelocal.de

You can, of course, also follow it in German in the biggest newspaper in Bayern:

SÜDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG  -  https://www.sueddeutsche.de 

 

March 9:

Much is written and said about the CORONA virus and what it means. I have also earlier contributed with a couple of comments about it.  Today I want to address a very practical aspect of it. Washing hands.  Something we all know the importance of. But do we know enough about it? And do we know how?  Personally, I am quite sure that I can and ought to do better. 

I have found a very instructive description in English. Even with practical illustrations. 

When you first read WHY this is so important ( and not just right now ), then you are very motivated to read further on about HOW.  And hopefully starting doing it rightaway.

And be aware of one more thing:  regular hand soap is much better and more efficient that all sorts of hand rubbing alcohol. Soap destroys the vira you have on your hands.  And then it is much cheaper.

One more important advice in our electronic age:  Clean the screens of your phone and of your laptop or ipad at least twice a day. These screens are very popular “parking lots” for vira, bacteria, etc.  In this case alcohol is better than soap.

So’ get going! And why not use the technical facilities at our disposal these days:  arrange that your phone gives a nice signal each time you have to wash your hands!!  Or would that be too much ?!

If you want to get the 5 page instructions I will be happy to mail them to you:

niels4europe@gmail.com 

 

 

March 8:

Today I want to tell briefly about EUROPOL – and what they are doing.

Serious crimes do not respect borders between countries. They take place across borders to an ever larger degree. And it is certainly not old-fashioned border barriers, which will stop them. It requires a close and binding cooperation between the police forces of countries.

EUROPOL is an EU Agency, which is a close and very active police cooperation between the 27 EU member states national police forces. It was created in 1993, has it headquarters in The Hague in the Netherlands and has today more than 1000 staff. EUROPOL is in charge of or deals with about 40.000 cross-frontier police projects each year.  One of their ongoing actions is to publish a list of Europe's Most Wanted.    EUROPOL also runs a special centre fighting cybercrimes.

From May 2017 EUROPOL has been fully integrated in the European Union. This means that only member states which are fully taking part in the judicial cooperation in the EU can take part as full members of EUROPOL.  Denmark not being fully part of the judicial cooperation is therefore no longer a full member of EUROPOL.  Before May 2017 Danish police in average used EUROPOL and its data bases every 8 minutes. This has now become much more difficult and slow. And after the UK will leave the EU that country can no longer be a member of EUROPOL either.

After the United Kingdom left the EU from January 31, 2020 they are no longer a member of EUROPOL.  The ongoing negotiations between EU and the UK will also deal with how a possible cooperation between EUROPOL and the British authorities can take place.

From May 2018 the director of EUROPOL is Mrs. Catherine De Bolle, former head of Belgium's police forces.

You can get more informationin many languages on EUROPOL's home page:  https://www.europol.europa.eu/   

It is also possible to subscribe to their electronic Newsletter free of charge.

 

 

March 7:

We all know far too little about what happens in our neighbouring and partner countries. Today I will give some information and comments about the coming local elections in France.  They will take place on March 15 and March 22.

It a very interesting election for several reasons.  It is only the second time that the whole French electorate goes to the polls after president Macron’s huge election victory some years ago. And it is now a possibility for some of the older parties, which were either almost wiped out or considerable reduced by Macron’s victory, to re-inter the political scene again – and also a possibility for newer parties such as the Environmentalists / The Green to moved forward.

France has an area of 644.000 sq.km and has 67 mio inhabitants. It has 101 départements – and 36.000 municipalities. The country has since Napoleon’s days been very centralised. But since 2000 regional and local authorities have gradually got more tasks.

Sunday, March 15, the first round ( tour ) of the elections will take place. About 500.000 municipal councillors have to be elected in 34.970 municipalities ( in a few places it is not necessary to hold elections ). Altogether 902.000 candidates on 20.700 lists try to get elected.

Sunday, March 22  the second round ( tour ) takes place in the municipalities where nobody got more than 50 % in the first round. This time it is either an election between the two with the highest percentage – or among all candidates again. He or she who gets the most votes is elected.

You can vote from when you are 18 years old.  And the election period is 6 years.

French citizens living abroad may vote. Special voting locations have been established in places with many French citizens, such as in Geneva, London, Brussels and Montreal.

EU citizens living in France may also vote and be candidates.  About 330.000 have been registered for this election. The biggest group is the Portuguese – 111.600. Followed by: the Italians: 55.300, the Belgians: 47.500, the Spaniards: 33.900, the Germans: 33.600, and the Dutch:  17.700.  The 46.000 British citizens living in France can lo longer votes after the UK left the EU on January 31, 2020.

What will the overall results of the elections be?  Very difficult to say. The party of president Macron is from 2016 and not very strong locally. Both parties to the right and to the left will probably see progress.  Mrs. Le Pen’s party on the far right will beyond doubt try to get more posts as mayor than the 10 they got last time.

A number of well-know politicians are candidates, including 10 ministers in Macron’s government. Prime minister Edouard Philippe is a candidate in Le Havre. Anne Hidalgo ( socialist ) tries to continue as mayor of Paris. And Martine Aubry ( socialist ) is a key candidate in Lille. She is, by the way, daughter of Jacques Delors.   See photos below.

If you want to follow the election campaign and its results you can do it in those three English-language French media:

  •    FRANCE 24   -   www.france24.com/en/            
  •    THE LOCAL France   -    www.thelocal.fr     
  •    THE CONNEXION – French news and views  -

                             www.connexionfrance.com

 

March 6:

My special comments today are about my firm conviction that we all know far too little about what is happening and being discussed in other countries, not least our partner countries in the EU.  Our media do not have many correspondence around Europe - and even those which have cannot cover everything of importance.  And the other point is, of course, that it a great richness for us that we in Europe have so many different languages.  The downside of that is only that we do not understand all these languages.

 

Therefore, I decided to make an operational overview of serious and reliable media written in English in each European country.

 

 

You just click on the link to the media you want to read. And you are there. And why not make a shortcut and an icon on your laptop or phone to those media you are most interested in ?

 

I hope that you and many more will find this overview very useful.   It is very important to know what happens in our neighbouring countries, what is being discussed and decided.  We might even learn from it - be inspired by it.

 

I welcome any comments and suggestions for further improvement.

 

See my list here:   http://www.niels-jorgen-thogersen.dk/33454416 

 

March 5:

I want once again to write an update on the CORONA situation – or COVID-19, as it is also called. It takes up a lot of space in the media – and sometimes also in the real world – for the time being.

I want to remind you of the facts I gave in an earlier comment:  WHO, the UN World Health Organisation, informs us that the average number of deaths in the world from the “normal” flu every year is 660.000,  55.000 people per month. And I haven’t seen any figure for how many people are infected by the flu. It is most likely millions of people every year. I also in undramatic terms want to say that I have never seen any similar coverage in the media of these yearly and deadly epidemics. Or massive cancellations of big meetings, travels, etc.  We seem all to have got used “to live with them”, so to speak. In addition it is well known that most of these hundreds of thousands of deaths especially are hitting fragile and elderly people, who might unfortunately have died anyhow.

Figures are strange. They can frighten you. They can comfort you.  And they can also deceive you. And it all depends on the context – and on what mood you are in when you get them.

Talking about figures we can also put the present situation into another daily context: About 28.000 people are killed every year in the EU by traffic accidents. Yes, I know that such accidents do not infect others. But when you talk about the number of deaths caused by the Corona ( 3.200 in the whole world from December until now ) – then it is perhaps time to think and reflect:  This is bad, of course.  But not at all as bad as other dramatic events.

All this is NOT said in order to downplay the present situation. On the contrary. We have to fight the Corona with all available means – and try to prevent that it is spreading , if possible.   But we also have to be careful, that the whole issue is not blown out of proportions in such a way that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. A process, where many people almost panic, afraid of meeting other people, not least Chinese and Italians ( who normally have nothing to do with the epidemic ).  It is well known that epidemics often bring racism along – also this time. And that is very sad and dangerous.

Back to today’s situation:  Yesterday the figure of infected people in the world was 93.000. They are certainly more. Not because the authorities necessarily lie. But because many people might be infected without knowing it.  They are not in the statistics.  The number of deaths in the entire world since the start in December is right now ( March 4 ) 3.200. This is probably true.  This figure should be held against the 55.000, who die from a “normal” fly each month.

As you know it is – for unknown reasons until now – especially Northern Italy, which has been hit in Europe. They have 3.089 infected and 107 deaths until now.  All schools and universities have been closed until March 15. And all big events with many people present have been forbidden.

If you want more details about what happens The New York Times makes a special newsletter “Coronavirus briefing newsletter”, which you can consult or receive. You can find it by searching on Google.

The EU has in Sweden an agency called “European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control”.   It also has interesting background information. Check their home page:

www.ecdc.europa.eu 

Last night I saw a very interesting interview on CNN (Amanpour) with the famous American virologist from Colombia University in New York, professor W. Ian Lipkin.  He is a virus specialist and knows the situation inside out.  He is just back from China ( and so had to be in quarantine back home afterwards – not infected, though ).  His main message is:  No panic, but be vigilant.   I have searched on the web for his CNN interview, but not found it yet.  But he said something similar to the website India Today. You can read it here:

https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/not-panic-caution-concern-right-response-coronavirus-virologist-ian-lipkin-1652505-2020-03-04

His most important practical pieces of advice are the following:

  1. 1.      Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly – as long as it takes to sing the song  HAPPY BIRTHDAY twice
  2. 2.      Avoid body contact with others. Do not shake hand to say hello or goodbye. Use your fists like the sports people do – or use the elbow to greet other people. Or do as the Indians or Japanese do – put your (own) hands together in front of you as a greeting.  And hugs are forbidden
  3. 3.      Use gloves of some sort in public places, when you have to touch something, which many other people also might have touched.

 

Now, this situation will hopefully not last too long.  It would be very sad, if we all were turned into leave-me-alone-zombies, who do not want to meet others or give a well deserved hug! I am sure that some populistic media are preparing campaigns in that direction.  Do not jump on that band wagon.  Be vigilant and sensible. And as the Brits say:  CARRY ON!

PS: The humour has fortunately not been killed (yet) by the virus. I saw the other day, that we all must eat a lot of garlic. Not because it in any way fights the virus. But because it keeps other people away from you 😊

I also saw that a computer specialist believe that he has found the very best protection against the virus:  Cover your mouth permanently with a Norton CD with anti-virus 😊 

 

March 4:

We experience now once again a strong pressure on EU’s external borders. This time on the border between Greece and Turkey. And not just from real refugees from the ongoing war in Syria, but from lot of migrants from other countries, which according to UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR in Geneva do not have the right to get refugee status. This situation has been created by Turkey, which without details have told millions of migrants in Turkey that “the border to EU is now open, and we offer to take you there”. The problem is that the border is not open, and that the agreement from 2016 between the EU and Turkey obliges the Turkish authorities to prevent migrants from leaving the country. That agreement also says that the EU pays Turkey 6 billion € to help covering the costs for hosting all the migrants, incl. refugees from Syria.  This agreement now seems to be under pressure, probably due to president Erdogan’s internal political problems in the country – and esp. because of the war in Syria, which Turkey now is an active partner in.

This is a very complicated situation – which I intend to come back to later, incl. the important difference between real refugees, who have international rights, and other migrants who do not have such rights.  They just want a better life. Nothing wrong about that. But it does not give them rights, incl. a right to get into the EU.

Today I want to tell briefly about EU’s external borders and what is being done to protect them.  It is in particular the borders around the 26 countries ( incl. 4 non-EU countries ), which are part of the Schengen area.  Inside that area all borders have been abolished, and everybody can move freely, also people from outside the area. This is a great, daily advantage for the 420 mill. people living in the area.  But it requires that you protect the common external borders between Schengen and the rest of the world. This is a joint border with a joint responsibility to look after.

To understand the problem you should know that Schengen has 44.000 km sea border and 9.000 km land border. And about 700 mill. people cross these borders every year. That is why EU in 2004 created an agency to coordinate the protection of these borders. It is called FRONTEX  ( from frontieres extérieures ).  It has all 26 Schengen-countries as members. Its headquarters is in Warsaw, Poland. It has today a staff of 700 people. It is agreed that it will increase during the coming years to about 10.000.  The Board consists of representatives for the 26 Schengen countries border authorities.

It is very important to underline that in the mandate for the work of FRONTEX is it stated that it has to be done “in accordance with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights”, which has been a part of the EU treaties since 2009.

The main guidelines are that the tasks of FRONTEX are to promote, coordinate and  develop the management of frontiers towards third countries.  It continues to be the individual member states, which have the responsibility and the manpower.  FRONTEX is also organising an efficient exchange of information between the border authorities and is preparing regular risk evaluations.

In 2016 – following the migration crisis in 2015 – FRONTEX was strengthened further. It may now with very short notice request manpower from the member states to use it in special areas with particular problems. It is called the “European Border and Coast Guard”.  This urgent assistant is called “Rapid Border Intervention”.

This was exactly what Greece asked for in early March. And manpower and 700 mill. € are right now on the way to assist the Greek authorities.

You can read more about FRONTEX here:  https://frontex.europa.eu/ 

If you want to follow the present crisis and its development on the Greek-Turkish border, you can do it in two English-language daily newspapers from Greece and Turkey:

Greece:     Kathimerini:                    www.ekathimerini.com

Turkey:     Hurriyet Daily News:     www.hurriyetdailynews.com