The slow train to Strasbourg affords beautiful views – but the fallout from the latest crisis summit, votes on ACTA and Israeli settlements, and the start of the Cypriot presidency make it a busy week for the GUE/NGL press officerMonday
I take the slow train to Strasbourg every month. It takes five-and-a-half hours and means getting up earlier but it is a gentler journey through the Ardennes hills of southern Belgium with better views than the Paris-skirting high speed. Once installed, I read over the agenda for the plenary session and some briefings from some non-governmental organisations with which our group works closely. The week will be the busiest in a long time with the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement vote and the beginning of the Cyprus presidency. We have also got two members of the European Parliament on a solidarity visit to meet ousted President Fernando Lugo in Paraguay.
This job means skimming the surface of a lot of different issues at the same time. It follows that I lack in-depth knowledge about most of the subjects we deal with – but I suppose that is someone else's job. Anyway, this kind of work suits my short attention span. Done with the briefings, I put on some music and watch the view. Later, at the parliament, the press team go through the agenda with the communications coordinator, draft a press plan for the week, and join the group meeting.
The walk from the flat where I stay in Strasbourg to the parliament is a stunning 40 minute stroll along the banks of the canal and the river Ill. Our office in the Louise Weiss building is noisy – it is beside some busy lifts, we are tuned in to the session constantly, the phones never stop, and we get a lot of visitors and lost people wandering around the tangled corridors of the parliament buildings asking for directions.
We send out two statements: the first is a reaction to the railways package vote that we fear will pave the way for destructive rail network privatisation à la Thatcher across Europe; the other is on last week's so-called 'breakthrough' summit where European Union leaders basically changed little and decided to press on with austerity and forcing taxpayers and those dependent on public services to pay for the financial sector's crisis – not much to be cheery about so far for the left. The evening sees the annual group dinner though, with Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and some former MEPs from the group in attendance. It is the first ever presidency run by a radical left party, so the next six months should at least provoke more debate on ongoing crisis policy than previous presidencies.
I spot some of Strasbourg's notorious ragondins – a kind of giant water rat – in the canal on the way in. They are quite cute creatures despite being considered an invasive pest. During the morning I have coffee with a Swedish journalist friend who tells me she is writing a story about what she calls a new "religious nutter working group" that has just been set up in parliament. It is good someone is investigating.
The vote on ACTA generates quite a buzz around the hemicycle and happily a long and hard fought campaign yields a defeat for the treaty. With only 39 voting in favour in the end, this is a major victory for campaigners and the millions who helped put pressure on politicians on the issues of internet freedom and access to medicines. We stress in our press release the magnitude of the moment for participatory democracy but also that the battle is not over. Later, I sign in two filmmakers making a documentary about a group of so-called 'illegal' immigrants walking from Brussels to different cities around Europe in protest at EU migration laws. They meet with our MEPs to discuss possible campaigns and work on upcoming legislation.
It is another glorious day in this fine-looking town and the session is nearly over. We have got to send out a message of support, on behalf of the group president, for an airport ground handlers strike where pressure to lower costs is hitting workers in terms of wage cuts and job insecurity. There is also a crucial vote on illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, where parliament looks set, finally, to take a tougher stance with regard to Israeli breaches of international law. The vote goes our way so it is a pretty positive end to an encouraging session for our group.
On the train back to Brussels I try to figure out my summer plans and listen to a really great Kurdish singer from the 1970s called Selda. Five hours later, it is still almost bright and on the way between Gare du Luxembourg and Matongé, I see a dreamlike parade of decorated horses and a park I have never noticed, and have dinner in the African bar by my flat. That confirms it: I have been away too much this spring so I am staying in Brussels for summer with just a short visit to Ireland to see family and friends. I am a bit indecisive so it is good to feel sure about some future plans.
It is a quiet day after the end of the session. After work I do laundry and meet my old flatmate for dinner. She is another journalist, but works on the detail of EU agricultural policy. It sounds dry but the technical side fascinates me. Without a specialised press then policymakers could get away with anything. We rarely talk about work though. We catch up, laugh, and enjoy a thunder storm.
My sister texts to say she is coming to visit in August so the day gets off to a good start. I head to the mediathèque to pick up some music and films. I spend about two hours trawling through their massive collection and find some gems only to discover that I cannot rent them out because I still have films at home that are a week overdue. I blame Strasbourg and go to meet a friend for a drink, which turns into dinner and a night downtown. I really like the atmosphere in downtown Brussels; it has a totally different feeling to the other communes. If I have one complaint about life in Brussels it is listening to foreigners who never leave the EU district complain about the city – the mixture of cultures, languages and attitudes here is so great that I have trouble relating to those who do not want to explore it.
After a long lie-in, a Belgian/Spanish friend calls over for lunch. She is a real inspiration: a part-time teacher, bookshop manager, historical tour guide and drummer. She tells me about her research into Belgian trade unions for a tour she is giving. Later, I go to the cinema to see a really over the top science fiction film. It has very impressive effects but it would be great if they could do those kinds of films without the terrible writing. David Lundy is a press officer for the European United Left/Nordic Green Left group in the European Parliament