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CANCELLED – this word is currently written on the departure and arrival screens of most airports across Europe following the closing of air traffic since last Thursday. Thank you Eyjafjallajökull!

No, not the name of a hero in Lord of the Rings, Episode IV, but the name of the Icelandic volcano currently creating chaos in the European sky.

In addition to ruining thousands of holiday and business trips (I might soon join the crowd of frustrated travellers), the ash cloud in the atmosphere also threatens EU’s own institutional habits.

Yesterday, the EU Fisheries Council was cancelled and the Transport Council was held via conference call. MEPs almost had their Strasbourg week cancelled, and although it is finally taking place, all voting procedures have been pushed back until May (as expected, this has provoked another run of arguments against the Strasbourg seat).

The Lobby hopes the whims of Eyjafjallajökull will not have too much consequence on Iceland’s EU bid and that EU leaders will be more indulgent than this young Scottish traveller (see below).

– Denis

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Mr. Madelin has indeed made a real difference.

On 1 April, after more than a year of rumours hinting at Robert Madelin leaving the helm of the European Commission’s Health and Consumers DG (DG SANCO) (he held the position for six years despite the fact that Director-Generals are expected to move on every five years), it finally happened.

Musical chairs – Madelin replaces Fabio Colasanti, who is retiring from the post of Director-General for Information Society and Media (DG INFSO). And as expected, Paola Testori-Coggi, who has been Deputy Director-General for Health and Consumers (DG SANCO) since July 2007, was appointed to replace Robert Madelin.

So what? Well, potentially this could mean quite a few changes. Madelin had transformed the way the health and consumers directorate was run. He has been high profile, taken risks and established what he called “co-operative voluntarism” as the new way of doing things: getting stakeholders to sit around a table and sign up to voluntary commitments, as an alternative to legislation.

Madelin’s departure does raise a question over the future of the European Platform on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, which brought stakeholders together around one table to tackle the obesity pandemic. The same applies to the alcohol forum and its set of voluntary actions.

Ms. Testori-Coggi will most probably keep a lower profile than her predecessor but her scientific background and broad experience of food safety issues and emerging technologies could be seen as real added value now that biotechnologies have been transferred to the health portfolio.

As for Madelin’s new post, there seems to be a consensus in Brussels around the fact that he will be instrumental in shaping Europe’s Digital Future. His health experience could benefit DG INFSO in digital consumer and health related topics such as e-health. As for his trade experience (Madelin used to run the Trade DG), it could help him tackle key challenges of the EU Digital Agenda such as the much needed deployment of next generation access networks.

Director-Generals may be more discrete than Commissioners, but they are some of the most powerful players in Brussels – so watch this space, we certainly will!

– Delphine

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Against the mafia, not for...

“These are the rules…”

No doubt this phrase is familiar to several colleagues working in EU affairs when access to the EU institutions is rightly refused because a name is not on the accreditation list. Bureaucracy and rules help avoid favoritism and guarantee fair treatment. However, The Lobby feels that the way in which security guards in the Parliament interpreted and applied the rules a couple of weeks ago are – at the very least – questionable.

On this occasion security guards at the main entrance to the European Parliament in Brussels prevented a group of students from Palermo University from entering the Parliament since the T-shirts they were wearing were deemed to carry a political message, thus violating the code of visitor conduct rules.

The students came to Brussels to attend an anti-mafia conference in the Parliament on the fight against the mafia and were wearing T-shirts carrying the slogan ‘No Mafia – Sicilians against any type of Mafia‘ in Italian, English, French, and German. They were invited by Italian Socialist MEP Rosario Crocetta, a former anti-mafia Mayor of the Sicilian city of Gela and currently under police protection after receiving death threats.

A row followed after the guards blocked the students from entering. They were only allowed to enter the building after removing the T-shirts, which were collected by two Italian MEPs who managed to get them through the security blockade (MEPs are exempt form the rules applied to visitors). Rather than leaving it there, the security guards escorted these ‘dangerous’ students whilst they were in the building to ensure they did not put the T-shirts back on.

Maybe an anti-mafia T-shirt is considered too political for the European Parliament, or at least for its visitors’ code of conduct, but students coming from parts of Europe where lives could be in danger for simply wearing such t-shirts should perhaps a receive a warmer welcome.

– Ilja

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Floor 7 1/2

One of The Lobby’s intrepid sources was caught in a parallel universe yesterday after discovering that the Parliament’s PHS building in Brussels has a 5th-and-a-half floor.

Not content with confounding visitors with a maze of confusing signposts and meandering corridors, the powers that be have found a home for a large swathe of the ALDE group in a Being John Malkovich-esque middle ground between the fifth and sixth floors.

Far be it from The Lobby to speculate on what this says about the group’s politics, nor can we confirm any sighting of a lost Harry Potter looking for platform 9 and three quarters (perhaps he was wearing his invisibility cloak.)

– Emil

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Now that the Lisbon Treaty has come into force and the new Commission is up and running, who do you think is the most powerful person in Brussels? Who truly sits in the seat of power?

Is it Barroso, Ashton, Buzek, Van Rompuy, or Farage – or someone else entirely? We want to know what you think, so vote in our poll by clicking here.

– The Editors

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You may pride yourself on your intricate knowledge of the Lisbon Treaty.  You may know little or nothing about it.  Or you may not care.

Either way, The Lobby is holding its own mini-referendum on Lisbon and we are interested to see how our readers would vote.  The difference is, of course, that our poll is not limited to Ireland, so perhaps this is the nearest thing we have to a truly pan-European referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Click on this link to express your opinion – there is not a moment to lose!

Disclaimer:  we cannot guarantee that a win for the yes vote in our referendum will ensure the Treaty’s smooth ratification, nor that a no vote will kill it off for good.  It’s just a bit of fun – that’s all.

– Max, Rob and Emil

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Latest news from Denmark courtesy of the EU Observer suggests that, in order to boost turnout in the upcoming elections, Danes will at the same time be able to vote in a referendum on the country’s tradition of Royal succession that would allow men and women to have equal status within the Royal line.

Now, far be it from the The Lobby to be negative about the EU elections, but what has Danish succession got to do with the European Parliament?  Once the voting is over, is this not another opportunity for the powers-that-be in Brussels to laud the “surprisingly high turnout” from a traditionally eurosceptic country?

In the same way that the average turnout in EU elections is calculated to include those strange countries where voting is actually obligatory (Belgium and Luxembourg), is this yet another example of skewing the figures artificially upwards?

Low turnout in EU elections sends an important message to the political classes.  Lumping in EU elections with an emotive national issue is bound to send the wrong signal to Brussels, even if the signal might be more easily digestible than the reality on the ground.

– Rob

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schumanToday, the 9th of May, marks Europe Day – an occasion established to commemorate the anniversary of Robert Schuman’s proposal for the creation of an organised Europe. Today we celebrate the very essence of what Europe is and what it means to be European.

Here at Grayling we wanted to revel in this European spirit in which people meet and connect with each other by going live with our very own blog called “The Lobby”. The Lobby is about the EU institutions, Brussels, and the world of EU public affairs and public relations. Sporadically it touches upon music, good food, art, technology, and unfair referees…all the things that make for everyday conversation.

Feel free to enter The Lobby, have a wander, a ponder and read about what’s hot in Brussels; pick up our latest publications on the “Coffee Table”; hear the latest gossip on “Place Lux” and of course you are more than welcome to share your views with us!

Wishing you an enjoyable Europe Day!

– Maxime, Rob, and Emil

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