Don's Diary

January 20, 1995

TUESDAY. Buy British newspaper, only do so once a week as in Brussels it costs Pounds 1.40. Arrive office 8.15am to continue a report of yesterday's meeting. Dutch secretary (speaks four languages) spends much time helping me cope with computer.

Told of Luxembourg trip organised for student stagiaires, graduates on work/training experience with the European institutions. As a stagiaire atypique I hear of events on the grapevine only hours before they take place. Phone, but told the trip is full. With the hectic social life some stagiaires lead, I am sure one or two will not make the 6am start. Decide to try.

Interview the hearing officer. The greater powers recently given to the post will give him greater independence in handling competition law complaints.

Attend meeting at translation and interpretation service. Head of unit (speaks 13 languages) complains about pressure of work but agrees to try to have translations done by Thursday. This month there will be more official languages. Finish typing draft at 6.30pm. Spend another hour and half changing Qs to As, Bs to Ms, commas to Ns, etc. The keyboard is French.

WEDNESDAY. Attend complaint hearing, the case is a French one and I have to wear earphones. An undertaking is alleged to have abused its dominant position in the market and there have been complaints. The "abuser" denies the complaint supported by a large cast of legal experts, including interestingly, engineering and law lecturers. In Britain many in the legal profession regard law lecturers as failed practitioners. Experts also freer in their arguments. Spend much of lunch break giving a mini-lecture to some students on EC competition law and procedure. Late afternoon return to office to work on report. Cannot figure out how to print and everyone has gone home.

Decide to take tram home for change. Unable to open doors so left standing in street like a wally as tram moves on.

Mother phones, wants to visit before I leaveEurope. Tell her she is also in Europe. She tells me "Stop being pedantic, you know what I mean." I don't.

THURSDAY. Alarm rings 4.30am. Spend 45 minutes persuading myself to get out of bed. Rush to get ready. Arrive Berlaymont, former commission building at 6.10am. The coach has left. Back to apartment and bed. Up again 8.30am. (OK that was a lie, up again 10am.) With merger taskforce for a few days, they deal with particularly sensitive cases and work to tight deadlines. Security for their floors of the building must equal Fort Knox. Look at interesting merger case on substitutability of tampons for sanitary pads, whether diapers, sanitary towels and adult incontinent pads form part of the same product market (!) etc.

FRIDAY. In at 8.30am but feel too embarrassed to ask Dutch secretary to help me yet again. Later a woman (speaks four languages) from computer helpline comes to my assistance. At last hand in completed report. Attend seminar on developments in competition law. Attend lunch-time seminar in another directorate general of related interest to me, DGXV. Am impressed by their moves towards greater transparency and internal market weeks whereby commission teams visit each member state to listen to views and answer questions on completion of internal market. Back to taskforce to continue questions of penetration and barriers to entry in the female sanitary production market. Interesting legal and economic arguments as well as procedural points.

SATURDAY. 7.30am train to Amsterdam with four others. Spend unjustifiable amount of time in red-light district. I am outvoted and we spend disproportionate amount of time in condom shop. I buy blue condom with shark on end of it. No one else buys anything. On to Rijksmuseum, wonderful Dutch masters, fascinating collection of dolls houses and many other treasures. Canal trip. Return to Brussels.

SUNDAY. Anderlecht market, buy three kilos of tangerines and too much cheese. Meet a friend and wander around Le Petit Sablon, usually an antiques market but this weekend it is a special market with stalls from all round the world. Friend buys Italian nougat, I buy earrings from Colombia. We have Norwegian pancakes and mulled wine with berries from Finland.

MONDAY. Committee meeting on new competition law regulation. All member and European Free Trade Association states represented. Much discussion on the content but also about accuracy of translation essential for statutory interpretation. 5.00pm meeting with an officer of the environment directorate. I leave with two carrier bags of environmental law material. Have to pass office . Someone has added Arabic and there are now festive greeting messages in 15 languages in the lobby.

Barbara Mensah Senior lecturer and coordinator of the European Commission course at the Inns of Court School of Law. She recently took a three-month sabbatical at the EC Brussels, with an attachment to the competition directorate.

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