Posts Tagged ‘Brussels’

Energy Charter

10/30: During my last day in Brussels, as serendipity would have it, I was able to meet with a member of the United States Mission to the European Union (EU) — a Mr. Epelson Dawers (pseudonym, pronounced DA-yers), Counselor for Energy, at his office located on Rue Zinner within 20 minutes walking distance from the botanical garden. A lean, dapper, and distinguished gentleman whose previous appointment was in Baghdad, Mr. Dawers’ expertise appeared on the surface of his gestures, but also of course, through his expressed knowledge of affairs in Europe and interests of the US state.

Mr. Dawers had agreed to meet with me on very short notice, through a phone call to his office from Tevan Sefiv, Director of Transport and Markets, for the Energy Charter Secretariat, who I lunched with earlier in the day. During my conversation with Tevan, I learned of a workshop that he is organizing in Warsaw in November, and to which he invited me to attend if I could be accompanied by a member of the US diplomatic corp. To find out, we decided to give Mr. Dawers a ring. Once on the telephone, Tevan deftly skipped from one topic to another, and then mentioning finally, of his meeting with me, suggesting in fact, that I was indeed, in the room at that very moment and then abruptly handed the phone receiver over to me. And that is how I came to be invited to meet with Mr. Dawers.

The US Mission to the EU is distinguished from the US Ambassador’s office to Belgium and from the US branch for NATO — all three offices within sight of each other and administratively integrated. There is a lot of security that surrounds these offices with numerous practices for entering and leaving buildings that conform roughly to security for all US government sites.

Speaking as a cultural anthropologist of energy meetings on the high level, I am quite use to security measures, such as bar coded identification badges tagged visibly to the body, the passage through metal detectors, turnstiles and barricades, and the presence of armed security personnel.

Yet, today, from my excitement at meeting with Mr. Dawers and from my lingering thoughts at having just met with Tevan, but also having now just passed the Russian embassy, along the same street and accessible through a 19th century wrought iron gate — I became quite flustered when at a certain moment, the pedestrian walkway simply ended in the presence of armed guards asking me politely where I was headed, and whether I knew I was standing before the American Embassy.

I have never quite considered myself a bumbling academic, but after having passed through security, with a tie in my hand, along with a one-quarter inch stack of loose papers that included business cards, hotel stationary and google map print outs, I must have left just that impression to Mr. Dawers, who introduced himself to me as I was stashing all these articles back onto my person.

The building was swank and soon I had a chance to settle into a black leather arm chair and explain how I found myself in Brussels (see post below) and what my project was all about.

It is so shameful for me to admit this on the Paparazzi Ethnographic blog, but where else if not here should I state that in such instances, when I am surrounded by such a well ordered and elegant setting, among persons so disciplined, knowledgeable, and clearly a part of social networks linked to important political and economic forces — my first impulse is to ask whether I can have a job (!) — as if academic work is somehow non-work, a non-productive lifestyle made up of a non-well ordered regime of non-continuous mental productivity.

But that is the specific feeling I get inside such offices where everything seems to look so appropriate. Of course, I should remind my readers that I served in some small capacity as a political operative, while working in an appointed position under two Alaska governors on the Senate side of Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., mingling as I did with US Department of State, etc. Then, what I appreciated most about that position (and yearn nostalgically over), is the appearance of wealth, intelligence, and connectedness it provided me, and of course, the sense that my finger was close to the “pulse of history”, as Max Weber refers to politics as a vocation.

But the job was also a bit boring.

For example, and this is not a slight to anyone in the diplomatic corp.  — in fact, it is with deep respect for their capacity to keep multiple discourses available on the tip of their tongue — one of the freedoms I have as an academic is my ability to ask questions about knowledge and to illicit discussion that reveals the strict discourse or style of speech that becomes embodied in officials in their capacity as officials.

I find this fascinating. The style of diplomatic talk by Mr. Dawers carries a performative quality that remains on the level of the distribution of statements. These uttered statements clearly have flexibility, they are after all, spoken by a specific person (Mr. Dawers). But they are also manufactured outside of Mr. Dawers, they carry a life of their own in that some variation of their structure is being reproduced and discussed elsewhere by other members of his staff and even other personnel in other governmental offices. And it is through these statements that each of these different persons can locate their own interests of state and express their position to each other on a variety of different topics.

One example is the topic of the Energy Charter that had come up throughout the day.

It was only a few years ago, for example, that I was in Moscow attending the 8th Russian Oil and Gas Congress, when I heard from Tevan’s predecessor, Ralf Dickel (Ральф Дукель), that a transition of the European natural gas industry was underway.

A global economic crises combined with the rising production of natural gas in the United States from non-conventional sources (shale gas), suggested that Europe would be awash with expensive natural gas from Russia, and that the only course of action that lay ahead would be a renegotiation of long-term contracts to favor competitive pricing based on short-term contracts along side a realigning of the pipeline grid itself, to create more capacities for multi-directional flows, and so on and so forth.

While these issues remain in stages of development, affecting the prospects of one Arctic proposal that I had been investigating, the off-shore Shtokman natural gas development project in the Barents Sea– they have become also increasingly linked to Europe’s trajectory toward developing a renewable energy portfolio aimed somehow at reducing Western European dependence upon Russian energy sales.

In the midst of all this, the Energy Charter exists as a political initiative creating multilateral rules to provide net exporters of energy and net importers a balanced and efficient framework for international cooperation (bilateral agreements and non-legislative instruments aside). To do this, the Energy Charter established a Treaty signed by 51 European participating countries in December 1994 (entered into legal force in 1998) creating a legal foundation for energy security, based on the principles of open, competitive markets and sustainable development, thereby mitigating risks associated with energy-related investment and trade.

Two countries, however, Norway and Russia, do not participate as fully binding members, and in fact, Russia formally withdrew from participation to the Treaty in 2009, despite the fact that it can still be held accountable in an ETC Tribunal process.

It was within this context, that our speech took place and pleasure. For Tevan, his concern was whether the US diplomatic mission would be participating in upcoming events and keep abreast of developments about the Energy Charter. For Mr. Dawers, the question of what appropriate level to participate in such discussions and events, whether representatives from the local embassies (whether the US embassy in Poland would attend the Energy Charter workshop in Warsaw), State Department in DC, or Mr. Dawers’ own office. The concern on both sides is ensuring security, security of supply, security of investments, security of an affordable price, all issues that both sides agree upon, with respect to Russian exports, that energy should be a commodity and not a political tool.

After my meeting, I had a brief moment to carry out some sight seeing in Brussels. The most interesting location I found was a Kodak photography store, that continues to provide film development services for customers.

Given the proliferation of digital photography, I could never have imagined such a store still operates, and felt there should be some kind of guidebook for endangered industries, as such activities represent a twilight of tradition now quickly fading into the past. They are forms of the past present participle — a cultural heritage of sorts, labors of loss, managing to hang on to the present long after their functions have been replaced by the future.

Particularly touching was the site of developed film in bags awaiting customers. Who are these folks who hang on to folksy ways of taking photographs and the delayed forms of gratification that come from awaiting the images to be developed, and ensuing discussions about whether the image a proper reflection of the moment.

From the street perspective, I fully intended to find the store closed and abandoned, as this window dressing demonstrates, a kind of haphazard look, covered over with graffiti that itself looks to be in stages of decay.

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enroute Brussels

11/28: Brussels. Fairly inconstant weather. Cigarette smoking still allowed. Women wear casual and men wear perfume. Belgian waffles on every corner but also chicken wings. Campari on ice or Campari with no ice and soda water.

I have been in Brussels now for several days, staring out of a hotel room window while mulling over comments I received from various professionals in different cities concerning the European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator grant due February 17, 2013. The grant itself is a generously large 5 year research funding stream with individual requests amounting up to € 2.75 million. Review decisions are made on the basis of a 2 step process, the first step consisting of a 2-page resume; 2-page outline of scientific career; and 5-page outline of the proposed research. In all, 9 pages of Times New Roman, 12 point, 2 cm margin, type-written paper. The second stage, if successfully passing the first, is a 15-page outline of the proposed research. Finally, if the research merits the high standard of the scientist panel reviewers, there is an interview at the ERC Executive Agency right here in Brussels.

The latest set of intelligence gathering comes to me from Horace Penroe, a pseudonym referring to an ERC program officer who was kind enough to meet with me on Friday to go over details of the proposal. Earlier in the week, in Oslo, I attended a workshop led deftly by Mette Skraastad (see below) and organized by ERC national contact point person, the Research Council of Norway‘s (RCN) Per Magnus Kommandantvold, who I had met earlier this year, in January, at the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø.

It was then, where I participated on a panel cross-talk for research funding, invited by Jen Baeseman to represent the US standpoint on behalf of the Association of Polar Early Career Scientists — and along side Rena Levin, the Norwegian Fulbright Program Officer with whom I was making my acquaintance because I had been short listed for the award — that I first heard in detail about the ERC program from Per Magnus. Luckily, U. Tromsø’s ERC grant administrator, Thorbjørg Hroarsdottir, and budget coordinator, Bjørg Hunstad — familiar to me from an RCN proposal I turned in just a few weeks earlier through my faculty sponsorship from Sidsel Saugestad in the Department of Anthropology — suggested that I apply for a research title in order to go after the ERC.

And thus, was the windy road that led me to Brussels, my last stop in gathering background information for the final preparation of the proposal.
When the sun comes out in Brussels, the city carries a stereoscopic feel, as if every scene were taken as a daguerreotype, and then painted over with colors.
There are a number of threshold concerns that I have to consider when preparing the proposal, and that require some time to gel, hence, the mulling around in a hotel room, allowing the information to settle before getting back to writing in California on Thursday.

One area in particular surrounds the concepts of “innovation”, “high risk”, “preliminary findings”, “incremental research”, all terms of art over which the ERC places great emphasis. In simple terms, a proposal must be innovative and of a high risk nature, but there should be preliminary findings to ensure the research can be carried out successfully and these findings should not be so well developed so as to suggest the proposal is an incremental part of an earlier project. More precisely, I have to make very clear that what I am going to do is unique and has great potential. If I claim that no one has done it before, I should therefore know the “state of the art”, and cover from it all angles. Be “assertive without sounding arrogant” as it was explained to me.
The ERC Executive Agency is located in an oval shaped steel and blue glass tower that can be seen from the botanical garden in these photos above.

From my hotel room window, seen at the top of this post, the roof of the botanical garden’s glass house can be seen on the left. From afar, the oval of the ERC building casts a reflection upon a glass sky scraper located nearby. Up close and inside the ERC oval tower, looking through Horace Penroe‘s window, the adjacent building appeared in stark manner.

Not everything taken under consideration is a key theme. There are also many small details that require clarity. There is the selection of which panel to submit my proposal to, which was a mystery until Friday. There are a number of Social sciences and Humanities (SH) Evaluation Panels to select from. What key words would be important to differentiate my project would be important. My resume, what I state as my experience on two pages. The definition of innovative, etc.

But what I found most helpful about meeting with folks, and traveling through various offices and workshops, is not so much the process of getting a feel for the ERC proposal process, but in fact, getting a feeling of curiosity about the proposal itself.

There are in fact, so many documents, website pages, PDFs to go through, which on the surface of things, do not make a lot of sense or attract attention. But in fact, each of these pages is quite important and the information represented is key to fashioning the language of a proposal. The trick, if you will, then, is to figure out how to interact with this language, to develop a passion for its code, to be drawn to its pages as a style of life — as a lifestyle over all others.

Among such “passion” for the text, I found myself booked into a disco hotel, Hotel Bloom, with the sound of an electronic high-hat (tst tst tst) — and addictive minor chord progressions permeating every space.

It is a wonder, how music and movies can permeate the consciousness so rapidly, and become so infectious without the slightest interruption other than the time it takes to walk into a room

9/10: While speaking with U. Tromsø’s Thorbjørg Hroarsdottir about our upcoming submission to the European Research Council (ERC), we remembered to check in with Norwegian Research Council’s Per Magnus Kommandantvold, National Contact Person for ERC, with whom we organized a phone call to request advice on our visit to the Cognizant Program Officer at ERC in Brussels.

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