Those of my readers who also follow cycling politics in Europe should know by now that this was a huge week for the organisation I work for. On Wednesday we were in Luxembourg for the first ever EU Cycling Summit, organised by the government of Luxembourg as its main transport event as part of their six month turn as the Presidency of the EU.
All the coverage of that event and its policy importance are covered extensively on the ECF web site, here on my personal site I have the opportunity to reflect just a little on the atmosphere and of course the cycling.
I may have worked in the cycle campaigning and policy arena for a few years but our team really didn’t know quite what to expect because this was way, way, beyond our normal sphere of influence. The main room for the meeting was quite intimidating for us novices, it was the full EU debating chamber with front row seats for the ministers and heads of delegation and behind them the support staff, all trying to show that they were engaged in important political work, or in most cases checking their bosses’ email and tweeting from the room.
I was certainly doing the Twitter part, I think I must have had a record day on line. (Those without Twitter can see all my Tweets on this site’s home page and Idonotdespair’s Facebook page)
What I will remember more than anything is two things. Firstly the obvious enthusiasm for cycling of some of the people in the room. Their day job is clearly the minutiae of policy detail, or the broad sweep of political influence. We know they were going to have a hard second day discussing sensitive issues like the ramification of the Volkswagen Diesel emissions scandal. But at this so called “informal summit” they could break ranks and speak with passion and enthusiasm about a topic they clearly enjoyed. Yes there were also those who delivered prepared statements on behalf of their governments but there was no doubting the smile on the face of many of them, especially when they added a personal dimension.
And secondly of course there was a bike ride. Yet again it delivered as John F. Kennedy said it would because “nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.” All those people who had been formally set around the chamber went out onto the wet and windy plateau of Luxembourg’s business district and started smiling.
The hosts had laid on 100 bikes and few pedicabs for the delegations, but also a fleet of ministerial mini-buses really expecting that many present might maintain a policy of being pro-cycling but consider themselves far too important to get exposed to the elements. Not a chance, to the point that my colleague Fabian and I got stuck at the end with only one bike between us, which he generously conceded to me.
And off we rode. As far as I know 19 Ministers, the EU Transport Commissioner, the Chair of the EU Transport Committee, a Luxembourgish Tour de France star (Andy Schleck) and about 80 more friends of cycling enjoyed a closed road tour across the impressively high bridge that links the Kirchberg plateau to the old city. Through the increasingly dark city streets we pedalled to our dinner in the grand Cercle-Cité, a landmark that once housed one of the founding institutions of the body that became the EU.
I am supposed to have created ECF’s official photographic record of who was there, who rode and spoke but I have found it almost impossible to reconcile faces and names entirely, that remains a future job for our members. Political cycling junkies can look out for the 19 ministers – officially recorded as Luxembourg, France, Germany, Bulgaria, Finland, Cyprus, Ireland, Slovenia, Sweden, Netherlands, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Malta, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Romania and Norway.
And of these only one failed the “simple pleasure” test. Most just rode and enjoyed themselves with their colleagues in the day clothes that they wore at the meeting, just as one should when cycle commuting. Just one felt the need to dress up like a complete dork in the high viz vest and helmet that he was presumably told he should wear, in case anyone from home was watching. Hopefully he felt as out of place as he looked.
But not to end on a grumpy note, it was a great day, moving and even a little humbling to hear 14 nations speak up directly for cycling in that setting. I will remember it for a long time and I hope we will remember it as a bit of breakthrough day for policy too. That part is harder, however I can safely say “We’ll always have Luxembourg” as Humphrey Bogart almost said to Ingrid Bergman in the closing sequence of Casablanca.