Larry the cat dozes over a radiator. Bunches of bright yellow daffodils remind visitors of St David’s day and the rustle of spring. Logs are stacked in the fireplace at the edge of the black and white tiled hall. Distinguished oil portraits and views of London in centuries gone by line the walls above the elegant antique furniture. Only the friendly policeman and an occasional scuttling civil servant gives away that this is not simply one of London’s finer townhouses but one of the world’s best known addresses, 10 Downing St.
Just inside the shiny black door, Prime Minister David Cameron showed his Czech counterpart, Petr Necas, one of the contemporary art works on display in the historic building. A sculptural model of that famous front door made out of a famous Czech invention – sugar lumps - by artist Brendan Jamison.
The Prime Ministers were meeting ahead of the European Council to talk about shared priorities, most importantly how to maximize growth and competitiveness in Europe. They were among twelve EU leaders to write to the Presidents of the European Council and Commission last month setting out a ‘Plan for Growth in Europe’. Their letter advocated steps to modernise economies, increase competitiveness and build confidence in sustainable growth and a prosperous future. Proposals included reducing regulatory burdens on small businesses, encouraging innovation, and expanding opportunities with important trading partners outside the EU.
Whilst in London, Petr Necas also spoke about growth and competitiveness to a packed hall at the London School of Economics. He met bankers and City of London representatives (and a group of young Czechs currently on attachments in the City). And he attended, with The Prince of Wales, a memorial evening for the late President Vaclav Havel organised by my Czech colleague in London, Michael Zantovsky with Sir Tom Stoppard. Hundreds of guests heard the life of this most remarkable man celebrated through pictures, film and his own words. Some of the guests were remarkable in their own right, among them Sir Nicholas Winton, aged 102.
All in all, I hope a memorable as well as productive visit for Mr Necas. Well done to the Czech Embassy in London. And to round off the visit, a comfortable, efficient journey together to Brussels for the two leaders on the Eurostar train under the English Channel.
One literal ‘highlight’ of the visit for me was an illuminated pink neon script by artist Tracey Emin hanging above one of the grander Downing St doors: ‘More Passion’. What a great daily motto to bring to government and public life! I think Vaclav Havel might have chuckled in approval.