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ImageWe hope you had a peaceful Summer and are looking forward to what is sure to be a very busy end to 2012!

In preparation for the annual “Autumn onslaught” – or perhaps to take your mind off it –Grayling Brussels is pleased to present you with its latest edition of Espresso.

In this week’s publication:

On the run from the BRICs;

A preview of the Cypriot Presidency;

How health policy is affected by the financial crisis; and

An interview with Grayling Consultant Charlotte Ryckman.

You can access Espresso here.

Happy reading!

– Rob

This articles comes fromt he Grayling Brussels Espresso May 2012 edition.

The Commission is proposing that Member States place a minimum tax of between one-tenth and one-hundredth of one

A new tax coming out the woods? (picture by courtesy of JeSaurai)

percent on a range of financial trades.

Although these proportions seem tiny, the sheer volume of trades that occur every day means that the Commission anticipates raising up to €57 billion in revenue from the move.

One Member State attempting to cash in on these high stakes is France. A one-time opponent of the tax, then President Sarkozy became its standard bearer, pressing ahead with a light French version of the tax when frustrated with the slow pace of progress in Brussels.

On the other side of the Channel, David Cameron has adopted a more pragmatic approach, insisting the tax is unworkable unless it is applied on a global scale, and expressing fears that the City of London would be hit disproportionately which would send investors packing.

Having already wielded his country’s veto on the fiscal compact, he has demonstrated his willingness to block proposals that he perceives as a threat to the UK’s interest.

Enhanced cooperation

With unanimity required for decisions on taxation and deep divisions within the Council, there is little hope of a speedy agreement. Nine Member States have already formally requested to be allowed to press ahead on their own, with the Lisbon Treaty’s Enhanced Cooperation procedure providing a framework for a core group of countries to do so.

The Commission is reluctant to go down this road, however, not least because they would then lose control of the proposal.

This may partly explain the recent push to advocate for the FTT on the basis of the cash savings that the tax would bring about for Member States contributing to the EU budget.

Earlier this month, EU Budget Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski claimed the measure could reduce by over €80 billion the direct contributions from Member States over the course of next 7-year budget cycle.

Promised land

Although there is little evidence that his arguments have gained much traction in key opposing Member States, if the Commission did manage to bring the naysayers around, it would not only score a major political victory on financial regulation, but also reach the promised land of generating independent “own resources”, of serious significant value, a goal it has held dear for decades.

However, an EU-wide, or even Eurozone-level, agreement seems optimistic. With negotiations on the next financial cycle due to conclude by the end of the year, time is not on the side of Barroso and his band of Commissioners in his attempt to emulate Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

Nigel

The latest BigPictureBrussels from Grayling looks at the political priorities of the Danish Presidency of the EU and the likely impact Denmark will make during its 6 month term. Denmark takes on the Presidency of the European Union at a time of crisis and uncertainty. Only days after the highly-charged and bad-tempered Summit in Brussels, the Danish Government unveiled its list of priorities for the Presidency. Amid signs of the inter-governmental agreement on fiscal co-ordination and budgetary surveillance unravelling, Denmark is prioritising the Eurozone with the aim of keeping the show on the road. Read More

As you know the Grayling team are a diverse bunch of people – not only do we come from 15 different countries, we also have various ranges of physical fitness – some of us are fitness fanatics, others like to pick up the bat and ball occasionally, whilst others prefer to sit on the sofa and watch the TV all evening.

But not anymore!

On 2 October we will be running the Brussels mini-marathon in aid of an organisation close to our hearts, the European Network Against Racism Foundation (ENAR).

Since we all hail from different cultures, we want to increase awareness of anti-racism and discrimination in all its forms and – of course – raise as much money as we can!

Given that we will all shortly have to become fitness fanatics (a bigger life change for some than others!) we would love to have your support as we run round Brussels for this worthy cause.

If you click here you can access our sponsorship page from which you can donate as much or as little money as you wish. You can even come and cheer us on during the day itself (and try and identify the couch potatoes among us!)

If you want to know more about the ENAR just let us know – many thanks for your support!

– Rob

Recently, there has been a lot of talk around the corruption charges against MEPs highlighted by the Sunday Times. In this context, some articles published in the press associated lobbying with corruption. Even the Secretary General of a major European party stated: “It does look like an infestation of corporate lobbyists in the European Parliament and it seems that their only entry pass into the Parliament is a credit card.”

Of course, The Lobby cannot condone such behaviour by either lobbyists or MEPs, but neither can it stay completely silent when such accusations are put forward against our entire industry. It’s worth recalling that, in the case of the Sunday Times, fake lobbyists trapped real MEPs.

Like most industries, lobbying produces its fair share of black sheep. However, the vast majority of interest representatives use honest and straightforward means to bring their point across, and many subscribe to a voluntary chart of self-regulation and are also signatories to the Commission’s voluntary Register of Interest Representatives.

Still, many people believe that lobbyists – even if they are not corrupt – are problematic for the democratic functioning of a society. This is completely wrong.

Interest representatives are a democratic necessity. If one thing is certain in EU-Brussels, it is that there are lobbyists for everything: large corporations, NGOs, trade unions, trade associations, national, regional, or local governments, consumer groups, patient groups, professional groups, and so on.

It is up to decision makers to decide whom they listen to, particularly those who will be impacted by the decision, consider their arguments, and take a decision. Indeed, most MEPs would say that lobbyists are actually appreciated, since they can provide necessary information which is just not available elsewhere.

Anything else would be tantamount to policy being made in an ivory tower, far away from what society really needs. Can this be said to be truly democratic?

Christian

 

As the EU Observer reports, the Commission has poured cold water on an “English-only” entrance exam for the EU institutions for the benefit of our cross-channel chums in Britannia, saying it is “illegal”.

After all, up to now all candidates have had to demonstrate an ability of at least one other language – fair enough really, at least when you’re working in an organisation which has no less than 23 official languages.

Yet, in an attempt to get more Brits to apply to work in the EU institutions, the UK government has called for more flexibility in the “concours” in order to allow more monoglot UK candidates to feel up to the challenge of applying for a well-heeled position in the institutions.

This is all very embarrassing – at least for The Lobby’s anglo-saxon arm.  It is true that working life in the EU institutions has now been anglicised to such an extent that one could easily get away with only speaking English – but that is hardly the point.

If Brits are unwilling to learn another language, then what does it say about them? Can’t be bothered to learn a language, don’t care much for other countries, no interest for other cultures.  Frankly, why would we want them in Brussels?  And why would they want to come?

Rather than try to force a lowering in standards for entrance – a race to the bottom – the UK administration would be better off trying to tackle the problem at source, namely increase – not reduce, as is currently happening – language learning in UK schools.

If failure to do this means the number of British nationals in the EU institutions declines, resulting in a perceived lack of UK influence in the EU corridors of power – then so be it.  Sorry.  Tough luck.  Put your own house in order first.

There is, though, an additional reason for the underrepresentation of the UK, particularly in the lower levels, which actually has little to do with languages and more to do with the education system.

When UK students leave universities they do so aged 21 and are expected to virtually walk straight into a career, buy a house, you name it.  When you have a student debt in excess of €20,000, you have little choice in the matter.

The giant debt acquired by the average British student automatically rules out earning an internship wage with no guarantee of a job at the end of it. Why come to Brussels on a shoestring budget when you can rake it in in the City?

In contrast most upcoming Eurocrats from other countries have little debt to speak of, are delighted to get Brussels-based internships after their university education, and would not consider buying a property until around the age of 30. The rush to enter a career and get on the property ladder, so prevalent in the UK, appears to be absent from their mindset.

So is there any hope for our poor, poverty-stricken monoglot British graduate?

Look no further than The Lobby’s alma mater, Maastricht University, which has unleashed a PR blitz on UK students, encouraging them to leave behind the sky-high university fees in the UK and experience a continental education in a city synonymous with EU integration.

Will this help boost UK representation in the institutions?  Maybe.  Or maybe not.  After all, the courses on offer in Maastricht are…in English.

– Rob

It’s the end of July, which means it’s nearly August, which means it’s time for the holidays!

Où est le bucket and spade?

And boy, does Brussels go on holiday!  One minute you’re standing on Place Luxembourg marveling at the sheer weight of people apparently desperate to get into Ralph’s or Pullman, and then, in a puff of smoke, they disappear.  All gone, except for some bemused tourists who wander around aimlessly and stare at the bus timetables (perhaps they can’t wait to get out of there), some hardcore summer workers regretting the fact they took their main holidays in May, and the occasional beggar trying his luck.

Last year I recall complaining how, although the popular view is that “everyone” is on holiday, they actually aren’t.

True, the EU institutions pretty much grind to a halt during August, but industry, by and large, keeps going.  Consultants like to think of August as being a quiet month, but in truth it rarely is.  Once you’ve covered for your colleagues out of the office, prepared for the dreaded rentrée, and began working on all those projects which tend to get earmarked for the quieter times, your day is pretty much full

So industry doesn’t stop during August, but then nor does the rest of the world.

September will see Herman Van Rompuy present his task force’s report on economic governance which looks set to alter the way the Eurozone governs itself forever more.  No small matter.  Meanwhile, just as everyone is packing their suitcases, the ICJ goes and announces that Kosovo was not breaking international law by declaring its independence from Serbia.  How will Lady Ashton manage this delicate conundrum? And what are the repercussions for regions around the world demanding greater sovereignty?

Finally, in case you’d forgotten, we are still in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Second World War.  They may be kings of the sporting world at the moment, but will Spain go the way of Greece? How does the EU prepare for this new and much-vaunted era of financial “austerity?”

So plenty to ponder as EU decision-makers head for the beach.  Happy holidays to all our readers!

– Rob

Up next...

We might be faced with this situation sooner than we think: on Thursday Belgian Prime Minister Leterme handed in his resignation to the Belgian King due to his five-party coalition government being about to collapse with the Flemish Liberals and Democrats pulling out over the “BHV” affair with less than three months left before Belgium takes over the reigns of the EU Presidency on the 1st July.

Moral-political question: should they be allowed to run the EU Presidency? I have heard all three answers in the last 24 hours:

  • Yes, of course, because with the new institutionalised troika system, Belgium will be supported by Spain and Hungary and/or in any case the country holding the Presidency is simply following the Union’s priorities so their input is minimal. Also, Belgium is known to work particularly well when there is no government in place and, hence, they will probably even do a better job with a “Caretaker government”!
  • No, because how can Belgium lead from the front, find compromise solutions, broker deals and demonstrate leadership – fair point!
  • Don’t know: is the majority view because most citizens are clueless about what the EU Presidency is, let alone what it is supposed to do – a sad state of affairs.

Then I heard someone comment on the radio – no fear Herman Van Rompuy – a Belgian – will come to the rescue as the President of the European Union!

The reality is that Belgium will most probably muddle through with the support of the Spanish and the Hungarians and with a structure and system which seems to just keep rolling, despite institutional upheavals such as the “NON” to the EU Constitution or the Irish No to the Lisbon Treaty.

But do we simply want to push through and hope that the institutional snowball takes us forward? Clearly not and, hence, this latest possible scenario demonstrates that Europe still has a long way to go and needs to mature…

Blaming it on the Belgians though would be unfair as other Member States like the Czech Republic have been in the hot seat without a Government.

Russell Patten

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Let's do better than this, shall we?

Since Ivy Lee’s famous press release in 1906, media communication has evolved. Some would argue the pinnacle of this development is the social media press release. It’s nothing revolutionary in The Lobby’s opinion, but it does hit the nail on the head in one sense – in keeping with the times.

Digital is here to stay, whether you like it or not, which to a certain degree means that tools, plied for whatever trade, that keep up with the changing face of internet technology are probably more likely to survive, thrive, and get the job done.

Here are some mind boggling statistics to reinforce this point:

  • In 1995 there were 45.1 million internet users, at the end of September 2009, that same figure had risen to 1.73 billion.
  • On average 247 billion emails are sent every day.
  • There are over 234 million websites and 128 million blogs today.
  • 27.3 million tweets are sent on Twitter every day.
  • Facebook serves 260 billion page views per month, or 37.4 trillion page views a year.

Now then, back to the social media press release. The basics are straightforward and well established, especially for public relations professionals. It’s a digital news release that contains multimedia elements such as MP3 files or links to podcasts, graphics, video, RSS-feeds, Technorati tags and ‘add/share’ buttons for popular sharing platforms such as Digg, Reddit, Stumbleupon etc. Here you can see two examples of social media releases from Cisco and Symantec.

So what about the position paper, the staple food of the ever-so-non-digital Brussels public affairs scene? At the risk of upsetting our peers in Brussels, it seems the most avant-garde move that that public affairs professionals have done on this front is to turn a Word document into a PDF, ideal for – yes – printing. OK that’s not quite true, but you get the gist.

Where is the digital position paper? The tool that in the future will form the means to communicate with stakeholders (when we’ve finally evolved into a paperless society and when digital paper has taken off in a big way), the tool that will be read by Commission, Council and Parliament officials on Android powered pads. We’re not there yet, but the tools to create such a position paper are most definitely here or in the pipeline at the very least.

Imagine opening up a truly interactive and visual position paper. The key messages are there sure, but, for instance, the manufacturing process is displayed in crystal clear video, statistics and key figures come to life when clicked, diagrams and charts are smoothly plotted across your screen, the CEO of the company gives you a quick tour of the company’s upcoming priorities etc.

This vision might seem to be a simple attempt at daring to be bold, but, it could still be rather more effective when it comes to communicating with stakeholders in Brussels, than the traditional two-pager in black and white with a few logos in the header…

We’re curious to know what people think, both inside and outside of the institutions. Is the digital position paper part of the missing link? Could it improve communication in Brussels (and D.C. for that matter)?

– Emil

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It’s a strange week in Brussels.  There are definitely fewer people around.  The STIB timetables are set to vacances scolaires, and you don’t keep bumping into people on the Rue du Luxembourg.  No-one seems to be picking up the phone at the European Commission.

We don't all get time off to eat Easter eggs. Source: http://www.freefoto.com/preview/9909-03-683?ffid=9909-03-683&k=Easter+Eggs

But hark! What is that I hear?  Is it the sound of MEPs pressing the electronic voting button in the Parliamentary committees?  A smattering of applause as another own-initiative report passes inspection and scuttles off to be grilled in Plenary.

The Lobby’s inbox is swamped with out-of-office requests to contact so-and-so-‘s assistant (assistants, as noted in a previous post, don’t seem to take holidays), yet the Brussels policy machine rumbles on.  This can of course present problems for those in the EU bubble who want to spend “quality time” with their children over the school holidays, yet need to keep up with the latest developments in the institutions – if The Lobby had its own family of mini-Lobbies, we may be inclined to sympathise.

MEPs, too, feel the strain.  Monica Frassoni, when an MEP, always complained at being called to Brussels on urgent Parliamentary business during Easter week, and used to say so during Committee meetings.  Just today, a Polish MEP assistant known to The Lobby complained wearily as we ascended the escalator in the Parliament about having to start back so early – Easter Tuesday morning, in fact.

Still, at least those MEPs busily voting away this week can rest easy in the knowledge that, come August, it will be their turn to be on holiday whilst lobbyists up and down the city will be preparing for the onslaught of la rentrée.

The institutions always seem so keen to harmonise standards across the EU, yet as long as lobbyists continue to take holidays at variance with the EU institutional calendar it will likely be them who suffer in the long-run.  Which is why The Lobby is working today!

– Rob

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