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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

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The newly elected European Parliament President Martin Schulz announced in an interview that he is going to try to “put the European Parliament in a confrontation with the heads of government.”

Is the Parliament going to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee? (photo courtest of Mark Pellegrini)

The reason behind this is that, in Mr Schulz’s view, the European Council is becoming more and more powerful, while the European Parliament’s role either “goes unappreciated or [is] stolen by the Member States”.

Clearly, this assessment can only be confirmed by people working in the “Eurobubble”.

When going back home, people seldom realise that the European Parliament is in fact a key institution and no longer a talking shop. Worse, only 43% of electors actually go and vote on election day.

This confirms one of the many shortcomings of the Lisbon Treaty: instead of truly democratising the EU, it actually gave more powers to the European Council by making it an official EU institution, which can de facto act as a sort of directoire.

Of course, one could say that governments are under control of their Parliaments back home, but in times when an increasing number of competences are being transferred to the EU, one would expect that the Parliament – which only focuses on EU issues – gets a louder voice and is appreciated as such by the general public.

In this regard, Martin Schulz’s initiative seems very positive.

Yet, the Lobby cannot help thinking that domestic politics may be the cause. By weakening the Council, the Parliament is weakening its de facto leadership, namely Ms Merkel –  something which the SPD, Mr Schulz’s home party, may try to exploit in the 2013 national elections.

It would be disappointing if this should be true, since this would show that even the European Parliament only sees itself as a means to fulfil domestic politics goals.

Yet, sometimes the ends do justify the means. Therefore, whatever its intentions, The Lobby hopes the European Parliament will experience some proper infighting, which at least will ensure the EU gets a little more democratic!

– Christian

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

 

News that The King’s Speech is leading the Oscars’ field will probably come as no surprise to those that have seen the film – unfortunately, most of “those” reside outside the Brussels bubble, since it won’t appear on Belgian cinema screens until around 23 February.

From what the Lobby can surmise from the snippets of information fed to it from friends, associates, and (most importantly) Wikipedia, we can gather that it concerns the attempts by King George VI to overcome his stammer with the onset of the Second World War.  The subtext being that a nation which in times of war has a stammering Head of State denotes weakness and uncertainty.

Probably the sexiest stammerer ever - Marilyn Monroe (Source: Wikipedia)

Times have not changed.  With politics now overwhelmingly dominated by style over substance, a stammering politician would probably receive short shrift, but from whom exactly? His party, or his electorate?

The Lobby knows for a fact that there are MEPs who stammer, and yet presumably they have been thoroughly vetted by their party and been elected by the people on the basis of their views, character, and ability.

Thus, what you say appears to be more important than how you say it.  So style, actually, is not always “over” substance.  Rather a stammering politician who talks sense, it seems, than a fluent one who rambles and fails to connect with the populace.

Indeed, it is bizarre that stammerers are perceived as weak, since to live each waking hour with such a speech impediment requires great strength of character. After all, a stammer does not pack up and go on holiday in August, nor does it leave town over the weekend.

Moreover, someone who lives with a stammer but has the courage to stand for public office should demand our respect.  Thereafter, what they say should take precedence, and, as we have seen with some notable MEPs (and no doubt other politicians around the world), it does.

Stammering is often couched in the language of disease.  SYMPTOMS must be recognised, a stammerer must be DIAGNOSED, and then a CURE can be proposed, with the help of ongoing TREATMENT.

This hardly improves the perception of stammering.  Beyond childhood, most stammerers must learn to live with it anyway (indeed, to use another medical term, it is often INCURABLE), so why is not more acceptable to stammer now and then?

(As some speech therapists may tell you, everyone stammers – the only difference is the frequency and degree).

Similarly, perhaps we should stop seeing stammering, or any speech impediment, as a disease, but rather as an intriguing personality trait.

Not many people stammer, but enough do to make it socially acceptable.  Perhaps if this happened, then stammering would lose its perceived shame, a greater number of potential politicans may have the courage and the backing to make a difference, and King George VI would not have had to CURE his stammer in order to be taken seriously by his people.

– R-R-Rob

For more information about stammering please visit the British Stammering Association (who had no input into this article – we just think they’re great).

CANCELLED – this word is currently written on the departure and arrival screens of most airports across Europe following the closing of air traffic since last Thursday. Thank you Eyjafjallajökull!

No, not the name of a hero in Lord of the Rings, Episode IV, but the name of the Icelandic volcano currently creating chaos in the European sky.

In addition to ruining thousands of holiday and business trips (I might soon join the crowd of frustrated travellers), the ash cloud in the atmosphere also threatens EU’s own institutional habits.

Yesterday, the EU Fisheries Council was cancelled and the Transport Council was held via conference call. MEPs almost had their Strasbourg week cancelled, and although it is finally taking place, all voting procedures have been pushed back until May (as expected, this has provoked another run of arguments against the Strasbourg seat).

The Lobby hopes the whims of Eyjafjallajökull will not have too much consequence on Iceland’s EU bid and that EU leaders will be more indulgent than this young Scottish traveller (see below).

– Denis

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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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Against the mafia, not for...

“These are the rules…”

No doubt this phrase is familiar to several colleagues working in EU affairs when access to the EU institutions is rightly refused because a name is not on the accreditation list. Bureaucracy and rules help avoid favoritism and guarantee fair treatment. However, The Lobby feels that the way in which security guards in the Parliament interpreted and applied the rules a couple of weeks ago are – at the very least – questionable.

On this occasion security guards at the main entrance to the European Parliament in Brussels prevented a group of students from Palermo University from entering the Parliament since the T-shirts they were wearing were deemed to carry a political message, thus violating the code of visitor conduct rules.

The students came to Brussels to attend an anti-mafia conference in the Parliament on the fight against the mafia and were wearing T-shirts carrying the slogan ‘No Mafia – Sicilians against any type of Mafia‘ in Italian, English, French, and German. They were invited by Italian Socialist MEP Rosario Crocetta, a former anti-mafia Mayor of the Sicilian city of Gela and currently under police protection after receiving death threats.

A row followed after the guards blocked the students from entering. They were only allowed to enter the building after removing the T-shirts, which were collected by two Italian MEPs who managed to get them through the security blockade (MEPs are exempt form the rules applied to visitors). Rather than leaving it there, the security guards escorted these ‘dangerous’ students whilst they were in the building to ensure they did not put the T-shirts back on.

Maybe an anti-mafia T-shirt is considered too political for the European Parliament, or at least for its visitors’ code of conduct, but students coming from parts of Europe where lives could be in danger for simply wearing such t-shirts should perhaps a receive a warmer welcome.

– Ilja

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Floor 7 1/2

One of The Lobby’s intrepid sources was caught in a parallel universe yesterday after discovering that the Parliament’s PHS building in Brussels has a 5th-and-a-half floor.

Not content with confounding visitors with a maze of confusing signposts and meandering corridors, the powers that be have found a home for a large swathe of the ALDE group in a Being John Malkovich-esque middle ground between the fifth and sixth floors.

Far be it from The Lobby to speculate on what this says about the group’s politics, nor can we confirm any sighting of a lost Harry Potter looking for platform 9 and three quarters (perhaps he was wearing his invisibility cloak.)

– Emil

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The creation of a European diplomatic service is one of the long expected innovations brought in by the Lisbon Treaty. A fundamental of European integration is the belief that the EU has a global mission, but so far it has lacked the tools to carry this out.

This might be changing however with the new post of High Representative of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy held by Baroness Catherine Ashton and the upcoming European External Action Service (EEAS).

The European Parliament will not let the Commission and the Council set up the new body by themselves. Source: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/frankenstein/hollywood.html

According to the Treaty, the Council is responsible for setting up the EEAS, a not-so-easy task given that the body is supposed to be a mixture of the Commission and the Council.

With concrete proposals expected from Baroness Ashton end March and a final agreement end April, it is hard to go further than questions:

What will be the structure?

Which kind of and how many national diplomats will be put forward by the Member States?

What portfolios will it share with or take over from the Commission (development and cooperation, humanitarian aid, neighbourhood policy)?

Who will represent the EU in major negotiations, for example on trade and climate change?

For those interested in the details, Europolitics gathered draft organisational charts from Baroness Ashton (page 1) and a counter proposal from the German delegation (page 2).

Hence there are many options and many complications even before you take into account that the European Parliament (EP) wants to scrub in. The EP is not supposed to have much to say on it but is playing the card “if you want me to approve any budget on this, you better let me in on all the rest”.

MEPs Elmar Brok (EPP, German) and Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE, Belgium) for the Foreign and the Constitutional Affairs Comittees respectively are leading this battle. They have expressed 7 priorities highlighting two main preoccupations, namely oversight from the Parliament and as much influence as possible for the Commission on the EEAS to “protect” it from being controlled by national agendas (also see page 3 of the Europolitics document).

The final question, however, lies in the national agendas. Regardless of the body or the structure, the point is how much of a mandate will the EU nations give to the EEAS?

It will take years of work for national players to develop enough trust both in the body – to defend their best interests – and in the system – so that they accept losing on some issues whilst knowing  they will win on others.

– Talander

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