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Handling the Euro-crisis demonstrates the unity of the continent, but when it comes to open borders and immigration, European leaders show a different face.

No more queues and controls at the borders of European countries – Schengen makes it possible. For years, numerous holiday-makers and workers have been able to travel without barriers across the majority of the continent.Image

This week however French President Nicolas Sarkozy attacked this so-called “freedom of movement” by threatening that France will leave Schengen, should the Agreement not be renewed within a year after his possible re-election in May.

Sarkozy’s call is in line with other anti-immigration rhetoric used in national campaigns. However this current debate over border controls has been brewing for months and shows that Europe is threatening to fall back into old patterns.

We might recall a year ago, in the wake of the Arab Spring, that thousands of refugees fled to the Italian island of Lampedusa. The then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi gave the refugees a six-month residence permit, which enabled them to travel freely throughout Europe.

This in turn made Sarkozy furious, and he decided to re-introduce controls on the Italian border.

Last year Denmark toyed with reintroducing permanent customs controls, and the Dutch are so worried that at the beginning of the year they established an automatic monitoring system at border crossings.

Finally, several EU Member States are still blocking Romania’s and Bulgaria’s entry into the Schengen area due to deficiencies in the judiciary and the fight against organised crime.

At the end of last year EU Justice Commissioner Cecilia Malmström announced that she wants to reform the Schengen Agreement, which she called “one of the most cherished achievements of the EU”.

The European Commission wants to put in place a more efficient and EU-based approach to Schengen cooperation, allowing Member States to independently introduce border controls only as long as the Commission agrees beforehand.

Many states consider these proposals as an attack on their sovereignty.

President-hopeful Sarkozy also blamed the bad “Eurocrats” for deciding over France’s sovereignty, while seeming to forget that the European Parliament together with the Council – including the French government – will first examine those upcoming proposals.

The debates show that the Schengen issue is one of the topics which are (ab-)used by politicians who like to stoke fears among their fellow citizens and blame over-technocratic Brussels.

One can only hope that the Schengen reform will take place in an atmosphere isolated from any populism and campaigning strategies and will result in an improved framework resistant to misapplication.

The Commission has yet to respond to Sarkozy’s statements, saying it does not comment on national campaigning.

However, in order to contradict populist claims and for the sake of explanations and communications – maybe there is a need for response.

-Thomas

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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

On 12 December Jonny Wilkinson announced that he is retiring from international test rugby. “Jonny Who?” non-rugby fans may ask. “And why is there sporting news on a blog dedicated to the world of EU affairs?” ask other readers.

So, who is Jonny Wilkinson? Jonny Wilkinson is a legend of world rugby, respected and admired by fans all over the world. He played through four world cups, won one of them by slotting the winning drop goal in the dying seconds of extra time, played a total of 91 test matches for England and 6 for the British & Irish Lions, and scored 1,246 test points, which makes him the second highest scorer in rugby history.

But why does this feature on an EU-related blog? First of all, with all this UK-bashing going on in EU-Brussels right now, it is good to think of some of England’s greats, thereby trying to deescalate – at least a bit – the current discussions. Of course, there is also the crucial factor that the author of these lines is a rugby fanatic. But mostly, because he (Jonny, not the author) is an inspirational figure both on and off the pitch.

Constantly striving for perfection, he (again, Jonny, not the author) was a model of hard work and dedication. He is said to be the first on the pitch and the last one to leave it during training sessions  – this resulted in his almost surgical precision when it came to slotting penalties, conversions, and drop goals.

He was the kind of player who was not afraid of doing the dirty work when his team needed it. As the cliché goes, he really did wear his heart on his sleeve and put his body on the line for his team

As well as being one of the world’s best players, he is also one of the world’s most modest players. Never did he seek the limelight, and he always put his team first. Full of respect for his team mates and opponents, he learnt French when he came to Toulon in 2009 and speaks it in very well.

So, again, what does all this have to do with the world of EU affairs? Well, hard work, dedication, humility, respect, and intelligence are qualities which will be needed to get through the current crisis. As such, Jonny is a role model for all EU affairs professionals and European politicians.

– Christian

Could another Treaty change be on the cards?

European leaders still bearing the scars of the tortuous ratification of the Lisbon Treaty are now having to contemplate the prospect of re-writing the rule-book to accommodate further fiscal integration of the beleaguered Eurozone.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has said that Berlin believed all 27 EU member state leaders would need to convene next year to agree to a new Treaty.

This has caused alarm in Brussels. Treaty changes require ratification in each Member State – in some cases, a referendum is compulsory – in all cases, there will be a painful political process with numerous pitfalls on the way.   The Lisbon Treaty took eight years to ratify.

It seems that Germany believes a Treaty change is required for Eurobonds – something they are understandably reluctant to see introduced. The European Commission is expected to come up with proposals for Eurobonds later this year.

However, there is no reason why Eurobonds cannot be introduced through the “community method”. Of course, the community method requires enormous political will from the EU27.

It doesn’t help that the Commission is giving mixed messages. Commission President José Manuel Barroso has said the Commission is “open” to new Treaty changes but then went on to say at a high-level think tank event on Thursday this week that his 5-point Roadmap out of the crisis did not require a treaty change. He told the audience at the “Re-thinking Europe” event: “We can enhance growth without treaty change.”

But the devil is in the detail.

The five points in his plan – bailing out Greece, recapitalising banks, boosting the Eurozone rescue fund, pursuing growth policies, and building stronger economic governance – seem to be a reasonable response, but limits to the Commission’s competences will be increasingly tested.

Commission Vice President Joaquín Almunia went further and warned that the EU was too weak to go through another Treaty convention. As he put it: “We are not mature enough for Treaty change.”

Barroso spelt out his strategy at his annual State of the Union address at the end of September.  His plans are far-reaching, and he has clearly been stung by criticism that the solutions to the crisis have been piecemeal.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron wants the Eurozone to take the so-called “bazooka” approach – a one-off fix – instead of piecemeal measures. Barroso this week called it “getting ahead of the curve.”

The bazooka approach to dealing with the sovereign debt crisis is being applied to the financial services regulatory regime, including credit rating agencies and corporate governance. And he is deadly serious about his proposed financial transaction tax.

There is no real appetite among Europe’s leaders for Treaty changes – even in the UK where David Cameron resisted growing pressure from his own party to demand a referendum to repatriate some EU powers.

A referendum would be politically divisive in Germany too. It’s just a threat to ward off any attempts to bring in Eurobonds through the back door.

We shall have to wait until next week when leaders meet at the European Council and the Eurozone Summit to see whether Treaty changes are still seen as a realistic prospect.

– Kevin

(Taken from this month’s Espresso)

As Espresso and its readers are well aware, communication is key, be it when communicating to the press, externally or internally, or in times of crisis.  Sometimes a business shies away from communicating, sometimes it has a strategy to promote to the outside world, and sometimes it is forced to communicate out of necessity as a result of a crisis.

Everyone's revolutionary hero, Viviane Reding (Source: Wikipedia)

In this sense, the EU is no different.  After the infamous “non” and “nee”’ referenda on the EU Constitution in 2005 it was decided that what the EU needed to do was “communicate.” According to EU-logic, if it communicated what it was doing citizens would experience a road to Damascus moment and start voting “oui” and “ja” instead.

Five years later, and it would appear that citizens are still as apathetic as before.  Who’d have thought it?!

Time for a revolution – specifically, a “communication revolution.”

New Communications Commissioner Viviane Reding – an experienced operator on the Brussels scene and not to be messed with – wants to bring about a culture shock.  In a letter to President Barroso she outlines her vision for communicating Europe, some of which could be considered controversial by the very people she is willing to target.

Firstly she states that the EU project can only work if the Commission is perceived as the EU government.  An interesting notion, given that unlike every Member State government the Commission doesn’t have much of a democratic mandate from the electorate.

Similarly, the plan to centre communication in the figure of President Barroso – largely unknown outside political circles, the Brussels bubble, and his home country of Portugal – seems both ambitious and questionable, since President Barroso cannot be said to be democratically elected either.

Despite the fiery rhetoric then, this is far from being a revolution.

In response, Espresso would like to humbly propose that reforming how the Commission communicates should be preceded by reforming the EU institutions themselves; so if you want a revolution, here it is.

Firstly, Commissioners should be elected, either on the EU or Member State level.  This would immediately engage citizens, and whilst there is no reason to suppose turnout would be particularly high it would at least make the Commissioners beholden to their electorate.  This already changes the dynamics of the communication flow and provides the Commission President with more limelight than is currently the case.

At times of crisis the EU, like any business, needs to communicate – but an EU communication revolution cannot happen without a prior institutional revolution.  Since the latter is unlikely to take place, the former will be rendered redundant.

Food for thought, Ms Reding.

– Rob

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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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Mr. Madelin has indeed made a real difference.

On 1 April, after more than a year of rumours hinting at Robert Madelin leaving the helm of the European Commission’s Health and Consumers DG (DG SANCO) (he held the position for six years despite the fact that Director-Generals are expected to move on every five years), it finally happened.

Musical chairs – Madelin replaces Fabio Colasanti, who is retiring from the post of Director-General for Information Society and Media (DG INFSO). And as expected, Paola Testori-Coggi, who has been Deputy Director-General for Health and Consumers (DG SANCO) since July 2007, was appointed to replace Robert Madelin.

So what? Well, potentially this could mean quite a few changes. Madelin had transformed the way the health and consumers directorate was run. He has been high profile, taken risks and established what he called “co-operative voluntarism” as the new way of doing things: getting stakeholders to sit around a table and sign up to voluntary commitments, as an alternative to legislation.

Madelin’s departure does raise a question over the future of the European Platform on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, which brought stakeholders together around one table to tackle the obesity pandemic. The same applies to the alcohol forum and its set of voluntary actions.

Ms. Testori-Coggi will most probably keep a lower profile than her predecessor but her scientific background and broad experience of food safety issues and emerging technologies could be seen as real added value now that biotechnologies have been transferred to the health portfolio.

As for Madelin’s new post, there seems to be a consensus in Brussels around the fact that he will be instrumental in shaping Europe’s Digital Future. His health experience could benefit DG INFSO in digital consumer and health related topics such as e-health. As for his trade experience (Madelin used to run the Trade DG), it could help him tackle key challenges of the EU Digital Agenda such as the much needed deployment of next generation access networks.

Director-Generals may be more discrete than Commissioners, but they are some of the most powerful players in Brussels – so watch this space, we certainly will!

– Delphine

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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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Now that the Lisbon Treaty has come into force and the new Commission is up and running, who do you think is the most powerful person in Brussels? Who truly sits in the seat of power?

Is it Barroso, Ashton, Buzek, Van Rompuy, or Farage – or someone else entirely? We want to know what you think, so vote in our poll by clicking here.

– The Editors

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