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Although the talks between the US and the EU were ultimately cancelled last week due to the government shutdown, the EU-US negotiations are moving forward.
We are therefore pleased to present you with the October edition of the Pondhopper, Grayling’s transatlantic e-zine providing you with differing perspectives on issues currently spanning ‘the pond’.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions on the attached or if you would like to learn more about Grayling’s transatlantic governmental affairs offering.
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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.
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.
You only need one word to get a Eurosceptic going: Strasbourg. After that you will have an extra 5 minutes of conversation time and a good lecture on a basic business concept: cost-cutting.
Every month the European Parliament travels from Brussels to Strasbourg for their plenary session (twice in September). Each parade costs around €4 million.
But this circus display may soon come to a halt. In email discussions uncovered this week by The Lobby, it was revealed that many MEPs have written to Messrs Van Rompuy and Sarkozy, arguing to keep Brussels as the sole permanent seat for the Parliament to save tax-payers’ money during these times of financial crisis.
But apparently to some there are more important things than taxpayers’ money. On the opposing side, other MEPs claim that Strasbourg represents the birthplace of today’s European Union, is a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation, and a city that lies at the cross-roads of Europe.
For them, Strasbourg should actually be the seat of the Parliament as it increases the separation of the EU’s executive, judicial and legislative powers, would be cheaper than Brussels, and it is in France, a country that apparently “promotes the progress of Europe”.
Those are all romantic arguments, but the political reality is that the Parliament will continue to make those monthly trips to Strasbourg for the simple reason that it is not up to MEPs to decide where they meet, nor even Mr Van Rompuy, but the Council. Step forward France, a country that is about as unlikely to cede the Strasbourg seat as the UK will give up Gibraltar.
So MEPs can moan, complain, and argue, but ultimately only one man can put a stop to this farce, and he is ensconsed in the Elysée Palace. Good luck with that one.
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
Once upon a time, there was a great leader of the new world who had a vision of creating a bilateral arrangement with the old world, and so he asked his political advisors whom he should speak to in Brussels.
His advisors usually responded to his questions in a flash, but this time around they looked at each other perplexed and informed the great leader that they would have to research the matter in great detail. Having investigated the matter quite thoroughly, the advisors returned and, instead of giving him the answers he sought, suggested that their young European intern from the European Commission would be best placed to explain the complex web of people and procedures…and so the nightmare began.
The young intern turned to the great leader and asked what kind of bilateral arrangement he had in mind? He replied proudly that he wanted to urgently create a new arrangement where the US and Europe would pool their knowledge and resources to eradicate all forms of the flu once and for all, and that both regions would equally donate US$25 billion to the initiative.
The advisors all looked at each other, some raising their eyebrows; others were heard to sigh deeply, whilst others scratched their heads and looked confused, realising that the night would be long.
The young intern turned to the great leader and said:
“You should probably first speak to the President of Europe, sometimes referred to as the Head of the Council of Ministers, because he is the top guy in Europe. This is a new job, so he has only been in power for a few months – a lovely chap called Van Rompuy who is very keen to engage on the world stage, but since he does not have any real powers, I would advise that you contact José Manuel Barroso because he has been around for a long time and is President of the European Commission which is responsible for policy and legislation. But there again, Sir, as you know the Commission is a weakened institution, and I am not sure that they would be able to push your great idea without the support of some important people!”
The great leader interjected and asked how many other important people there were in Brussels that he should consider meeting as he was very busy and needed to speak to the most important leader.
The intern blushed and explained that there was another President, namely that of the European Parliament, the only democratically elected institution representing the interests of European citizens. At this point the great leader said that this was the man! But then the intern began to look agitated.
“Well go on then,” the great leader enquired of the intern, “explain to me if I should not see him, what other President should I consider?”
The intern went on to explain that it was not so much other Presidents as other Prime Ministers, such as Mr Brown and Ms Merkel, although she is a “Chancellor”, and, of course, there was Mr Sarkozy who was actually another President.
The great leader looked him in the eye and said: “But this Mr Sarkozy, is he more or less important that the other Presidents?” Now there was a question…
The intern was by now fully engaged and explained that this President and those Prime Ministers were really very important indeed because they were the leaders of the three most important countries in Europe and that they were actually more important than the President of the Commission, the Parliament, and the so-called Council of Ministers, and that if he really wanted to conclude this agreement he would definitely need their support.
The great leader reflected on what he had just learnt and finally proclaimed that he understood that he had to speak, not to one, but to six Presidents, and that in many ways he thought this very original and democratic, albeit it a little exaggerated. But he was nonetheless willing to give it a go, so he ordered his advisors to set up these meetings and told them he was going to Brussels the next day.
Upon hearing this news, the most senior advisor grew paler by the second and eventually asked the great leader to consider some additional factors. The great leader, pleased with his earlier solution, managed to grunt “What else now!?”
The advisor explained that he would not be able to visit all six at the same time or in the same place. The great leader looked more perplexed than ever and asked exactly how many places he would have to visit in order to meet them all. Having studied the calendar of the EU institutions the intern stated proudly that the great leader would have to first go to Brussels, then Strasbourg because it was Parliament plenary week, and finally to London, Paris and Berlin.
“Anything else, I should be considering?” asked the great leader.
A dead silence reverberated around the room as the advisors gathered their courage to explain that there were indeed a few more people to consider, such as the EU Health Commissioner John Dalli, but that he was on business in Malta next week, and then there was Baroness Ashton, the Commissioner responsible for foreign affairs and security policy who was also Vice-President of the Commission and a great ally of America, and then of course there was the Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response who would have to be considered. And why not the head of the WHO in Geneva?
The great leader, known for his composure, sat back, put his head in his hands and was heard mumbling.
“So I have to see six Presidents/Prime Ministers/Chancellors in five locations, three Commissioners, one in Malta and two in Brussels, and some leader in Geneva – so that makes 10 people in seven cities.”
Surveying his advisors he asked: “So if I see all 10 people in 7 cities all will be fine?”
By then he knew the answer and challenged his intern to surprise him. The intern, knowing that he was coming to the end of his work placement, provided a very pragmatic answer.
“They will most likely all agree with you, Sir, but at the same time they all disagree with each other, and reaching an agreement could take literally years as the EU decision-making process is based on full stakeholder participation and consultation and is therefore very time consuming!”
Itching to speak, but not daring to, one of the other advisors finally mustered up all his courage and explained that as far as he knew there was also the Prime Minster of Spain whom the great leader should meet, because his country currently holds the EU Presidency.
“In fact”, the advisor continued, “you should also speak with the Prime Ministers of Belgium and Hungary because they share the Presidency with Spain in this new troika system.”
His fellow advisors were astonished at their colleague who had neglected to mention the role of the national parliaments which have now been given the power to reject EU proposals if they feel the issue could be dealt with better by them.
“How many of these are there?” the great leader asked.
“Oh, only 27 for the moment,” replied his advisors. “But there could be 30 very soon…”
The great leader, who by then was lost in deep thought, very quickly came out of his reverie to claim that he would abandon his initiative with the EU altogether and instead would propose it to the UN, as this would definitely be quicker and would resolve the problem at a global level.
All looked at each other, and for the first time that morning smiles appeared on all their faces. The perfect solution had been found!
“No wonder the EU was not at the final table negotiating the climate change no-deal!” reflected the great leader that evening.
As the past two weeks have seen a flurry of activity within the European institutions, it can be hard to remember that the countdown to Christmas, New Year, and a few blessed days of rest will shortly be upon us. In between Parliamentary hearings, monitoring, and the day to day glamour of public affairs, we will be fitting in Christmas parties, Christmas drinks and of course Christmas markets.
In fact, a few of us at The Lobby got a head start on the holiday merriment and gift-buying by heading over to Christmas markets both large and small last weekend, in Henglarn and Cologne. In between Bratwursts, Glühwein, Feuerzangenbowle, and copious amounts of chocolate we were also able to squeeze in some Christmas shopping.
Closer to home, the Marché de Noel at Sainte-Catherine in Brussels is known for its ice skating rink, open until 10pm. Strasbourg, which calls itself the Capital of Christmas, has various markets, and MEPs, Assistants, and anyone else headed there should definitely check out the most famous of the city’s markets, known as Christkindelsmärik, at Place Broglie. Another favourite for those in Brussels looking to venture beyond the city is Aachen’s Christmas Market, roughly an hour and a half drive from Brussels.
So whether you are enjoying Glühwein in the comfort of your own home or at one of the many Christmas markets, take a minute to enjoy the season. Before you know it, 2010 will be here, and with it a new Commission…
Some would clearly say yes. Others will just look at you with big open eyes and ask what you are on about?!
When sitting in Brussels and dealing with EU affairs, the Lisbon Treaty is a BIG thing because it gives more power to Brussels to make policies and legislation which will directly impact businesses and the lives of millions of people and, ultimately, move the EU cause forward, dare I say, positively.
But if you are a citizen sitting in your armchair, what would you be thinking?
“Oh god, more interference from Brussels, more power to those grey technocrats who will simply come up with more rules to bend or unbend my bananas, perhaps even change the natural orange colour of my carrots, or better still tell me where to place my electric plug in relation to my bidet – at least to those Europeans who know what they are supposed to be used for!”
If you are a businessperson sitting at your desk, you will be considering what new laws Brussels will come up with which will impact, and most probably, restrict the way you do my business, which means you will need to spend more time, resources and money representing and defending your interests when all you really want to do is go about doing your business!
And here lies the irony. In their wisdom, those who came up with the Lisbon Treaty, aka the Constitution, wanted to make a better Europe, one that would work more efficiently, that would conform to citizens’ wishes, one that would get the thumbs up from the Europeans. Yet, on the whole we Europeans do not understand what the EU is about. Only 47% turned up to elect the new Parliament – the institution with at least the same amount of power to that of the Member States, but the only one actually elected by the people – and in many instances the EU is an unknown quantity…sorry to say this, but this is the majority perception.
So, what should we make of all this? It comes down to communications from Brussels to the Member States, but also the buy-in from the Member States themselves – that is surely the greatest challenge. Our respective governments and parliaments have to become de facto EU allies, rather than partners in crime, but this will take a long time. The good news, however, is that we have plenty of it…after all the European Union, now for the first time a legal entity, is only 52 years old – “barely out of nappies” to some; “in the prime of life” to others.