Posts filed under ‘Council’

We’re tickled pink by Julien’s fish and mash-ups

An interesting post over on Julien Frisch’s blog who shows yet again how online tools out there for free can help all of us seeking to understand and explain the EU’s legislative processes – whether to clients or just because we are tickled pink by fishing regulations like  Julien.

It’s a pity that the Council’s website doesn’t allow one to follow the discussions from WP to COREPER to Council with links to documents attached as Julien has done. Alas, we’ve complained about the Council’s website before and no doubt will do so again. We also had a go at thinking on this blog about how these kind of tools can be put to use in public affairs to bring the local to Brussels. Worth a read if you’ve not already.


April 26, 2010 at 5:29 pm Leave a comment

EU must toughen its stance after Copenhagen

Mexico City
The EU’s next challenge?

For the European Union it was a depressing end to the year! Gone were all hopes of providing global leadership at the Copenhagen conference on climate change. The EU found itself helpless on the sidelines as the US president, constrained by a sceptical Congress, confronted a Chinese prime minister apparently determined to reject any binding commitments which might set limits to China’s CO2 emissions over the next 40 years.

The Copenhagen Accord, put together at a meeting between the US, China, Brazil, India and South Africa, seemed more wishful thinking than a blueprint for the future.

President Barroso put a brave face on it, describing the outcome as a positive step, “but below our ambitions”. Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said it would not solve the climate change threat to mankind. The first test will come during January 2010 when developed countries publish their targets for emissions beyond 2020 and major emerging economies make voluntary pledges.

What will be the implications for European policy, I wonder? Instead of the 30 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020 the EU presumably sticks to 20 per cent. If there is no global commitment to a plus-two-degree temperature ceiling, no binding reductions for 2050, and the prospects of soaring emissions elsewhere in the world, how can the EU and its 27 member states convince the people of Europe to make the sacrifices needed to achieve a low-carbon economy? I wouldn’t want to hold a referendum on the subject!

Maybe the next 12 months will deliver where Copenhagen failed. Maybe the experience of the world’s leaders getting together in Copenhagen will produce results. Maybe there will be progress in Bonn at the beginning of June leading to the UN climate change conference in Mexico City in December. Maybe. But for this is to happen will require fundamental change in the positions of other players.

The EU played its part in seeking an agreement at Copenhagen. It put money on the table, committed itself to more technology transfer and was willing to accept binding emissions targets, but it strikes me that the EU now has to toughen up its international negotiating stance on political, trade and aid issues. It has the institutions for joined-up external relations policies which reflect its economic importance; climate change is one of the first policy areas where these new capabilities should be mobilised.

Europe is after all a key market for the goods produced in emerging markets: we get the benefits in cheap and abundant products, but at what cost to our long-term wellbeing? The rejection of any binding long-term commitments could affect everyone.  Flooding, drought, hunger and mass migration on other continents would have consequences for Europe. EU leaders should put on the pressure to retrieve what was lost in Copenhagen.

Michael Berendt

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December 21, 2009 at 2:45 pm 2 comments

Shock: British journalist praises Barnier

At last a touch of balance in Britain’s Daily Telegraph over the nomination of Michel Barnier to the internal market portfolio, with responsibility for financial services! I guess it’s no coincidence that the writer, eurosceptic Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, was the newspaper’s correspondent in Brussels from 1999 until 2004 – the same time span as Barnier’s former term as commissioner. No doubt he has personal experience of the Frenchman’s qualities.

I mention this in the context of the furore over recent months concerning EU appointments, linked in the UK with the debate over financial services regulatory reform and the perceived threats to the City of London. Maybe the frenetic atmosphere is beginning to disperse.

It certainly didn’t help when President Sarkozy told Le Monde that the English were “the big losers in this business”, although the wave of aggression whipped up in sections of the British press over Van Rompuy, Ashton and the Commission nominees was quite a provocation, to say nothing of prime minister Brown’s own trumpeting of the Ashton appointment as a national victory in response to Conservative criticism.

It’s just as well that Sarkozy’s plan for a reassuring joint visit to London with Barnier was knocked on the head. It really would have looked like a French conspiracy.

Barnier has been calming things down. His job, he says, is to strengthen Europe’s financial centres, including London. The fears which had been expressed in the City of London were “very exaggerated”.

There has however been a shift in the political mood which is reflected in the composition of the new Commission. The three key economic portfolios – internal market, competition and industry – go to the Club Med with commissioners from France, Spain and Italy. Free markets, raw in tooth and claw, will not be the flavour of the next five years. The drive is clearly for more regulation, especially in financial services, regulation which has to operate at a European level. That’s no surprise, given that the near-collapse of the global banking system did have Anglo-Saxon origins.

An economic double-dip with more lost jobs would put further pressure on EU policy-makers. The challenge for the Barroso II Commission is to maintain progress in the single market, to stimulate business activity, so helping drag Europe out of recession, and to continue the liberalisation of sectors like energy and telecoms. The nominated energy commissioner, Günter Oettinger, may have the most challenging role, given the problems which German firms have with the gas and electricity packages. Neelie Kroes, on the other hand, should be in her element with the “digital agenda”.

As for financial services, the Council of Ministers and the Parliament are of course working on proposals for financial regulation which also date from the outgoing Commission – the legacy of Charlie McCreevy. These include the establishment of the European Systemic Risk Board managed by the ECB and the three European supervisory bodies for banking, insurance and investment services.

There is some progress on these dossiers. It seems that ministers last week agreed that the powers of the three supervisory bodies will be circumscribed, allowing appeal to the Council by a member state which believes its sovereignty is being infringed. MEPs have yet to discuss these proposals.

Meanwhile the treatment of hedge funds and private equity remains a highly contentious issue which may run well into next year – perhaps beyond a British general election, which some rumours suggest could be in March 2010.

Michael Berendt

December 11, 2009 at 11:23 am 1 comment

EU appointments: visionaries need not apply

We live in the age of media celebrity. So no surprise at the critical and sometimes bitter press reaction to the nomination of Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton, virtually unknown beyond their own parishes, as Council President and High Representative respectively. As someone said, it was like a TV talent show where the choice of the people (and the press) was ignored by the judges. If only we’d been able to phone in!

I guess there are two kinds of disappointment: from those who were seeking charismatic European leadership to force the pace of change and talk face to face with other world leaders; and from those like UKIP who wanted appointment of a powerful figure like Tony Blair to demonstrate that the feared “European Superstate” really had been born. Two sides of the same coin, in fact.

It does at first sight seem a sad reflection on the EU’s lack of ambition that it should choose people with relatively little experience at the highest level of international affairs.

The reality is somewhat different though. This is a period of consolidation. Visionaries need not apply. The European Council was looking for a president who could provide continuity in the management of its business, escape from the six-monthly presidential rotation (although that will still apply for the specialist councils) and build longer term relationships on the international stage. By all accounts Van Rompuy seems well suited to this chairmanship role. His term as Belgian prime minister certainly demonstrated considerable political skills.

It strikes me that creation of the European External Action Service led by the High Representative could be much more far-reaching in its impact than the presidential appointment. Catherine Ashton will have a formidable task, but one with great potential – to “conduct” the Union’s common foreign and security policy and defence policy, making new proposals for policy development and carrying out the Council’s mandate. She will both chair the Foreign Affairs Council and sit as vice president in Commission meetings.

She has to create a European diplomatic service bringing together up to 6,000 officials from the Commission, Council and member states, which for the first time will integrate the Commission’s capabilities with the foreign affairs decisions of the Council, so the trade, aid and substantial budget resources of the Commission can be used to leverage the Council’s policy ambitions. A joined-up European foreign policy at last!

Who knows whether this institutional change will transform Europe’s role in the world as it should, using the soft power policies implemented by the Commission to achieve broader political goals and moving beyond foreign-policy-by-press-release (with all respect to the great efforts made by Solana).

Let’s take one region – the Middle East. The European Commission has for years provided the funding to keep the Palestinian Authority alive, yet the Council has developed no coherent political strategy, for instance on the recognition of Hamas after its success in the Gaza elections and the question of Jewish settlements. It’s time that Europe became an equal partner of the United States in such issues.

There is a host of areas where a stronger EU policy must be developed if Europe’s influence in the world is not to decline further in the face of major shifts in economic and political power across the globe. There is need for a European voice in NATO, much stronger co-ordination of policy within the United Nations and other international organisations and coherent European policies towards China, Russia and others.

In other words there is huge amount for Rompuy and Ashton to do, but they will only make progress if the member states accept the need for a concerted EU approach to the external problems which the Union faces and are willing to toughen up policy vis a vis the rest of the world.

Michael Berendt

November 23, 2009 at 12:02 pm 3 comments

US and EU after Lisbon – Sir Christopher Meyer

Former UK Ambassador to the US and current Fleishman-Hillard’s International Advisory Board member Sir Christopher Meyer talks to colleagues in our DC office about US/EU relations after Lisbon. More thoughts from Sir Christopher on the US and the EU over at our YouTube Channel.


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November 13, 2009 at 12:41 pm 1 comment

Pontificating on the Pontiff

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - JUNE 22:  Prime Minister T...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

It’s been amazing fun watching the UK media ruminate on the now seemingly receeding chances of Tony Blair being the first President of the European Council.

Firstly, there is some pleasure to be had in counting the number of times some hack in London gets all mixed up over what the job is. Will he be President of Europe, President of the European Council, President of the Council or President of the Council of Europe? Who knows? Does the UK media care? As an aside, all this confusion could form the basis for some bizarre studentesque drinking game. Every time a UK daily gets it wrong some kind of alcoholic forfeit would be administered. In any case all those reporting on this (or wishing to avoid alcohol abuse through sheer frustration) would be well advised to check out this post from NoseMonkey.

Secondly, is it me or did the UK media become obsessed with Tony Blair as President of the European Council? Even if they didn’t understand what it meant, that he hadn’t yet actually got the job or that with the exception of his successor (Gordon) no-one in the UK gets a vote on it. It was almost like the rest of Europe didn’t exist in this debate. The Brits seemed to take no account of the fact that many pretty well informed Europeans were wandering around Brussels saying ‘not on your life’ to Tony for a whole host of very valid reasons. No doubt whoever does get the job will be painted as an unknown and unelected bureaucrat – even if he happens to be the former Prime Minister of a European country who were founding members of the organisation the British begrudingly joined a couple of decades later.

Thirdly, even in Brussels one gets the sense that everyone is guessing. Ok, there’s some commonly accepted wisdom flying around the place. Front runners never get it. Small states prefer smaller men etc. etc. But really, other than a close cabral of PMs, Presidents and Chancellors, does anyone really know what’s going to happen? However, if your name is Angela and you do know, well, you could always leave a comment.

Finally, I know you’re going to tell me not to spoil everyone’s fun. The analysis of the runners and riders is likely to be far more interesting than what the new man/woman at the top will actually do at the end of the day. To show we’re not all spoilsports here at FH, here’s Nick Williams our MD of Public Affairs in London giving his thoughts on Tony Blair’s ‘covert’ campaign in PR Week this morning.


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November 2, 2009 at 7:50 pm Leave a comment

Tony for President? But…but…but he’s British.

Lethal Weapon
Image via Wikipedia

There’s a scene in the second of the Lethal Weapon series of films where Murtagh (Danny Glover) and Leo Getz (Joe Pesci) create a fracas in the apartheid era South African consulate in Los Angeles so that Riggs (Mel Gibson) can gain entrance through another door. Joe Pesci asks the South African consular official to talk his friend (Danny Glover) out of  emigrating to the most beautiful country in the world. The official is confused. That is until Murtagh is introduced; at which point the official utters in disbelief “But…but…you’re blek”. Mayhem ensues as Glover’s character starts protesting against apartheid.

I was reminded of this scene this morning upon reading an Observer piece on whether Tony Blair should become the first President of the European Council. There are some good arguments in the article both for and against. (For the record I am for). However, it was the only non-British European quoted in the piece that caught my attention.   Pier Luigi Bersani, an Italian opposition politician, states the following against Tony Blair’s candidature:

“Tony Blair is a personality with a formidable reputation on the European stage who has always enjoyed a very good relationship with Italy. I have always admired him, despite differences over the war in Iraq. However, when it comes to considering him as a candidate for the European presidency, it needs to be underlined that the UK is not in the Schengen Agreement, nor part of the Euro zone and is therefore not central to the process of European integration. Blair is a splendid man but possibly not the right candidate for this job.”

For Bersani at least it would appear that Tony’s actions in the Iraq war, or indeed his stature as an undeniable political heavyweight, matter not a jot. Much as we all might want to debate them. To state the obvious, he’s simply the wrong nationality. It’s a bit like a Danny Glover’s character wanting to emigrate to 1980s South Africa. Until our relationship with Europe is sorted out once and for all, Britain is unlikely to get the top job.

Which leaves us with one question. While Tony is causing all this mayhem, who and where is Riggs?


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October 25, 2009 at 4:19 pm 6 comments

Swedish Council Presidency Tweets

Sweden has launched its Council presidency website:

And the country renowned for the openness of its government has become the first Council Presidency to use Twitter. You can follow the press secretaries of both the prime minister and minister for financial markets as well as the Deputy Antici and the environment minister’s advisor.

Trust the Scandinavians to drag Council kicking and screaming into the 21st century.


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June 9, 2009 at 1:11 am 2 comments

Digital, ascendant hand in hand with the Parliament

The FT’s EU-watcher Tony Barber wrote a insightful comment that I’m willing to bet many people missed because it appeared online only and over the Easter holiday weekend, when most EUrocrats and assorted hangers-on depart for family or sunny locales.

Tony takes a look from outside the bubbling pot of frogs and notes how the power relationships are shifting among the Commission, Parliament and Council. It’s worth reading the full comment for his analysis.

His conclusion: “Love it or loathe it, the parliament is increasingly the place to turn to understand what drives the EU.

This has many implications for public affairs, but the most significant is the increasing importance of digital communications.

As MEPs use blogs, Twitter and Facebook more to communicate, and Google, Wikipedia and online data sources more to inform their policy positions, it is essential for people who work with the elected officials to communicate to them in a way that they understand.

Along with the Parliament, digital public affairs is also ‘in the ascendant’.

April 14, 2009 at 4:47 pm Leave a comment

Council’s website: a symbol for all that’s wrong with the EU?

Council of the European UnionImage via Wikipedia

Some of us have had a particular bugbear about the Council of Minister’s lack of transparency for some time now. We’ve even taken the time to write irate letters to the FT on the subject (much to the shock of colleagues it must be admitted).

Ok, so Council has opened up to hold “public deliberations” (mostly on topics where agreement has already been reached), but the single most annoying thing about the Council (other than the fact that it continues to believe that it is an intergovernmental institution, rather than just one part of a bicameral legislature) is its website. Frankly, the way it is designed to obfuscate and confuse. It is a symbol for all that is wrong in the institution as a whole.

As colleagues have pointed out, trying to find a document – any document – that relates to Council discussions on a particular legislative text is annoyingly hard (sometimes impossible). The only way to do it is a search through the document registry by COD number, keyword or date or browse a long list of latest documents and hope you strike gold. It’s annoying for us and this is what we do for a living – imagine you’re an interested citizen seeking to understand the way Council deals with legislation (long shot, I know).

Of course once you find a relevant document, it doesn’t mean that you can access it online. No, it’s most likely restricted and you have to ask for permission to see it. A few weeks later you’ll get a reply, by which stage if you are anything like we are you will have found another way to get sight of it or at the very least understand the contents of it. We never quite understood the rationale here. Surely all documents should be available unless public authorities can prove them to be sensitive for some reason. The burden being on the public institutions to prove sensitivity rather than the citizen to prove that he/she should have access to them. Frankly, sometimes I request restricted documents because as a citizen I think it my right and duty to keep the Council on its toes.

We are spurred to write this particular rant as while perusing the Council’s latest documents list, we found this document – a handy breakdown of the Working Parties that exist under each Council formation. It occured to us that if Council can produce this, they can also produce a website whereby for each Council formation you can click on each working group, see the agendas of the meetings and all the documents under discussion. Almost like the Council meetings were plenary sessions and the Working Parties committees…My god, the Council website could even be like the Parliament site before the EP decided to take a leaf out of the Council’s book.

Zemanta Pixie

July 9, 2008 at 6:13 pm 5 comments

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