Posts filed under ‘European Commission’

Combating climate change: it’s a marathon

At the Financing Europe’s Energy Needs conference on Wednesday, which, I might add (and completely impartially), was a huge success, speaker Russel Mills (Global Director of Energy & Climate Change Policy for Dow Chemicals) described the climate change mission as a ‘long marathon’ and profoundly questioned, ‘how do we win this marathon?’

In an attempt to inspire the pessimists and sceptics amongst you I wanted to take Mr. Mills’ incredibly apt metaphor and extend it somewhat.  I wanted to describe the efforts of those who have started us all thinking about this global problem and educating us on how to begin tackling it as the coaches training us all before the big race.  I wanted to talk about the need to invest in the proper equipment and the need to have strict rules because, after all, we can’t be taking shortcuts.  I even had ambitious plans for a pun on pre-race carb-loading/pre-Copenhagen carbon-loading.

However, whilst searching for a motivational picture to accompany such descriptions, I came across this rather interesting article which led me to a new train of thought: Thinner is better to curb global warming, study says.

The conference brought up a number of ideas on how to deal with and finance climate change and future energy needs, from Emissions Trading Schemes and Clean Development Mechanisms to EU FP7 funding for non-nuclear clean energy research, to name but a few.  But whilst these measures are of course essential to managing the big picture, it is still important to consider the role that we as individuals can play in combating this problem.

So, what a pleasure to now know that each of us can do our bit for the environment not just by turning off lights and keeping the heating on low, but by cutting out the chocolate, avoiding the chips or, say, by running a marathon.

Jess

March 26, 2010 at 3:44 pm Leave a comment

Carbon Market – The EU Goes It Alone?

Yesterday at the FH/Barclays Capital Conference on Financing Energy Needs, a lot was said about financing mechanisms for energy investments and climate mitigation measures.

As argued by Philip Lowe and Jos Delbeke, the lion’s share of funds will have to come from private sources, because of Member States’ reluctance to dedicate national funds in these times of economic crisis. Another source of revenue will eventually come from carbon markets, but with current low carbon prices, this is a long-term perspective rather than an immediate solution. A high carbon price is deemed necessary for expensive technologies such as CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage). Participants generally argued in favour of a global carbon market, which would yield more benefits and generate more revenues (estimated at $2 trillion by 2020 if the U.S. gets on board).

Jos Delbeke underlined the Commission’s willingness to link up cap-and-trade systems by 2015 at a global level. Today this perspective seems unrealistic, given that other big emitting countries are still far away from adopting a model comparable to the EU ETS.

It is still unsure whether the US will enter the race. As described in The Economist last week, the cap-and-trade provision in the US Senate Climate Bill will not be a centrepiece of the legislation, as it should only apply to electrical utilities and leave out transport and industrial emissions – at least for now. Reasons for this are threefold: industry reluctance, skepticism for market mechanisms as a result of the financial crisis and fear for the US competitiveness when China does not intend to put a cap on its emissions for the time being.

In Japan, the Cabinet approved a Climate bill early March, but its provisions on a cap-and-trade system have been watered down. The text will now be examined in Parliament and industries covered are still to be defined, but for the same reason as in America, the end result may differ greatly from the EU ETS.

In sum, there are still several hurdles to a global carbon market…

Clara

March 25, 2010 at 6:56 pm Leave a comment

Bilateral deals will open up EU trade

Eighteen months ago, when the world economy seemed on the brink of collapse, one of the biggest fears was that economic depression would trigger a global wave of protectionism. So it’s all the more surprising that Europe is busily working on new trade treaties. The EU is on the brink of finalising a major free trade agreement (FTA) with South Korea, has opened negotiations with Vietnam and Singapore and is aiming to conclude a deal with India by next October.

Bilateral agreements are being forged at the same time as global trade negotiations are blocked. The Doha Round seems completely becalmed, and unlikely to move as long as President Obama remains domestically on the defensive. There was some tut-tutting in Brussels when the US president announced a target of doubling of US exports, rather than a doubling of trade – but you can see his problem! Still, there is a G-20 commitment to finalise Doha by the end of 2010.

All the planned bilateral deals are giving the EU’s trade commissioner Karel de Gucht a busy year. His trip round the Asian countries earlier this month seems to have been highly productive. He returned home with an agreement to launch an FTA with Vietnam, the start of bilateral talks with Singapore and a “new impetus” for negotiations with India.

It certainly makes sense to strengthen trade relationships with these dynamic economies, but of course there will be resistance from some of Europe’s industrial players, for instance Europe’s automobile, textile and footwear industries, and no doubt from others who are concerned about the environmental or social aspects of potential deals.

The new elephant in the room is the European Parliament, newly empowered by the Lisbon Treaty as co-decider on international agreements. MEPs will want a big say in the negotiating process and will be no push-over in ratifying free trade agreements – see the letter to the Council from Vital Moreira, Chair of the EP Committee on International Trade, demanding more involvement.

As Commissioner de Gucht has said, putting the parliament on equal terms with the Council “will change the political environment and will also probably change my life”.

As a former MEP de Gucht knows the kind of problems to expect. For instance could the EU-South Korea FTA, which was initialled last October, be blocked by the Parliament because the death penalty has not been formally abolished in South Korea, or because public procurement liberalisation does not cover rail transport, where Alstom and others are facing discrimination in the Korean market?

The Koreans hope the deal will be signed off by the end of April. Wishful thinking, perhaps.

The economic impact of these EU-Asian FTAs is potentially enormous. With South Korea, for instance, whose EU trade in 2008 amounted to €65 billion, 97 per cent of tariffs would be abolished within three years, amounting to €1.6 billion saving for EU exporters. Both goods and services would be covered by the agreement, with clothing, luxury goods,  drinks, legal and financial services, pharmaceuticals, advanced engineering and low carbon technologies all expected to benefit.

A judicial dispute settlement mechanism would also be introduced.

As for other bilateral partners, EU-Vietnam trade amounted to €12 billion in 2008 and EU-Singapore trade to €55 billion. An agreement with India would be the biggest prize of all. The aim is to double bilateral trade to €150 billion dollars annually over the four years following a free trade deal.

If these agreements can be negotiated, ratified and implemented in the time scales envisaged it will be a major achievement for the new Commission and demonstrate a welcome resilience in Europe’s abilities to resist protectionism even in difficult times.

Michael

March 23, 2010 at 11:16 am Leave a comment

Commission breaks impasse on GMOs

The new Barroso Commission has wasted no time in grasping the GMO nettle, after years of delay and obfuscation. It is authorising the cultivation and use of Amflora, a new genetically modified potato for industrial use, while at the same time working on a policy which will allow individual member states to forbid the cultivation of GM crops on their territory. I guess this optional approach is the only way to resolve an impasse based far more on sentiment than science.

It was about time that the Commission moved on the GM issue. Of course genetically modified products should be rigorously examined for any impact on the natural environment, but blanket opposition to their development makes no sense when it rejects all use of a technology which has the potential to increase food and raw material supplies in the most impoverished regions of the world.

Austria and Italy were the first to protest against the Commission’s decision; Hungary and Greece can be expected to follow. These countries will surely forbid their producers from growing the crop, but of course they can do nothing to prevent its industrial use.

Germany, on the other hand, will be quick to authorise production.  It will be interesting to see what France’s policy will be, given the importance of potato and starch production there.

The new decision, together with authorisations for the importation and processing of three GM maize varieties, marks a major policy switch by the Commission. It’s clearly linked with the transfer of the biotech portfolio away from the anti-GMO Environment DG, whose Commissioner Stavros Dimas from Greece fought a dogged rearguard action to prevent authorisation, to the Health and Consumer Policy DG, where incoming Commissioner John Dalli says that all scientific issues have been “fully addressed”.

It’s 13 years since an application for Amflora was first submitted by BASF. The European Food Standards Agency issued positive reports back in 2006, supplemented in 2009 with a further report on antibiotic resistance which discounted any risks.

This week’s decision on Amflora is carefully hedged about. The potato provides a starch suitable only for industrial uses such as textiles and paper manufacture and not for human consumption, although its by-product can be used for animal feed. Strict cultivation rules are to be applied.

Of course traditional plant breeding methods remain fundamental to crop development,  which in turn depends on the availability of cultivars from across the world, so – closer to home – I was pleased to see that EU legislation now makes it much easier to get hold of “heritage” potato cultivars, forgotten varieties able to resist those scourges of the potato crop such as blight and eelworm. I shall be growing Pink Fir Apple and Charlotte this year. I hope they show sturdy resistance.

Michael

March 5, 2010 at 12:35 pm 3 comments

Financing Europe’s Energy and Climate Action Needs

Greatings from a sunny, if cold, Washington D.C. where we’ve been having our global public affairs meeting over the past couple of days. Many highlights in the course of the two days, much of which you can catch at the FH Public Affairs twitter account. DC colleague Silvio Marcacci patiently sat at the back of the room  tweeting away as various colleagues gave their views on everything from food safety and healthcare to energy and financial services. We’ve also some video that we shall be seeking to upload on the FH Public Affairs Youtube Channel.

On energy and financial services, I bring news from DC of something that is happening in Brussels later this month.

The first annual conference that is seeking to bring together those who know about energy with those who know about finance. Tackling climate change and answering our energy needs as a continent are going to take some serious investment of both political will and cold hard cash. It seems, at least to me from a personal perspective, that Europe needs to put as much ‘political leadership’ in this domain as it expends in seeking to lead in negotiations for binding targets on climate change at an international level. As such, it will be interesting to hear what some of our speakers have to say, especially as they include the Director Generals of both Climate Action (Jos Delbeke) and Energy (Philip Lowe) amongst others.

You can find out more about the event on March 24, which F-H is co-sponsoring, here.

March 4, 2010 at 11:33 pm 1 comment

About me: could you add that my dog is a poodle named Fredo?

After tweeting and blogging about the Commission’s own biographies of the Commissioner-designates the week before last, the FH team duly set about writing our own bios of the incoming members of the college. This was done with some trepidation given our own ribbing of the Commission’s efforts, but we felt safe in the knowledge that it was hard to make as much as a hash of it as they had.

The bios were circulated to direct contacts by our team members early last week. They are now available for general consumption on our own website. Happily, our bios have already made their way around Brussels as we’ve been receiving some phone calls from the institutions themselves about the content.

As you may expect, assistants in the EP have been asking for the telephone numbers of the offices of the Commissioner-designates. However, the most stand-out call was from a Commission delegation in an not-to-be-named Member State. It would appear that the Commissioner-designate had read our bio of them and wished to include further biographical details about their family life. We were of course happy to oblige.

Any more biographical information on pets, people that are not your former lovers and/or people that are, which Commissioner-designates wish to share with us are happily received.

James

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December 11, 2009 at 12:57 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

Commission staff (mis)use wikipedia as often as the rest of us shocker

It’s been an exciting day. We cut our weekly staff meeting short. We gathered around our computers shortly after midday to watch the press conference that saw the announcement of the proposed make up of the new Commission. Some we knew, some we didn’t. From our MD to our intern, we love this kind of stuff. We duly dashed off notes to clients. Climate Action Commissioner and DG  confirmed. French get Internal Market. Transport to Kallas. Obscure DG ENVI unit transfered to DG SANCO etc.

However, the communication emanating from our office that probably caused the activity today was our tweet on the official biography of the new Irish Commissioner – Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. We tweeted on it as it shocked us to read that the new Irish Commissioner had chosen to set the facts straight about her relationship with another Irish politician, Charles Haughey, in the bio that accompanied her announcement as the Commissioner-designate for Research.

In the office we couldn’t believe it. Why on earth would you want to repeat such an accusation, even if untrue, in your official bio? Did Brussels really care? Would the Irish press really focus on this? We discussed what we believed the strategy behind this bold move could possibly be. Surely they couldn’t believe that a premptive strike on an old story that no-one in Brussels had read anyway was the right way to go? Did the Commission-designate care so much as to insist that this statement was inserted in the bio?

Well, no. The answer would appear to be the bio was in part a cut and paste job from her wikipedia entry, rather than an original piece of work. (Thanks to @ako9000 for the detective work). If you’re looking for the bio, it was here. This evening it’s not online due to technical errors…

It goes to show a few things. Firstly, if you’re writing a biography of a Commissioner-designate you probably don’t want to lift it from wikipedia. Especially if wikipedia repeats salicious and untrue details about your new Commissioner’s private life. Wikipedia may be a good starting point for research, but it aint necessarily the truth. Secondly, you can seek to insert balance into a wikipedia article, but balance is not necessarily a good thing. The fact that wikipedia says an accusation was made but it’s untrue does stop the accusation from being repeated. Finally, twitter can be a powerful tool to spread news – however pointless – quickly. Within seconds of our tweet, our own followers had retweeted and theirs had retweeted again. 174 followers had clicked on our tinyurl within an hour of our tweet according to hootsuite.com

James

 

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November 27, 2009 at 10:52 pm 5 comments

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

Register now for European Public Affairs Action Day – 30 November

Further to our recent post our blogs stats show a veritable stampede of readers (ok, 40 or so…) seeking to find out more information about the European Public Affairs Action Day. You will recall we have a panel at the 30 November event on “To Twitter or not to Twitter: digital tools in Public Affairs” featuring Pat Cleary from DC, Alexander Alvaro MEP and Mark Redgrove from Orgalime.

Alas, all that clicking was in vain as the organisers only opened registration today…Should you have been frustrated by our last post you can now however register online at here.

James

November 13, 2009 at 6:00 pm Leave a comment

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