Posts filed under ‘European Commission’

Polling and its impact on public policy

An interesting piece on the impact of polling on public policy in the US from my colleague Jeff Weintraub on our Public Affairs blog that is worth checking out here.

In contrast, I am not sure we need an online poll to establish whether polling has a big impact on the outcomes of public policy decisions at an EU level. I’ve discussed the fact it isn’t used more in previous posts.

In any case, it is an interesting debate in an EU context. Should advocates and policymakers in this town be making more use of polling both in advocacy and in making their policy decisions?

I’d be interested in your views and indeed examples of where it has proved valuable/not valuable.

James

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October 21, 2009 at 12:37 pm 1 comment

Vote for continuity before Copenhagen

The European Parliament’s convincing vote for Jose Manuel Barroso’s second term as European Commission president puts him in a stronger position than any candidate since Jacques Delors in the 1980s. To have secured the votes of the European Conservatives and their allies and an estimated 25 Socialists in addition to his centre right supporters in a secret ballot was a considerable achievement, at 382 delivering 13 more votes than an absolute majority.

Cometh the hour cometh the man. Barroso is no Delors, but can deliver the continuity which will be needed in a highly unpredictable period, where I see that the latest threat is from the Czech constitutional court which could delay Lisbon ratification for another six months even if the Irish vote “yes” on October 2.

Whatever the result of the referendum, Europe must get its act together for the Copenhagen conference on climate change, much as it did more than 20 years ago when the Vienna Convention on the ozone layer and the Montreal Protocol were negotiated.

I mention this because just 80 days before the opening of the Copenhagen conference the United Nations designated September 16 2009 as Ozone Day. The UN sees action on the ozone layer as a curtain raiser for Copenhagen, a model for what can be achieved through concerted international action in the face of a major environmental challenge.

It’s 24 years since the Vienna Convention for protecting the ozone layer was signed and 22 years since the Montreal Protocol, which set the timetables for phasing out of the man-made chemicals responsible for the depletion of the ozone layer. It is proving a remarkable success, although the task is by no means complete. A UN note gives more detail.

What does surprise me is the contribution that the ozone-depleting chemicals, and particularly chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were making to global warming. CFCs have now been virtually phased out (January 1 2010 is the phase-out deadline of CFCs for the poorest countries) and scientists argue that this co-ordinated action has given the world up to 12 years of extra breathing space for arresting the process of climate change. They reckon its impact to be five or six times the impact of the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol.

The late 1980s were years when environment policy came of age. The Vienna Convention was first based on a scientific thesis of ozone depletion caused by man-made chemicals, and only proven as fact in 1988 when US spy planes confirmed the existence of a vast hole in the ozone layer above the Antarctic caused by man-made chemicals.  It will be many decades before the ozone layer is fully restored, but things are no longer getting worse and should progressively improve.

Of course tackling climate change is a vastly more complex challenge than reversing ozone layer depletion. Every country and every industry is involved, as is the whole human population, but there are some fundamental principles which have been established through the Vienna process which are relevant to Copenhagen:

A template was negotiated to assist developing countries through a combination of financial assistance and phasing to allow further time for adaptation, plus special help for the countries of central and eastern Europe.

The last twenty years have demonstrated industry’s remarkable capacity to adapt and innovate once faced with obligatory targets. Firms which at first resisted the proposed Montreal measures, arguing that there were no alternatives, have developed new products and new technologies – a process which must continue.

The international community found the political courage and the mutual trust to accept the scientific consensus and build a global policy in the face of inertia and downright opposition.

The European Community (as it then was) was a major driver in formulating an international agreement and seeing it through to completion. It’s a good precedent for the European Union to follow.

September 23, 2009 at 11:40 am Leave a comment

Fun and games in Strasbourg: politics, climate and science

José Manuel Durão Barroso.
Image via Wikipedia

The European institutions rarely do party politics well, but this week was a rare exception as the current European Commission (EU executive) President Jose Barroso fought for the approval of the European Parliament (lower house one part of our bicameral legislature) for a second five year term in office. The verbal jousting between the Green leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Barroso was a delight; proof that the Punch and Judy politics regularly seen at Westminster can take place in a chamber hampered by simultaneous intepretation, stilted debates and differing national traditions.

In the end Barroso scraped together enough votes for approval by an absolute majority (not required but politically important). Portuguese and Spanish Socialists ignored their own group and joined the centre-right, liberal centre and looney right in voting for a renewal of his term of office.

There may be some scepticism as to whether Barroso will shake lose the shackles of the 27 Member State governments or whether his policies have contributed rather than dealt with the recent financial and economic crisis but he was in effect the only candidate and everyone knew it. The negotiations in recent weeks between Barroso and the political groups were as much about the structure and programme of the Commission as anything else.

While the programme (Political Guidelines for the next Commission) includes sweeties for all deserving children – promises for financial services regulation, a decarbonisation of transport and electricity etc – I’d like to concentrate on two new structural changes announced in Tuesday’s debate that interest me:

– A Commissioner for Climate Action

One of the 26 other Commissioners in Barroso’s yet to be formed team will get the climate change brief. Green members I met down in the Parliament this week remain concerned rather than overjoyed. While Barroso once again pointed out the EU’s leadership globally on climate change issues, they fear that a new Climate action Commissioner will get the climate change part of the department for environment (DG Environment) and put it together with the large energy department (DG Transport and Energy). For Greens, this is disaster time. Energy cares about market liberalisation, energy security and has an unhealthy like for nuclear they would say. The climate change activists at DG Environment will be drowned out by the energy obsessed hoardes, or so goes the theory. In reality, climate change is not going away and the debates that currently occur between the different departments are now likely simply to take place within the department. The issue of ambition is probably more about which politician gets the portfolio. Do they come from a big Member State and carry the political clout to push the agenda on Member States, who like to talk good game but then shy away from hard legislation (see the current debate on the energy performance of buildings as an example). We shall watch with interest as Member State’s lobby for their own nominees. It would not be a surprise if the UK went for the brief.

– Chief Scientific Adviser

Barroso also announced the creation of a Chief Scientific Officer who has “has the power to deliver proactive, scientific advice throughout all stages of policy development and delivery.” The EU institutions, mainly Parliament to be fair to the Commission, are hampered by a lack of access to scientific advice at appropriate stages in the policymaking process. The Commission’s scientific committees and agencies such as EFSA (food) and ECHA (chemicals) provide a good service upon request but suffer from work programmes and the need for both consensus and time. It shall be interesting to see what role such an adviser takes, how political or independent they will become, how proactive they can be and how they fit into the current structure of scientific advice. How would BSE, phthalates in toys, melamine in milk have played out should such a figure have existed at those times? Would some of our more reactive Members of the European Parliament have been slapped down or encouraged by this person’s presence? We await the details and of course the person.

James

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September 17, 2009 at 11:29 am 4 comments

Frustrating start for Sweden’s presidency

LISBON TREATY POSTERS
Image by infomatique via Flickr

What a frustrating time this must be for Sweden’s EU presidency! Stockholm’s ambitious plans to demonstrate its dynamic management of the Union are becalmed. Two days after confirming the Council’s candidacy of Barroso, prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt was obliged to announce that the European Parliament had postponed until mid-September its vote on renewing the Commission president’s mandate. Urgent decisions relating to climate change and the economic crisis could well be delayed. No institutional navel-gazing was the Swedish promise, but it’s not turning out like that.

To make matters more complicated, all institutional matters must await the outcome of the Irish referendum on the Lisbon treaty, now scheduled for October 2. “There is no plan B” commented Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt on the possibility of an Irish “no” vote.

All this delay must be especially galling for Bildt, a quintessential man of action who relishes the international stage – and one of the candidates for Lisbon’s new job as Council president.

Still, a pattern is beginning to emerge. On Bastille Day former Polish prime minister Jerzy Buzek is expected to be elected president of the Parliament for the next 2 ½ years on the understanding that the Socialist group will take over for the second half of the five year mandate in the person of Martin Schulz. ALDE’s Graham Watson has withdrawn his candidacy in return for an enquiry into the financial services crisis to be chaired by German liberal Wolf Klinz.

It now seems likely that this package will ensure EPP, Socialist, ALDE and Conservative support for Barroso in September, although the greens and others will seek a further postponement.

The MEPs are keeping up the pressure on Barroso: he must set out his own policy objectives to the Parliament in advance of the EP vote.

However, I see that Barroso is planning to use his spare time between now and mid-September to campaign for a “yes” vote in Ireland. Jerzy Buzek is also planning to go there. This is surely in marked contrast to the previous referendum, when foreign politicians were asked to stay away. The point will no doubt be made that without approval of the Lisbon Treaty, the Nice rules will apply, depriving Ireland of a commissioner, maybe for five years in every 15.

Back in the Parliament, chairs of the committees are being allocated. The Conservatives – that’s to say European Conservatives and Reformists – will be pleased that Malcolm Harbour is slotted to take over as chair of the Internal Market Committee. Harbour is much respected by the Commission, in particular because of the role he played in piloting the services directive through Parliament.

I reckon Harbour is someone in touch with the real world. Having just got a new mobile phone and yet another charger to add to my collection I’m glad to see his involvement in a voluntary scheme for setting a standard for these devices so you don’t get a new charger every time you have a new phone. Practical measures like that are especially welcome in the midst of all this institutional power play, or navel-gazing as they call it.

Michael Berendt

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July 13, 2009 at 9:57 am 2 comments

Regulators, consumers or industry – Who will be the future privacy king?

 As you might have seen from a recently published note by FH , privacy is Brussels’ new catch phrase.  Few are disputing that search engines, social networking sites and other Internet related technologies offer huge opportunities for consumers and the digital economy. However, some are concerned that increasing the collection and processing of personal data on Internet jeopardizes privacy.  EU Commissioners, NGOs, companies and MEPs – everyone wants to defend European citizen’s right to privacy. But as new developments unfold  who will take the lead – regulators, consumers or industry?

At a recent conference a European Commission official said: “Our ambition is clear: we want the best data protection system in the world”. In contrast with the Obama administration who has been relatively quiet on privacy (but very keen on driving other ICT issues such as cyber security and network neutrality) this aspiration could put the EU in the driving seat in global discussions about borderless personal data flows. The Commission’s clear ambition in combination with mounting pressure from stakeholders  to renew data protection rules seem to make the case for additional regulation pretty straight forward.

However, the appetite for self regulation is building-up. Several companies have already signed up to the UK Internet Advertising Bureau’s good practice principles for online behavioural advertising aiming to put the user in control when data is collected. The infancy of business models with revenue streams mainly stemming from Internet has lead to a knowledge gap between policy makers and industry. This gap offers an opportunity for industry players who want to stay ahead of the legislative curve by engaging in dialogue and adopting self-regulatory codes.

No matter if EU policy makers or industry take the lead we can count on the fact that grass root mobilization among users will continue to force companies to backtrack on their online advertising practices. British Telecom’s Phorm experiment and Facebook’s “Beacon” advertising program are just two of many examples where users have waged war against privacy intrusive business practices. 

Clearly, regulators, consumers and industry are on the lookout for new online privacy rules.  Who will be the kingmaker of future privacy regulation?

Magnus

June 15, 2009 at 12:39 pm 2 comments

Enterprise underlines Commission’s naked ambition

I am sure this video shall spark debate, as I guess it is supposed to.

Alas the story would have been so different had Sarah passed the concours.

Is it me or is the idea of the Commission putting out a video (even a good one) to promote careers in the private sector ironic on so many levels?

James

May 11, 2009 at 8:54 am 4 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

Could you wait while I look for my hearing aid?

Can you Hear Me Europe? Really? That is the best name that MTV could come up with for their European Elections project?

As I noted last week, the campaign is initiated by European Commissioner for Communication Margot Wallström and MTV, who met earlier this week. It has received some press coverage.

I think the campaign’s name is misguided at the least. The Commission’s target of ‘young citizens between 18 and 24’ is the most recalcitrant and rebellious demographic. Their likely response to “Can you hear me Europe?”: No, and I don’t care.

Communications consultants frequently repeat the mantra : Don’t repeat the negative. If you’re writing a letter to the editor, you don’t restate the erroneous claim. If you’re writing a speech, then focus on hope and optimism not doom and gloom. If you name a campaign about voted engagement, don’t highlight the general lack of ‘sound’.

In addition to a Twitter stream, the most visible component right now is a set of faux-home videos in which kids climb up Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower and other monuments and hang speakers. I don’t understand the trend of faux-viral videos. Some group in Brussels did a faux video of Palais de Justice’s dome blowing off, and not even 4,000 people have watched the video. Though I am impressed with the CGI skills.

The ‘keystone’ of this campaign is something called ‘The Shout‘. MTV is inviting everyone in Europe to shout, “Can you hear me Europe?” at 15h30 on April 30. I couldn’t believe it was that simple, but it is.

I can’t help but think of that worn-out quote that it is;  “full of sound and fury; signifying nothing.”

April 10, 2009 at 1:22 pm 3 comments

What would you call ‘Rock the Vote’ in Europe?

The Weekly Calendar of Commissioners tells us that European Commissioner for Communication Margot Wallström is meeting with MTV Southern Europe to announce a campaign by MTV to raise awareness of the European Parliament elections among young people.

In the USA, MTV has worked closely with Rock the Vote. They host concerts, organise parties, register voters, and clearly have all sorts of bells and whistles online. Rock the Vote even appeared in a West Wing episode.*

Will Southern Europe see a ‘Rock the Vote’ campaign like in the US?

What would you call the campaign?

  • Serenade the Vote
  • Love the Vote
  • Macho the Vote
  • Sip-a-coffee-and-listen-to-accordion-while-considering-how-to-Approach the Vote
  • Buy the Vote

Later that same day, April 8th, Wallström will take part in a bloggers’ discussion “European Elections 2009: Yes I can” organised by the Bulgarian Branch of Café Babel.

How to Rock the Vote

How to Rock the Vote

* Continuing James’ West Wing analogies, would this make Margot Wallström the EU’s Donna Moss?

April 3, 2009 at 5:41 pm 1 comment

Rubbish ideas and the future of Europe

Jose Manuel Barroso - World Economic Forum Ann...
Image by World Economic Forum via Flickr

Elections are in the air, as is the Commission, its President and the European economy. So what better way to get a strategic direction for where Europe should focus its efforts than an online survey of citizens. After all, we can’t make more of a meal of it than 20, or for that matter 27, heads of state and government.

A rather Jed Bartlett looking* (hands in pockets, relaxed look about him) President Barroso asks you to tell him what you think at tellbarroso.eu

Undertaking to “tell Barroso” is, I found, a relatively painless experience and could be described more as an online brainstorm than a survey. You are asked to write down the first things that come to mind tp a simple question about what Europe should be concentrating on. Now remember folks, at this first stage in the “ideation” process it’s quantity not quality that matters. Stick to individual words or phrases and keep ’em coming. As with your traditional brainstorm, you then get the chance to expand upon your ideas in the comments box. Lots of opportunity for the ramblers amongst us to ramble, at length.

Finally and perhaps most pleasurably you get to see other people’s brainwaves and then place those you don’t like in a rubbish bin. Fantastic – there was lots of trash and I was sorting it (for energy recovery, you understand).

Now I’m a little bit of a novice at netiquette, but in normal life one is not allowed to commit such a heresy as binning ideas once they’ve been written on a post-it and placed on the wall. In traditional brainstorms ideas are all good and should be generally built upon, expanded, challenged and improved through debate and discussion. Under no circumstances should one suggest that the idea your colleague has just come up with is infantile rubbish deserving only of the waste paper bin/recycling tray. It got me thinking though, if such a heresy were allowed within the EU institutions wouldn’t our legislation be just a little bit better? Now that’s an idea someone should tell Barroso about.

James

*It occurs to me that Jed Bartlett does this at the end of Series 2 of the West Wing – when he decides to run for re-election. Apologies to all readers who are not addicted to the West Wing. May we suggest picking up the box set of all seven formidable seasons on Amazon for 50 quid, you’ll never be stuck for an evening’s entertainment ever again.

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April 1, 2009 at 9:47 pm 1 comment

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