Rio +20 boost for EU fisheries policy reform?

The word “sustainability” can cover a multitude of interpretations, but when it comes to fisheries policy there is no ambiguity:  today’s overfishing means tomorrow’s collapsing fish stocks. Until recently the Common Fisheries Policy has been a classic case of unsustainability, a stand-off between short term political pressures on the one hand and scientific evidence warning of the destruction of Europe’s fishery resources on the other. But at least change is in the air.  Rio +20 may prove a real catalyst for reform.

NGOs have condemned the outcome of the Rio meeting for its lack of specific commitments, but  I would subscribe to the view of businessGreen that the conference conclusions could have a far-reaching impact on the way that governments and business approach the whole sustainability question. On fisheries the commitments are substantial.

Of course words must now be translated into action, but there are signs of change in Europe.   The EU fisheries council earlier this month set a course for a more sustainable fisheries policy. When the European Parliament discusses fisheries reform in September 2012, using the limited extra powers granted by the Lisbon Treaty, MEPs can be expected to maintain pressure on the Council for an enlightened policy to take effect from 2013. Rio will be an important incentive for change.

The June 12 Fisheries Council commitments are still pretty vague. They called for maximum sustainable yields for different stocks to be set “by 2015 where possible” and “by 2020 at the latest”. Multiannual plans for fisheries management would be used to manage specific stocks – bearing in mind that Lisbon introduced shared national-EU competence for such management. And the banning of discards, whereby fish caught beyond the quota limits are thrown back dead into the sea, would (eventually) be introduced.

According to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, a pioneer campaigner who has gathered nearly a million signatures against discards, about half of the fish caught in the North Sea is currently dumped at sea because it fails to meet by-catch rules or exceeds quota.  His campaign has been remarkably effective in reinforcing the Commission’s ambitions for change in fisheries policy.

The language used in the Rio declaration (paragraphs 158-177) combines environmental and economic measures to protect oceans and seas. On fisheries it commits the parties “to urgently develop and implement science-based management plans, including by reducing or suspending fishing catch and effort commensurate with the status of the stock” and to “further commit to enhance action to manage by-catch, discards, and other adverse ecosystem impacts from fisheries including by eliminating destructive fishing practices”.

Fisheries policy will now take on a different aspect as accession negotiations with Iceland move into their most difficult phase. Ten of 18 chapters have now been negotiated, fisheries still remain.  The prospect of a reformed CFP will be key for Iceland, which will surely settle for nothing less than a firm commitment to change. “A fishing nation like Iceland is something that the European Union hasn’t encountered before,” says Iceland foreign minister Ossur Skarphethinsson – a claim which the Norway might dispute. Indeed, fisheries and energy were the two issues which led the Norwegians to reject entry in the early ‘70s.

There are other issues where Iceland will no doubt want assurances. For example, a situation where quotas allocated to one EU country can be bought up by operators from elsewhere, as where Spanish vessels have registered in British ports and so qualified for British quota allocations, is of course consistent with freedom of establishment, but does little to respect an initial purpose of quotas, ensuring fishing opportunity to locally based fishermen.  A greater emphasis on regional management may be the way ahead here.



June 24, 2012 at 9:00 pm 1 comment

Talking straight

Frankly speaking, there’s an incredible amount of nonsense that gets written in Brussels. Whether you call it ‘Brussels English’,Eurobabble’ or ‘EU speak’, the big problem with using jargon in your writing is that it’s incomprehensible and confusing. And if your writing is incomprehensible and confusing the chances are it won’t be read, and is therefore not very useful.  

Which is a shame.

Of course, being ‘useful’ is something us consultants worry about a lot, but really – whatever job you do – there’s no point writing anything that no one will read. Ever.

So, why do we do use jargon?

Here are three main jargon traps I can think of.

1)    Familiarity. If you’ve been in Brussels for a bit you’ll have noticed that, after a while, the jargon people use in our little bubble starts to sound kinda ok. Just the other day I caught myself, with no sense of irony, using the word ‘roadmap’. Shocker. It’s a ‘plan’.

2)    Showing off. Don’t fool yourself that over-complicating your work with protracted verbiage will make you sound brainier – or vice versa.   Using clear and simple language does not make you a simpleton. I promise.

3)    Not understanding. A bit of soul searching is required here.  How many times, be honest, have you tried to cover up feeling not 100% sure about something you’re writing about by fudging it with an overused, meaningless term that seems to cover all bases?  DON’T DO IT. Have a proper think, work out what you want to say in your head, and then start writing.

Be mindful of your choice of words. Use ‘real life’ expressions you’d use back home (or that you learnt in school if you’re not a native English speaker), not the inhuman rubbish you’d expect to find in the Official Journal

The pitfalls are everywhere, but happily help is at hand. I was delighted (and, yes, just a little bit surprised) to discover that the European Commission – a traditional jargon stronghold – is itself fighting back, valiantly putting together this nifty  ‘Jargon Buster’ tool. I urge you to take a peek.

Life beyond jargon

Once you’ve clawed your way out of the jargon trap you’re already on your way to producing some really good writing. Here are a few tips for penning prose that stands head and shoulders above the average – be it a report, note, blog post or even a simple email.  It’s by no means an exhaustive list.

  • Put the important stuff first. Don’t let readers wait until the end of the sentence (or even paragraph) to discover the crux of what you want to say. The chances are they’ll lose interest and give up on you. Unless you’re writing a spy novel there really is no reason to keep things under wraps in the hope of a grand finale.  Be upfront.
  • Be economical Cut out needless repetitions, longwinded expressions and meaningless words (‘basically’ is a repeat offender).


Instead of  As a consequence of   try Because                     

Instead of  In order to try To

Instead of  Fully complete try Complete

Instead of At the present time try Now

Instead of  Prior to try Before                                                            

And so on.                                                 

  • Consider structure  Aim for sentences of around 15-20 words on average, but be sure to have some variety. A nice mix of long and short sentences will give your writing a decent flow and make it much easier to read.  Keep your paragraphs shortish too – aim for five lines if you’re writing for the web. Again, it’s about considering the reader: there’s nothing worse than a screen full of text and no white spaces to give eyes and brain a metaphorical tea break.
  • Separate your ideas Try and stick to one idea per sentence – and one theme per paragraph. Otherwise the reader (or you) might lose their way.
  • Punctuate My personal hero, Lynne Truss, illustrates the fundamental importance of punctuation for conveying meaning  in her wickedly funny book – Eats, Shoots and Leaves – with this  memorable example:

A woman, without her man, is nothing.
A woman: without her, man is nothing. 

Now that’s something to think about.

  • Be active, not passive There’s something a bit shady and underhand about passive sentences with their anonymous participants. They can lead to much confusion.

So, You should meet Rich at the airport sounds a lot better than Rich should be met at the airport (Rich stands a much better chance of getting a lift in the first sentence, anyway).   

Finally – and most important of all:

  • Put the reader first As you’re writing and editing, never lose sight of who you’re writing for and how what you are saying relates to them.

It sounds like a lot to remember – and it is. Writing clear and readable prose is heaps harder than writing murky nonsense. But it’s an investment worth making. Writing is meant for reading – so make sure you’re getting read.


June 18, 2012 at 12:03 pm Leave a comment

Women in Power – State of Play

On June 12 2012, Caroline Wunnerlich, Managing Director of Fleishman-Hillard in Brussels, was invited to bring her European expertise to a panel discussion on improving the gender balance on corporate boards in the UK and across Europe. The discussion was hosted by the British organisation ‘The 30% Club’, a group of Chairmen voluntarily committed to bringing more women onto UK corporate boards, in conjunction with one of the world’s leading international fashion houses, Louis Vuitton.

The discussion was particularly timely considering the recent European Commission consultation on increasing women’s participation on corporate boards. The outcome of the consultation will impact the Commission’s decision on whether it will take mandatory legislative measures to increase female participation, including binding quotas. The consultation, which ended on 28 May 2012, received over 400 replies from corporations, the public and private sector, business associations and women’s associations, demonstrating just how important this issue is to a range of people and organisations.

This consultation followed the launch of the ‘Women on the Board Pledge for Europe’ by European Commissioner for Justice, Viviane Reding, in March 2011. The initiative calls for publically listed companies in Europe to sign a voluntary agreement to raise female representation on their boards to 30% by 2015 and 40% by 2020. Despite the promise of self-regulation only 24 companies have signed the pledge, a disappointing statistic. To add insult to injury, between 2010 and 2012, the percentage of female board members in the largest companies listed in the EU only increased by a fraction, from 11.8% to 13.7%. It would appear that despite encouragement, company chairmen have not assumed full responsibility for the issue by taking proactive steps to generate a change long overdue. At the time of the launch of the ‘Women on the Board Pledge for Europe’, Viviane Reding alerted the European business world to count on her ‘regulatory creativity’, if significant progress had not been made to enhance women’s participation in decision-making. 

The debate on increasing female participation has revealed a wide diversion of views. While a majority of stakeholders agree that increased female participation is desirable, there is a disagreement on whether binding quotas are appropriate or necessary to achieve this goal. During the summer of 2011, the European Parliament adopted a resolution supporting binding quotas if voluntary measures proved to be ineffective. The use of mandatory gender quotas is of course a heated debate and many corporations participating in the discussions, as well as a number of MEPs, have warned against such measures. However, the Commission, whilst analysing the responses to the discussed consultation, is also assessing the success of gender quotas that are already in place in Norway and across a range of Member States including France, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy.

Norway was the first out of these countries to introduce mandatory gender quotas, which have been in place for the board of publically listed companies in Norway since 2003. Companies in this country were called to fill 40% of the seats of their corporate supervisory boards with women. As does all regulation, the implementation of the quotas faced criticism. A particularly interesting denigration is that of the ‘Golden Skirt’ theory. This suggests that a powerful clique of women were provoked into collecting supervisory appointments, often holding 10 or more positions at a time. Whilst I envy any human-being who can successfully hold that many positions of responsibility, despite such suggestions, these quotas have actually achieved results. In Norway, before 2003, 7% of seats on supervisory boards were filled by women, today that figure is 40%. More than double the European average.

If mandatory legislative measures are to be introduced, they can be expected in the latter part of this year. Despite the controversy surrounding such actions, one thing is clear, at present self-regulation is not going far enough, fast enough. To this end, alternative options, regulatory or not, must be explored.

Emma Cracknell

June 13, 2012 at 10:59 am 1 comment

Eurozone crisis challenges UK role in Europe

Britain is buzzing with talk of a referendum on “Europe”. In May Peter Mandelson was advocating a national vote some time after 2016, when a new Europe of fiscal union will have been defined. He sees it as a way of resolving divisions within Britain’s political parties.

Last week it was David Owen’s turn. He called for a dual option: Question One on UK membership of the “European Community”, which would essentially be the single market plus extras; and Question Two on belonging to the “European Union”, which he defines as the eurozone group of countries in an economic federation. Once Britain’s foreign secretary and one of the Gang of Four which split from Labour to form the Social Democratic party in the early 1980s, Owen was always an advocate of Britain’s place in Europe, but was consistently opposed to joining the euro. He would want “yes” to his EC, “no” to his EU.

The fact is that Owen’s EC and EU cannot be so easily disentangled from each other, and while the referendum option may seem a decisive way of determining Britain’s future in Europe, there is nothing decisive about it. A negative vote would confront the nation with some deeply painful choices and be a recipe for long-term decline.

There is no doubt that the eurozone crisis is a fundamental game-changer for Britain, as it is for the whole European Union. This is the watershed. If the euro is to survive there must be significantly closer economic integration, more discipline over national budgets and a more robust European banking system. Angela Merkel is now talking of political union as well.

Britain and some other countries may wish to keep their distance, but the UK government must tread warily, for this is marshy ground. Such closer integration is bound to have far-reaching consequences for the British economy, especially over financial services. It also has implications for Britain’s influence at a global level and its role in the world.

Although British adoption of the euro is clearly out of the question, at least for the foreseeable future, it remains a fundamental responsibility of any UK government to maximise its influence over the direction of the European project. British ministers may express fierce indignation over the impact of the euro crisis on Britain’s economy (while the German economy, by the way, continues to flourish), but it remains crucially important to maximise leverage over policy and to engage with European partners, not just to shout from the sidelines.

It is hard to see any British government voluntarily choosing the referendum option. Cameron surely had no choice but to opt out of the fiscal treaty last December if he wished to avoid such a vote, but there remains a real danger that his hand will be forced by political pressures within his own party and the inroads which UKIP could make in Conservative seats in a general election. For the coalition government it would be a deal breaker, but at least legislation adopted last year to hold a referendum (only) if further powers were to be transferred to Brussels provides a useful firewall.

The right formula for Britain is as a committed member of the European Union, but with some options kept open.  Schengen, the Charter on Fundamental Human Rights and monetary union are policy areas where opt-outs have been effectively applied. Europe’s direction of travel is unpredictable. Today’s bail-out of the Spanish banks may be a sign of more decisive action, but we still await the Greek general election result, which has come to seem very much like a referendum on the survival of the euro.


June 10, 2012 at 3:52 pm Leave a comment

EU resists pressure on airline emission scheme

There is no doubt that European standards for commerce and industry have had a profound influence across the world. Europe’s standards have become global standards, if only because anyone wishing to sell their goods on European markets must respect them. Emission limits for motor vehicles, for instance, is one sector where EU legislation has had a worldwide effect in cutting fuel consumption and emissions.

There are high stakes when the EU seeks to introduce environmental standards with global reach, such as the carbon emissions trading scheme for all air services into European airports. The European airline industry is scared that the scheme will provoke retaliation from countries like the US, India, China and Russia, while Airbus is worried by China’s suspension of orders for new aircraft.

Airlines and industry have been stepping up the pressure to persuade the Commission to soften its position. They have been lobbying Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas, who seems desperate to avoid a trade conflict, but EU governments and the European Commission still insist that the plan will come in on schedule, in April 2013.

There seems to be more international solidarity in opposing the EU measures than in introducing measures to cut emissions, given that 23 countries, including the United States, Russia, China and India, agreed at a Moscow meeting in February to retaliate against the EU if it stuck to its plans.

Europe should stand firm, if only to encourage progress on that international agreement which was promised in the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation way back in 2004 and reaffirmed in an ICAO framework agreement in 2010, whose aim was to limit total CO2 emissions from aircraft despite the anticipated increase in air travel. Aviation currently accounts for about 3 per cent of global emissions.

Last week eight Chinese and two Indian airlines refused to provide 2011 emissions data to the European Commission, it seems because the Chinese government has expressly forbidden its airlines to co-operate, but apparently another 1,200 carriers have complied. These governments have accused the EU of taking extra-territorial decisions, but one might say that of all pollutants CO2 is the most global in its impact. When China is opening a new coal-fired power station every week, a limit on aircraft emissions seems a modest measure. And anyway, the EU trading scheme would only affect services into Europe and would be absorbed into an international agreement once that could be agreed.

So how much will Europe’s scheme cost each passenger? Estimates seem to vary from €3 (the price of a cup of coffee says Climate Change Commissioner Connie Hedegaard) to €40 or more. Some airlines already impose a small charge on the ticket to prepare the way. In the longer term everything will depend on how generous the emission allowances will be for individual airlines. There is no doubt that the measure will further persuade the aerospace industry on the need to improve performance, although it pales into insignificance beside the escalating cost of aviation fuel.


May 27, 2012 at 2:08 pm Leave a comment

Join us at the Personal Democracy Forum, 2012!

On Thursday, May 31 we’ll be in the European Parliament, taking part in a captivating brainstorm on how tech – and tech-savvy citizens – are transforming governance, politics and civil society.

Why don’t you join us?

Now in its ninth year in the United States and its third year in Europe, the Personal Democracy Forum brings together top opinion leaders, politicians, technologists, and journalists from across the ideological spectrum to network and exchange ideas.

Next week’s event – Finding Europe’s Public Place – is set to put the impact of technology in Brussels under the spotlight, evaluating its role in the European institutions, diplomacy, lobbying and journalism.

Speakers will examine how interactive communications technologies are now being regularly deployed to address critical civic problems, and make governments more efficient, transparent, and accountable. They’ll also discuss whether these technologies are bringing Europe any closer to the as yet elusive public sphere.

Also on the agenda: the invaluable role social media has played in supporting democracy movements all over the world.

The Personal Democracy Forum invariably attracts highly distinguished guests – and this event is no exception. Ambassador William E. Kennard of the US Mission to the EU,  Facebook Europe’s Erika Mann and Peter Spiegel of the Financial Times are just a few of the speakers who’ll be sharing their insights on the day.

Register now to secure your place for this thought-provoking and invaluable event.

See you there!


May 22, 2012 at 2:01 pm 1 comment

Greece’s 2012 elections: what message to Europe?

Rarely do citizens vote not on the basis of right or left but right or wrong:  and Greeks consider the tough austerity measures plain wrong.

At the ballot box, voters punished the two predominant parties for their role in the economic crisis and for imposing spending cut measures on the population already suffering from a 22% unemployment rate.  This ends the predictable era of politics which saw Greek voters alternate between PASOK and New Democracy.

Biggest winners: Syriza & Golden Dawn

Illustrating the breadth of support, Syriza picked up voters who in 2009 had voted for Pasok (37%), New Democracy (14%) and KKE (9%), the greatest chunk of which were aged 18-35.  According to opinion polls, support for Syriza blossomed when leader Alexis Tsipras announced his objective to form a left-leaning government.  Moving from 4.6% support in 2009 to 16.8%, Syriza convinced voters it is more than a simple third party but a serious coalition partner.

Another winner in the election was the Golden Dawn party that stripped New Democracy of over 40% of its supporters and 20% of PASOK from 2009.  Its base comes largely from under 35-year-olds and is considered a mix of traditional right with young people.  How this party might act in  Parliament is unclear but signals raised by party members demanding journalists stand when the party leader entered a press conference are surely concerning.

End of two party alternating rule

Voters delivered a blow to PASOK by stripping the party of 119 seats (of 300) in the Parliament.  The party lost over 2 million voters from 2009 when it enjoyed 44% support. Back then it swept to power promising to clean up and modernize the government, yet within weeks announced that Greece’s debt numbers had been fudged, plummeting the country into a crisis of confidence involving the markets, then the whole Eurozone as fear of contagion spread.

Two and a half years later, PASOK’s center-right party in the outgoing coalition, New Democracy (ND) had expected to win enough votes to form a government outright or at least with PASOK.  ND finished first, allowing them to take advantage of a reinforced proportionality law (they won while last in government) providing the first party 50 bonus Parliamentary seats.  Yet even this boost wasn’t sufficient to help ND secure a coalition government.

Unity government uncertainties

New Democracy attempts failed to form a government, giving Syriza three days to form a coalition.  Tsipras wasted no time announcing his hopes to build a government that operates inside the European Union, with the Euro, but rejects the austerity measures imposed by the Troika in return for billions to keep Greece afloat.  For a country unaccustomed to coalitions yet accustomed to sweet election promises, the expectations raised by renegotiation rhetoric may undermine efforts to form a lasting coalition.

Markets, lenders, and European and global leaders are holding their breath while leaders of this country of only 11 million people decide more than the country’s future.  Each passing day without a government brings increased uncertainty and the eyes of the world will continue to watch the machinations in Greece as a prophesy for what lies ahead for the European economy and beyond.

By Julie Garman Kolokotsa, a former member of the FH team now based in Athens.



May 9, 2012 at 6:37 pm Leave a comment

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