Posts tagged ‘EU’
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.
I have to admit to being a little bit of a pro-European (no? never! you say), so it is with some fidgeting discomfort that I read overnight the happenings in my native land on the EU. Our London office have done a quick round up of the rebellion on their blog (sounds like something Darth Vadar would want to crush).
I think it’s worthwhile reading the Prime Minister’s full statement to the House of Commons from last night in case you missed it. As Jon Worth notes (hat tip for making the front of the Guardian’s online edition yesterday) being in office has driven probably the most Eurosceptic of Prime Ministers closer rather than farther from Europe. As I read through his speech I noted many of the arguments that pro-Europeans make for why the EU is a good thing and in our national interest. Pity it’s taken a financial crisis and frightful backbench rebellion to get Mr. Cameron to say these things out loud and in public. I do have to laugh however that he’s only just noticed that the Commission are actually for completing the internal market and a friend of the UK’s agenda generally…One has to wonder where’s he’s been since the Single European Act, oh, the UK (well that explains it).
As for the future, I’m of the opinion this debate is not going away, especially in light of the further integration needed as a result of what’s happening in the Euro-zone and the PM’s desire to fundamentally renegotiate our relationship with the EU as expressed in the same speech. As the Americans would say, “Good luck with that”. Well, so be it. It’s time the UK had this discussion and that those who are generally have an aversion to “Europe” acknowledge the good things that the EU does deliver for UK business and citizens. As someone who takes delight in seeking to convert London cabbies to the European cause I’m up for it.
(note – see top right, all views expressed on this blog are personal)
It’s that time of year again. The time of year when the populace of the EU Quarter abandons Brussels like rats from a sinking ship and those few of us left on board are trying to wrap up all of the ‘admin’ tasks that we’ve put on hold for the several previous, hair-raisingly busy months.
It’s also the time of year when I, as an American, have to go through the annual bureaucratic rigmarole that is renewing my Belgian work permit. This is now my third time down the path of renewal and every year it’s the same somewhat maddening procedure (though the first time is always the worst!). This year, however, I’ve found myself pondering the question that I always find myself answering for curious Europeans who say something like ‘But, it’s normal for Europeans to want to go to the States, but you’re an American, how did you find yourself here, in Brussels?!’, and so I decided to take a little poll around the FH Brussels office to see why the other Americans (there are 5 of us in total!) are here.
Carey Evans, from Los Angeles, California
“I came for the weather… clearly.”
Jessica Henderson, from the Twin Cities area (Minneapolis/St. Paul), Minnesota
“Because I couldn’t afford London, Paris, or Geneva.”
Tatiana Hulko, from Evergreen, Colorado
“I blame the Brit in my life for trading in sunshine for rain.”
Katie Wolicki, from Asheville, North Carolina
“Belgian chocolate, frites, waffles, and the little boy peeing….what more could you ask for? ”
That leaves me. So why am I here? Well, I can’t say I came for the weather and I, too, am probably unable to afford the luxury of life in London, Paris, or Geneva. Nor can I claim that it was the infamous beer, waffles, or chocolate that lured me here – though they didn’t hurt. And although my colleagues have all provided (what I like to assume are) tongue-in-cheek responses to my query, I have to say that I originally landed in Brussels sort of through happenstance and, like most Europeans here who are not natives to this fair(ish) city, I guess I got sucked in. It started innocently enough, with an internship here during my undergrad studies, but living in Brussels piqued my interest in EU affairs and the policy making scene. I returned after graduating to do a Masters’ in Leuven, got a job in a public affairs consulting firm in Brussels, then another job, et voila, little by little, before I really realized, the exciting world of the EU had gripped me and the slightly more laid-back lifestyle of the Brussels-scene kept me close. Despite the rain and the endless red tape, the lack of friendly service, and the inconvenience of much of everyday life (I’m sorry, but it makes NO sense that all of the shops and stores close on bank holidays when people actually have time to spend their money!) I find myself willfully going through this renewal process that keeps me here for at least another year.
And so, as much as this writer likes to complain about the above mentioned issues (and more!) I have to accept that actually, we do have it pretty good here. The international work environment that I’m lucky enough to be a part of is a unique one. The friends I’ve made who live here and who depart to the far reaches of the globe are largely friends and contacts I’ve made in Brussels. The proximity to the heart of European policy making and the opportunity to have interesting interactions with policymakers means that my job is interesting every day – not something that can necessarily be said even for my counterparts who live and work in America’s version of Brussels, Washington DC. These are the things that brought me here and which keep me here still.
That said, for now I’ve had about as much of Brussels as I can take for 7 months at a time without ‘escaping’ and I’m off on hols back to New England as of Monday. So ‘bonnes vacances’ everyone! See you in a few weeks when I’m back – refreshed by the warm weather, sunny, blue skies, and ocean breezes of the Maine and Massachusetts coasts and ready to face the gray skies and Bruxellois lifestyle that we have all come to, err, know and love.
Lindsay Hammes, from Augusta, Maine
As you may know we work from the Brussels Bubble but our firm is global. As such, we’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with and meet colleagues and friends from around our company’s 80 odd offices on a pretty regular basis. Our recent 20th anniversary celebrations of our Brussels saw representatives from pretty much every continent (except Antarctica) visit us. One of them was our esteemed colleague Wang Lei from FH Beijing. A former MOFCOM official, Lei has been with us for over 2 years and provides a world of value with his insights on China from our Beijing office. Upon his return to his home country we asked him to answer a few not too cutting quickfire questions about his visit.
The thing that most surprised me about Brussels was…
The traffic. I thought Beijing was the worst city in the world for too many traffic jams and cars but Brussels seems to be even worse.
If there was one thing I’d change about the EU it would be…
To streamline the EU bureaucracy and make it simpler, quicker and more effective.
If I were a European I’d want to be a….
Belgian. They enjoy the freedom of having no government.
If you want to understand China…
Please learn some Chinese, stay in China for a number of years and spend time communicating with locals. If you do not understand what they are saying, and that’s not because of the language issue, please resort to some history books for the answer.
The next big thing to come out of China will be…
A big hug. China is embracing the world with goodwill and money.
If you ever go on a business trip to Beijing don’t forget to…
Climb the Great Wall, for only by doing that will you become a true man! And you will not be surprised to see that the Wall can’t be seen for true men.
Since my return to these shores from the U.S. I find myself noting the little things that are different between that country and Europe. It happened again the other night as the missus and I sat down to restart the West Wing boxset from the beginning (a TV show that this blog has neglected to reference since 2009 despite it being the best show of all time – shame on us). It was Josh’s shirt that got me going. It bellows like a hot air balloon about to set down/go up. What is it with Americans and baggy dress shirts? Last year it took ages to find a retailer that stocked a decent fitting shirt for work. Eventually I plumped for the extra slim fit dress shirt from Brooks Brothers on Connecticut Avenue (just in case you are ever a European desperate for a shirt in the U.S. capital).
I mention this as earlier this week I was a little taken by the comments of Polish PM Donald Tusk. As reported by the Guardian he took his fellow EU leaders to task for talking good game about the EU and then undermining it with their very actions. He also suggested that even in this time of crisis and uncertainty we should be a little bit more confident about being Europeans and what the EU has achieved. It made me reflect that having confidence in their achievements is certainly not something lacking in our transatlantic friends. Perhaps if we could make that small change in our own attitude, combine it with our (relative) ability to focus on something a little more long term than the moment and our infinitely better choice of shirts then we’d be onto a winner.
You know all hope is lost for a normal life when a paper from the US Chamber of Commerce drops into the inbox at midnight and you decide to read it on the iPad before getting some sleep. You would have thought three young children were enough to keep one awake. Damn those good people at the Chamber.
During my brief sojourn in the United States the US Chamber’s European programme was a revelation. It may not be the part of the Chamber that grabs the headlines, but it’s chock full of thoughtful Atlanticists (Gary Litman, Peter Rashish) who are doing their bit to ensure that the trans-atlantic agenda does not disappear into the equivalent of a political Bermuda triangle. A triangle that’s somewhere between the intercine warfare of Washington, an almost morbid fascination with the rise of China and an attitude of ‘benign neglect’ from the Obama Administration.
Yesterday’s paper – which you can find here – provides yet another policy option for restarting what is generally thought to be a generally dormant EU-US relationship. It’s a variation of mutual recognition of standards, which starts with integrating the impact on both sides of the Atlantic through each jurisdictions’ regulatory impact assessments. Its starting point is that in terms of product safety the desired outcomes of our regulatory regimes are pretty similar – even if our routes to achieving them are somewhat different. Something which I reflected upon by suggesting last year that we may be able to agree that neither the EU nor the US wants to kill its citizens. It seems from reading to be a decent approach.
My problem (US readers: I mean challenge) with the Chamber’s paper is two fold. First, I wonder whether there is a risk that the Chamber is diluting its own focus and that of those it is trying to convince by coming up with too many ideas at once. It’s only this time last year that the Chamber heralded a zero tariff agreement as the way forward on US-EU trade issues. Is this now yesterday’s failed idea? Secondly, I’m of the opinion that it is not a lack of policy options that is the issue but a lack of political space. It doesn’t matter how many policy options we come up with. A clear message and an identified constituency needs to be created in Washington that will allow EU-US trade to rise up the agenda and take root there. Frankly speaking, outside of our good friends at the Chamber the educated and influential people I met in my time there just didn’t have Europe on their radar. It’s a non-issue. We may be fascinated by policy in Brussels, but I’d suggest in Washington politics is somewhat more important. It’s the latter that the Chamber and the EU need to get right.