Posts tagged ‘EU’

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

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.


*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

Digitization of cultural content – Commission enters into unknown territory

In ancient times, the library of Alexandria was said to contain up to 70% of all human knowledge. Aiming to reap the benefits of the digital age, the European Commission wants to do even better than that.
It was against this background that the Commission launched the EU’s digital libraries initiative in 2006 aiming to make Europe’s cultural resources and scientific records digitally accessible to all. This project saw daylight on 20 November 2008 with the launch of the website.  During the official launch ceremony in Brussels Commissioner Viviane Reding stated that Europeana offers a journey through time, across borders, and into new ideas of what our culture is. However, Europeana seems also have offered the European Commission a lesson in web-page management.

One the first day of its launch, with more than 10 million hits an hour, Europeana simply crashed and the European Commission had to shut it down. The Commission is now working on to reopen the site in a more solid version hoping to reactivate it before the end of 2008.

Despite these intial problems the Digital team at Fleishman Hillard would of course like congratulate the Commission for this initative. The idea of combining multimedia library, museum and archive into one digital website combined with Web 2.0 features is just fantastic and we are eager to see how it will work in practice. It remains to be seen if the Commission will achieve its objective to digitalize and make available ten million objectives on the website by 2010.


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November 21, 2008 at 7:59 pm 3 comments

And the winner is…

The back of the BBC Birmingham headquarters in...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s awards season here in Brussels. Like the 94 tram on Avenue Louise, you wait forever for a glitzy award ceremony and then two come along at once.

Last night saw the inaugural European Public Affairs Directory awards at the Vaudeville Theatre in central Brussels. Alas, Jonathan Ross was not on hand to compere, instead a comedian who looked like Billy Connolly‘s illegitimate younger brother pitched up. His jokes weren’t bad. Wine was poured. Fun was had by all.

FH sponsored the Political Journalist of the Year Award and we can happily report that two out of the three nominees are big believers in blogs. Mark Mardell of the BBC is an avid blogger about all aspects of the EU, both inside and outside the Brussels Bubble (check out his recent posts from a three day trip to Germany for example), while Jean Quatremer of Liberation has even caught this anglophone’s attention. Our only nominee who currently does not blog, Jamie Smyth of the Irish Times, left the table with a promise to start one and to even look into Twitter after a hounding from the FHers on the table. We look forward to it, dinner conversation proved he has a great many interesting insights to share and is happy to engage in debate.

As an aside, it was also good to see the NGOs in town recognised by their public affairs peers for the formidable lobbyists that they are. Friends of the Earth won the Campaign of the Year for its relentless agrofuels lobby and WWF won the award for NGO of the year.

Oh and before I forget, the winner on our table…drum roll…Mark Mardell of the BBC (ably substituted by Mark James, BBC Bureau Chief, on the night).

Thankfully there’s another award ceremony only weeks away and next time around we may win the Consultancy of the Year (last night’s award went to APCO, congrats). We’re nominated at the inaugural European Agenda Public Affairs Summit awards on 4/5 December, in part thanks to our work in digital public affairs. We’re also hosting a workshop on the subject as part of the two day event. We hope to see you there.


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November 6, 2008 at 11:26 am Leave a comment

Let them eat cake!

Given that the roof fell in on the Strasbourg Parliament building over the summer, MEPs supporting the one seat campaign have staged an event in the European Parliament to protest about the fact that they have to trek down to Strasbourg where they all don hard hats (see video above). Laughing at how they look aside, we have a feeling that despite the continued protest the French will be quite prepared to let them continue to eat cake.


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September 25, 2008 at 3:21 pm 2 comments

Sarko in the Celtic Tiger’s cage

Nicolas Sarkozy, a watermark was present that ...Image via Wikipedia

The second in our now regular series of blog posts from our lovely French colleagues over in Paris…grrrrrrr.

After the announcement of the “No” on Friday, June 13, Dublin erupted in jubilation. But the next day, Ireland found itself in a situation comparable to the habitually sober citizen who has woken up with a raging hangover after having gone on an almighty pub crawl. A weekend national newspaper referred to an “Oh sh*t, what have we done?” vibe floating around. Opinion polls indicated that paradoxically most Irish support the EU, even if they voted no and found that almost 40 per cent of those who rejected the EU Treaty did so because they did not understand or were not “familiar” with it.

24 hours after the Bastille Day celebrations of July 14, the president of the European council, Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy sparked a general outcry in Dublin by bluntly revealing an open secret… “The Irish will have to vote again”, he said to members of his party. And the media hype began. Immediately, the Irish started fulminating about such arrogance on the part of the Gallic elite. Suddenly, Sarkozy’s four-hour visit in Dublin on July 21 became a much more controversial topic for the Irish than the last Gaelic football game. It became THE story. Actually, to say the least, the reception of the French President could have been warmer…

On his way back to Paris, “the French gaffer” as he is called in the daily French newspaper Le Monde, denied having asked for a second Irish vote. In fact, Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy is all too aware that there is no miracle solution to this institutional crisis at the present time. Irish events could be seen as a perfect introduction to a lecture on “sarkocism”. Lesson 1: raising the roof once more while pretending you are not. It is too early to say if this strategy is actually adapted to the present Irish versus European context. The forthcoming months will determine whether the answer is positive or not…

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July 25, 2008 at 1:24 pm Leave a comment

Been round the Brussels internship block one too many times?

Point size comparison of the typefaces Georgia...Image via Wikipedia

Clocked up some institutional experience (read internships)? Hold far too many Masters degrees in things that your mates back home can’t understand? About ready for gainful employment after far too long gaining nothing but experience? Well, you are not alone.

As with most of the large agencies in Brussels, we get sack fulls of CVs and covering letters – mostly spontaneous, some otherwise – looking for that first step up on the career ladder. Given the mountains of mail, how can you make sure that you get an interview?

Well, it just so happens our Talent Development people in the US write a regular blog on how to get your career off the blocks in the world of “p.r.” Albeit from a US perspective, the blog contains some pretty cool posts with a range of tips for anyone seeking to leap into the world of “pr”. Now beware our office likes to think of itself as “p.a.” – a subset of “p.r.” some of us would argue – but in any case the tips are still pretty useful for anyone thinking of crashing into our world.

While we’re on the subject, my own personal top three (self-explanatory) tips would be the following:

  1. Do your research. Speak to FHers (we like to talk) or people that know us, read this blog, surf our plethora of corporate sites, understand our services and our client base, what we think it takes to be good at what we do, what are the areas of our business are growing etc.
  2. Tailor your application. Your CV and covering letter should reflect how you are likely to bring value to our organisation and our clients. Here think about agency life and FH as an agency – in essence use the results of point 1.
  3. Get the little things right. Make sure you address the application to the right person (we had an applicant recently who addressed an application to FH to the MD of a competitor who sits across the street from us…not good) Check the spelling of F-H. Don’t use Times New Roman or make your CV look like it was written on a 1940s typewriter. Little things matter in our business and for our clients.

In any case, if you got this far, you probably are all wondering whether this post is completely off topic. Well if you’d been paying attention, doing your research so to speak, you’d probably have concluded that if you are (a) interested in EU public affairs/politics and (b) have skills/experience in the digital communications field in some way shape or form, you should be letting us know about your existence. We’ll leave that thought with you.

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July 23, 2008 at 3:19 pm 6 comments

The Sarko show: let the curtain rise!

France takes on the EU presidencyImage by looking4poetry via Flickr

In what we hope will be a series of regular reflections from our  colleagues at FH Paris on Bld Haussman during the current EU French Presidency, a mail arrives with this guest contribution from Clemence Choutet and Quentin Vivant. Here are their thoughts as the Sarko Show gets well into the first act…

President Nicolas Sarkozy has inherited a Union in disarray but he has grand ambitions at the helm of Europe. He intends to deploy all of his talents and diplomatic skills to pull off the job. In short, he has prepared grand plans for his EU presidency, which began on July 1st, to show that France is back in Europe.

Fastuous ceremonies and foreign guests

The inauguration of a flamboyant presidency was symbolized on June 30, 2008 by the Eiffel Tower lit a dazzling blue with gold stars, representing the EU flag. The festivities include “Europe Bastille Day Balls” and will continue throughout France’s six-month turn in the EU chair. With a budget of €190 million, France aims to dazzle the world’s eyes with stylish ceremonies and the classiest souvenirs, scarves, pens, small bags and other paraphernalia, ever to have been given away at EU summits. Beyond the pomp and style of the opening ceremonies, Mr. Sarkozy is to pursue an ambitious agenda of politico-cultural events centered on immigration, climate change, environment, agriculture, defense and energy. No fewer than ten international summits will take place over the following six months.

Review of the troops

The first and most spectacular event will be the Paris summit on July 13 for about 50 leaders from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East programmed to launch Mr Sarkozy’s pet project for a “Mediterranean Union”. Leaders of all 27 EU members, plus 17 Mediterranean countries, are invited to a jamboree on the eve of Bastille Day to launch a new Union for the Mediterranean. Soldiers from Mediterranean countries that include Libya, Syria and Israel are invited by President Sarkozy to march in a “Euro-Mediterranean Bastille Day” military parade with European troops. The parade is expected to be the biggest yet, and will be followed by a fireworks display and a concert. Sarkozy wishes to turn the Mediterranean summit into an occasion to demonstrate that one of his great ideas has started to materialize.

Sarkozy’s fast-track gambit may pay dividends

Nicolas Sarkozy plans to launch the EU construction projects more or less simultaneously instead of successively, a tactic which he has already employed for the instigation of French social and economic reform. His fast moves dazzle both friends and foe alike. He makes a practice of moving too quickly for his political adversaries. And whatever Sarkozy does, he does it with style. Despite the sarcastic comments made by his detractors, one cannot help wondering whether Sarkozy’s dynamic approach may finally pay off, providing the opportunity to break down the EU’s institutional paralysis and overcome the traditional obstacles which have marred its construction.

To be continued…

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July 13, 2008 at 4:38 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.

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July 9, 2008 at 6:13 pm 5 comments

Website in “average shape” as France takes over

Today is significant. Firstly, it’s 30 degree sunshine in Brussels, and secondly it’s the first day of the French Presidency of the EU. Bonjour.

As a shameful Anglophone, I’ll be dusting down the pocket dictionary, practicing my rolled Rs, and getting ready for six months of unmitigated Frenchness. And hurrah for it, as an initial look at the French Presidency’s website reveals our “citizen-orientated” Presidency is taking its digital communications seriously.

So often EU presidency websites have been about as exciting as the Solvency II proposal (apologies to our Financial Services team, who are all very special). However, it looks like Sarko and co have decided to raise the bar. Here’s how:

PFUE TV: the inspirationally-named PFUE TV (there was apparently a huge debate about whether or not to include the “P” and the “E” :)) is the most striking addition to the usual presidency stoge. The channel has, at the moment, limited content and is horrendously slow to load – let’s hope that something more dynamic than speeches by Fillon and Kouchner will be added over the next six months (more Carla Bruni please!).

EVENTS MAP: the French events map is a cool idea and uses Google Earth to identify events taking place in France over the next six months. Nice thinking.

CALENDAR TEST: As a public affairs professional it tends to drive me insane when I cannot easily access Council meeting documents. So I’m going to try it now…and I’ve failed; well I tried to get info on the ECOFIN Council next week, and there’s no agenda there yet. I guess it is still early so the jury’s out on that one.

WEATHER: I’ve noticed other Presidency sites have done this, but who in their right mind goes to an EU Presidency website to check the weather. I’d say that there’s a huge cloud gathering over Lisbon following the recent storm in Ireland…(oh dear)

Other thoughts on the French Presidency from our colleagues in Paris are more than welcome…

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July 1, 2008 at 6:15 pm 1 comment

Why Brussels public affairs practitioners should be helping Google

There has been a number of articles in the press recently about concerns about potentials falls in revenue for search engine giant Google, contradicted somewhat by other reports that companies’ ad spend is continuing to move online. Whatever the truth, it strikes us that public affairs people in Brussels should consider using Google Adwords as standard part of their advocacy programmes towards the EU institutions.

For those not au fait with Google Adwords, they are the “sponsored links” that appear on the right and top of the search results every time you enter a search term. You pay a very small sum (cents rather than Euro) everytime someone clicks on your ad and gets to your website. Where you come in the sponsored links is based on how much you say you are willing to pay for the click through and how often people searching actually click thru’.

It may seem strange for a PR agency to promote the use of advertising, especially in the context of EU public affairs, but there are a number of things about “search engine marketing” that we think suit our needs in a Brussels context.

1. It’s extremely targeted, you can reach out to people who are actually looking for information that you are providing. An added bonus is that you can choose to advertise to internet searches coming from only certain countries. BTW – the EP’s IP address is located in Luxembourg…so if you are trying to reach EP researchers, advertising there alone should do the trick…

2, It’s cheap. At the most we can be talking a few hundred Euro.

3. Like all of us, where do you think policymakers and their staff turn when they need info? Google…

4. It can drive your message to a wide range of people interested in your issue at little cost, even if only a small (but really important) bunch of people click thru. 100,000 people may search for your term and see your message in the ad, even if only 20 click thru.

As an example, think of a situation where an MEP asks his/her assistant to do some basic research on an issue raised in Committee or to provide some background for an amendment that they are going to write. Now hopefully, as is our standard practice, you’ve met and briefed the rapporteur, shadows, political advisors etc. But what about the 30 other members of the committee who you’d rather not alert to your issue if you don’t have to, but all of whom could table amendments on take a position on the basis of a brief chat with one of your opponents? Chances are you don’t know everyone well enough that they will pick up the phone and ring you to ask that question.

In an ideal world, your trade association or corporate website would be optimised to get to the top of the rankings on all key issues for your industry. But let’s face it, this is not always going to be possible given the array of topics for any one company and is perhaps a longer term project (with which we can help too…)

As a test, on your current issue, think of the search terms someone might use in the Parliament to find out more about the issue and type it in to Google. See what comes up… This is the information your target audience is looking at. It might be worth investing a few hundred Euro on Adwords, not only to help Google but to help your own efforts.

BTW – to show we are putting our money where our mouth is, we are currently running our own AdWords campaign for FH Brussels.

May 15, 2008 at 1:56 pm 4 comments

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