Posts tagged ‘European Union’
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
There are plenty of PR types who will be using this fairly seismic shift as an excuse to our bosses or clients when our story doesn’t get covered. But the press corps could double, and a press release that merely ”welcomes” a Brussels announcement on an issue that is irrelevant to most, while at the same time “applauds” the “Commission” (cos there is only one “Commission” in the world, right?) will NEVER get picked up. A few years back, there was an infamous Brussels website that named and shamed such press releases.
The monster that the Europe correspondent has to grapple with has always been multi-headed. Having to file stories on data privacy, anti-trust, food labelling and customs in quick succession is no joke. We PR types need to be of much more use to journalists – bringing them easy access to real world experts and those with influential opinions on issues that matter to – or even entertain – their readers and their editors.
With fewer journalist around (yes, there are still 700 but you get what I’m saying), we should take more time to get to know them. And not (alone) by taking them for mad nights out, but by actually reading what they write, knowing their pet subjects, knowing their style and that of their editor.
Charlemagne makes the excellent point that journalists should move from Brussels out to the trenches every few years. So should all of us.
For the European Union it was a depressing end to the year! Gone were all hopes of providing global leadership at the Copenhagen conference on climate change. The EU found itself helpless on the sidelines as the US president, constrained by a sceptical Congress, confronted a Chinese prime minister apparently determined to reject any binding commitments which might set limits to China’s CO2 emissions over the next 40 years.
The Copenhagen Accord, put together at a meeting between the US, China, Brazil, India and South Africa, seemed more wishful thinking than a blueprint for the future.
President Barroso put a brave face on it, describing the outcome as a positive step, “but below our ambitions”. Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said it would not solve the climate change threat to mankind. The first test will come during January 2010 when developed countries publish their targets for emissions beyond 2020 and major emerging economies make voluntary pledges.
What will be the implications for European policy, I wonder? Instead of the 30 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020 the EU presumably sticks to 20 per cent. If there is no global commitment to a plus-two-degree temperature ceiling, no binding reductions for 2050, and the prospects of soaring emissions elsewhere in the world, how can the EU and its 27 member states convince the people of Europe to make the sacrifices needed to achieve a low-carbon economy? I wouldn’t want to hold a referendum on the subject!
Maybe the next 12 months will deliver where Copenhagen failed. Maybe the experience of the world’s leaders getting together in Copenhagen will produce results. Maybe there will be progress in Bonn at the beginning of June leading to the UN climate change conference in Mexico City in December. Maybe. But for this is to happen will require fundamental change in the positions of other players.
The EU played its part in seeking an agreement at Copenhagen. It put money on the table, committed itself to more technology transfer and was willing to accept binding emissions targets, but it strikes me that the EU now has to toughen up its international negotiating stance on political, trade and aid issues. It has the institutions for joined-up external relations policies which reflect its economic importance; climate change is one of the first policy areas where these new capabilities should be mobilised.
Europe is after all a key market for the goods produced in emerging markets: we get the benefits in cheap and abundant products, but at what cost to our long-term wellbeing? The rejection of any binding long-term commitments could affect everyone. Flooding, drought, hunger and mass migration on other continents would have consequences for Europe. EU leaders should put on the pressure to retrieve what was lost in Copenhagen.
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.
Former UK Ambassador to the US and current Fleishman-Hillard’s International Advisory Board member Sir Christopher Meyer talks to colleagues in our DC office about US/EU relations after Lisbon. More thoughts from Sir Christopher on the US and the EU over at our YouTube Channel.
It’s been amazing fun watching the UK media ruminate on the now seemingly receeding chances of Tony Blair being the first President of the European Council.
Firstly, there is some pleasure to be had in counting the number of times some hack in London gets all mixed up over what the job is. Will he be President of Europe, President of the European Council, President of the Council or President of the Council of Europe? Who knows? Does the UK media care? As an aside, all this confusion could form the basis for some bizarre studentesque drinking game. Every time a UK daily gets it wrong some kind of alcoholic forfeit would be administered. In any case all those reporting on this (or wishing to avoid alcohol abuse through sheer frustration) would be well advised to check out this post from NoseMonkey.
Secondly, is it me or did the UK media become obsessed with Tony Blair as President of the European Council? Even if they didn’t understand what it meant, that he hadn’t yet actually got the job or that with the exception of his successor (Gordon) no-one in the UK gets a vote on it. It was almost like the rest of Europe didn’t exist in this debate. The Brits seemed to take no account of the fact that many pretty well informed Europeans were wandering around Brussels saying ‘not on your life’ to Tony for a whole host of very valid reasons. No doubt whoever does get the job will be painted as an unknown and unelected bureaucrat – even if he happens to be the former Prime Minister of a European country who were founding members of the organisation the British begrudingly joined a couple of decades later.
Thirdly, even in Brussels one gets the sense that everyone is guessing. Ok, there’s some commonly accepted wisdom flying around the place. Front runners never get it. Small states prefer smaller men etc. etc. But really, other than a close cabral of PMs, Presidents and Chancellors, does anyone really know what’s going to happen? However, if your name is Angela and you do know, well, you could always leave a comment.
Finally, I know you’re going to tell me not to spoil everyone’s fun. The analysis of the runners and riders is likely to be far more interesting than what the new man/woman at the top will actually do at the end of the day. To show we’re not all spoilsports here at FH, here’s Nick Williams our MD of Public Affairs in London giving his thoughts on Tony Blair’s ‘covert’ campaign in PR Week this morning.
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- ‘Nul Points’ for Tony Blair as EU president but David Miliband sounds like a winner (telegraph.co.uk)