Posts tagged ‘European Union’

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

Iceland’s path to EU membership may be a rocky one

Coat of arms of Iceland
Image via Wikipedia

I see that the EU Council of Ministers has asked the European Commission to deliver an opinion on Iceland’s application to join the EU, just 10 days after Reykjavik submitted its formal request for membership. The Swedish presidency wants the report by the end of the year, and foreign minister Carl Bildt has implied that Iceland’s status as an EEA country could speed the process of the application, in contrast to the slow progress for the Balkan applicants.

The Icelanders no doubt remain shell-shocked by the collapse of their banking system and the consequent halving in the value of the krona, and crave the stability of the eurozone, but it strikes me that the path to membership may be far from smooth. At the end of the process – say in 2011 – lurks a referendum: by then the mood of the country may have changed.

Fisheries could be a major stumbling block. Seafood accounts for almost half of Iceland’s exports and 10 per cent of its gross domestic product, which is quite something when another chunk of the country’s economy – the banking system – has disintegrated. The cod wars of the 1970s, when Iceland extended its territorial limits to 200 miles and the Royal Navy sent frigates to protect British fishing vessels, showed the depth of national feeling on this issue.

Even now international relations on fisheries policy remain poor. I gather for instance that Iceland has been excluded from negotiations on the management of mackerel stocks in the North Atlantic and has therefore opted out of catch allocations. The country is very concerned to rebuild cod stocks, which is a key economic asset. Stocks may be recovering but there will be intense opposition to surrendering quota to EU fishermen under the common fisheries policy. Just to add to the sensitivities, Iceland still has a whaling industry.

At least the review of the EU common fisheries policy is timely, with signs that ministers have accepted the need for fundamental change (just as well, as many fish stocks in European waters are on the point of collapse – and see Sarkozy’s change of heart). However, the fisheries chapter in the Commission’s Iceland report will be one of the most difficult to compose. Could it be the catalyst for the creation of a new fisheries policy, or will it hark back to the disastrous EU policy which has been pursued since 1973?

Becoming part of the eurozone is the big driver for Iceland, but there could be difficult issues here as well, given the level of Iceland’s public debt (about 100 per cent of gdp). For Iceland to qualify for eurozone membership could be an even greater challenge than is faced by the Baltic states and Hungary.

The vote in the Althing to apply for membership was a close run thing – 33 in favour, 28 against – and it would certainly be wrong to underestimate the negotiating difficulties which lie ahead. If the Irish vote “no” on Lisbon then the prospects for any enlargement would be gloomier still.

Meanwhile Britain’s Conservative shadow foreign secretary William Hague continues to inveigh against Lisbon. But whatever you think of his views, he is a consummate speaker. You may like to savour his recent performance in the House of Commons on the possibility of Tony Blair becoming president of the European Council under a ratified Lisbon Treaty. No wonder Gordon Brown needs a holiday!

Michael Berendt

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July 28, 2009 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

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

Public affairs views from around the world

As part of our recent global public affairs practice meeting here at Fleishman-Hillard, we managed to catch a minute or two to camera from some of our colleagues from around the world. Struggling for a place to put the clips, we created a YouTube channel all of our own here.

Amongst those contributing to our discussions on the challenges facing companies around the world was former European Commissioner and current member of our International Advisory Board David Byrne.

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July 9, 2009 at 3:38 pm 2 comments

A look back at turn of the century Brussels

Horse and Cart
Image by Jungle_Boy via Flickr

Thanks to Aart van Iterson, a former colleague now at Cambre Associates, who points out by email that our current survey of the use of the internet by Members of the European Parliament is not the first time we have undertaken to research how digital tools are being used in Brussels.

Back in 2000 the then GPC (even then an Omnicom company, but at that stage still to become part of Fleishman-Hillard) teamed up once again with Simon Leysen of Morris & Chapman to conduct “a first of its kind survey investigating primarily how the Brussels based international community use email and internet in their work.”

The highlights of the 2000 survey included the following:

  • The Brussels based international (EU political) community generally prefer first contact to be established via e-mail rather than by letter.
    Over 90% of respondents directly receive and process their own e-mails.
  • For almost half of those surveyed, the Internet has become their main source of information.
  • Before dealing with an organisation, over 70% of respondents say they will visit the organisations’ web-site first to obtain background information.
  • Close to 50% of survey participants prefer to download large amounts of data as opposed to receiving it in its original format.

Despite being less than ten years old, our findings from 2000 have an air of a different era about them. Almost like finding that more than half of us prefer the car to the horse to get to work.

In looking at the online communication activities of our MEPs, we should therefore not be too harsh. Much has changed in the tools we all use to communicate  in a very short time. At the last European elections the likes of YouTube and Twitter did not exist, google was not a verb and Facebook was only accessible to students at Ivy League schools. With this in mind, the use of any of these tools by MEPs, even just a third of them, is truly impressive. What’s more, I am sure that in another nine years our findings from 2009 will seem so beginning of the century.

James

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May 22, 2009 at 2:21 pm 1 comment

Do MEPs tweet, blog and Facebook? We find out.

  * Description: Strasbourg, European par...
Image via Wikipedia

Today we launch the results of our European Parliament Digital Trends Survey – www.epdigitaltrends.eu It examines how Members of the European Parliament are using the internet to communicate with their voters as well as how the same MEPs use the internet to inform their daily legislative work. As such, we hope that the results are interesting both for MEPs and for Brussels public affairs practitioners.

In summary MEPs are using the internet to communicate to voters but are not yet for the most part using all the tools available. No doubt MEPs have come a long way since the last elections, but there is still a road to travel.

For public affairs practitioners we believe that our results support the view we espoused when we started this blog 2 years ago. Like all of us MEPs are going online for information to inform their decisions. To be effective, our public affairs strategies need to integrate digital communications into their toolbox of tactics. Digital can not replace traditional tools such as contact programmes and media relations it complements them, rendering our activities more effective.

On the microsite  www.epdigitaltrends.eu you will find the following:

  • Our main results with supporting statistics
  • An e-brochure
  • A full report
  • A library of downloads, including graphs and the raw data for you to make your own analysis and graphs
  • Commentary from MEPs
  • An opportunity for you to post your own thoughts
  • The charities we supported in conducting the research
  • The methodology we used – sample size etc.

In the coming days we shall be taking time to reflect on what the different parts of our results mean for public affairs practitioners in Brussels on this blog.

Thanks to all MEPs who participated and to the hardworking FH team who made it all possible (everyone in the office played some role but in particular I’d like to thank Mike, Reg, Veronique, Liliana, Julie, Carey, Aurelie, Tim, Michele, Jay, Clara and Rosie)

We look forward to your reactions to the results on the microsite and to having a debate on this blog about what our survey says about digital public affairs.

James

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May 18, 2009 at 1:03 pm 2 comments

What did Pottering really say?

Pottering’s calm voice may be able to hide his emotions, but we found a nifty digital tool to unmask his true sentiments.

Wordle creates “beautiful word clouds” (their words, not ours) based on a text or website that one inputs. It identifies the most often-used words and makes them larger to show their repetition.

What did Pottering talk to the European Parliament about?

Parliamentarians favourite conversation topic

Parliamentarian's favourite conversation topic.

Public Affairs 2.0 should also face up to it’s own obsession. We clearly like the European Parliament as much as Mr Pottering, but the words ‘European’, ‘digital’, ‘public affairs’ are about the same size as Fleishman-Hillard.

FH talks about MEPs, European, Parliament and FH

FH talks about MEPs, European, Parliament and FH

European Parliament, digital and public affairs will get another tick in the word count next week when we publish a report on the use of digital tools by MEPs.

May 7, 2009 at 7:21 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

Green Week goes live

template_gw2009_bouton1Word up to the European Commission’s DG Environment, who launch this year’s Green Week shebang with obligatory webpages on Europa, YouTube channel (featuring as yet a review of 2008), blog (Dimas fittingly recycled) and a Flickr page. It also features handy buttons to download in the press corner.

The event takes place 23-26 June in the Charlemagne building on Rue de la Loi and the topic in this year of Copenhagen is of course climate change.

You can find out more here.

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March 10, 2009 at 5:56 pm Leave a comment

Digital Tools in Public Affairs – presentation and links

European Flags in front of the Berlaymont - Li...
Image by TPCOM via Flickr

Last week I presented at the inaugural European Public Affairs Summit on digital public affairs. What was billed as a workshop quickly became an empassioned plea for more consideration of the use of digital tools in Brussels based public affairs.

Thanks in any case to all those souls who attended, engaged in questions and answers and gave feedback to me or other FHers. All much appreciated. Any questions that have arisen since, please feel free to post in the comments section and we shall do our best to answer.

In the session, I promised that I would upload the presentation on the blog, instead I put it on SlideShare. You can find it at this link:Digital Tools in Public Affairs Presentation

For those not at the event, I apologise that reading the presentation makes little sense without me speaking to it. It is also not the most beautiful presentation ever created. This said, please check out the article I wrote that sums up in prose some of what I said in person. Alternatively, pass by for a coffee if you are in the area.

The links to the sites referred to during the discussions.

US introductory bit:

Statistics on internet usage:

European Union references:

Tools for tracking:

EU campaigns:

James

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December 8, 2008 at 3:01 pm Leave a comment

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A blog on politics, policy, public affairs and communications in Brussels and the European Union. The blog is written by the team at Fleishman-Hillard in Brussels. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect those of the company or its clients. You will find the contact details of our team at www.fleishman-hillard.eu

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