Posts tagged ‘US’

An American in Brussels

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

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July 20, 2011 at 7:32 pm 5 comments

US-EU relations are worse than managing three small children

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.


June 28, 2011 at 10:22 am Leave a comment

Libya highlights Europe’s defence weakness

The ability of we Europeans to provide for our own defence has been increasingly in doubt since the end of the cold war. I well remember George Robertson, when he was NATO Secretary General, contrasting the size of Europe’s military forces, running into millions, with the inability of European allies to provide just a few thousand troops for NATO operations.

The Libyan campaign has forced the issue into sharp focus. Last Friday’s speech by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the Security and Defence Agenda meeting in Brussels spelled out the harsh realities of a changing world and warned Europe of the consequences of neglecting its military capabilities.

Gates describes the present situation as “unacceptable” and cites the fact that 11 weeks after the Libyan operation began – under NATO auspices – some European partners have run out of firepower and have had to ask the Americans for new bombs and rockets. According to him the Italian airbase for operations over Libya can only handle half the sorties for which it is equipped owing to lack of equipment.  It’s symptomatic of a wider failure.

Two major assumptions seem to lie behind Europe’s lack of defence capabilities: the first is the belief that the world has become more benign, and that in this kinder world we need no longer worry about our capacity for military action. The second is that if action is needed then we can always get the Americans to do the dirty work.

Each of the two assumptions is surely wrong. Of course we face different threats from those we faced in the cold war years, many of them unpredictable, but there are always dangers round the corner. For instance we tend to assume that the Arab spring is a surge towards democracy equivalent to Europe’s velvet revolutions. That is indeed an outcome devoutly to be wished, but it is by no means guaranteed. Every Arab country has its own version of the revolution. Just look at the mayhem in Syria, which could have major repercussions across the region.

The US Secretary of State touched on the changing politics which undermine the second assumption. The generation of US politicians whose experience was forged during the cold war has now moved on, to be replaced by political leaders with quite different priorities, impatient of European demands for American involvement and wholly preoccupied by a ballooning budget deficit.  It was striking how indignant some EU leaders were that President Obama refused to take the lead role in Libya. But as Obama has reasonably said, Libya is Europe’s problem.

It is the very unpredictability of international events which make it so difficult for governments to plan defence spending – and to justify it to voters, but as Robert Gates says, it is barmy to spend money on sophisticated fighter aircraft and not provide the armaments they need for active combat, or the electronic capabilities and intelligence resources to direct their operations.

A collapse of trust between allies could even threaten the demise of NATO. As the American global commitment diminishes so Europe has got to do more in both diplomatic and practical ways. The common European Security and Defence Policy should provide the framework and the common will to improve capabilities, but there’s little sign of it doing so. It should also be working much more closely with NATO. But who will provide the political leadership? Regrettably there is not much sign that either Cathy Ashton or national leaders are capable of that.


June 13, 2011 at 11:50 am Leave a comment

The Wikileaks phenomenon: impact on 21st century statecraft?

Yesterday evening, The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel published analyses of a six-year archive of classified documents from US-led forces in Afghanistan, released to them by the organization Wikileaks.  The disclosure of the material has already raised much debate about what The Guardian has termed “the biggest leak in intelligence history.”

What is different about this leak is that it is mainly happening online, and the debate around it currently spans from Washington DC to Berlin to Islamabad.

Since the Obama campaign’s groundbreaking use of social media, the US government has been coming to terms with what it has deemed “21st century statecraft,” and this leak will put the new strategy to the test.

Two weeks ago, The New York Times Magazine ran a piece on Jared Cohen and Alec Ross, the “public faces” of “21st century statecraft,” an effort by the State Department to magnify traditional methods of diplomacy, and the first to recognize that control of information will simply not be possible as it was in the past. (The strategy was originally outlined by State’s Policy & Planning Director, Anne-Marie Slaughter, in a 2009 article in Foreign Affairs.)

But do 21st century technologies change everything? Or are they a new means to the same old communications challenges?

The hard reality is that the Internet does and doesn’t change everything.

The Web remains unfamiliar territory for traditional policymakers who are wrestling how to keep up in a world with instant online news breaks and social media. While leaks are not new, their mass publication is instantaneous, volumes of feedback are exponentially larger and it can be difficult to distinguish the experts from the amateurs. Crisis-communications take on new meaning.

A recent BBC analysis of recent online crisis-management efforts by the British government and BP asks Should we trust the wisdom of crowds? The US government has publicly denounced the publication of the classified documents. It will be interesting to gauge how the public reacts to this leak and – in turn – how the architects of 21st century statecraft react to the public.


July 26, 2010 at 3:22 pm 2 comments

Post your blog at 0900 hours, General.

Picture an enthusiastic proponent of social media in your head. Who comes to mind?

I’ll tell you who I am thinking about – Admiral James Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander for Europe in charge of NATO military operations and planning and the highest-ranked US military official based outside of the US.

Surprised? I was too.

Admiral Stavridis was one of 3,800 people working in transatlantic security who participated in a 5-day online brainstorming exercise on topics ranging from peacekeeping and human rights, to China and climate change. I was lucky enough to work on the 2010 Security Jam which took place in February.

In practice, Jam Sessions look like a series of mini-blogs, where people can post short comments and comment on other’s ideas. Text-mining technology and expert moderators are used to keep track of who is talking about a given subject, what they are saying and give the unique opportunity to ask top officials why things are the way they are. All the information collected during the debate is then funneled into electronic reports organized by theme, affiliation, age and a range of other custom-selected criteria. The Security Jam organizers have used the tool to produce ten recommendations for the EU and NATO, who were strategic partners in the event.

The fact that the transatlantic defence and security communities committed to such a project should not be underestimated. Despite the fact that these crowds are typically hard sells when it comes to new forms of communication (think top secret clearance and national sovereignty), the military were some of the first participants to sign up. 192 military officials participated in the Jam, including 6 Generals and 5 Admirals.

NATO has already made some major efforts to boost the way it communicates and is taking advantage of the best the internet has to offer to do so. You can watch the Secretary General’s video blog, learn more about NATO operations and strategy in the online NATO Review magazine (if you have never looked at it, you should, you will learn things), and you can even search through de-classified documents from the NATO post-War period in a fun, interactive website.

It will be interesting to see if the EU follows suit in a post-Lisbon era. 56% of Jam participants felt the EU is not a credible security actor and a recommendation stemming from the Jam has been for the EU to use new media to consult European experts and citizens on security threats and policies.

It is precisely because of the sensitive and strategic issues involved that such communications exercises are important. Public engagement – and, more importantly, a demonstration by institutions that they are listening to that public – is essential.


May 7, 2010 at 6:07 pm Leave a comment

US and EU after Lisbon – Sir Christopher Meyer

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.


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November 13, 2009 at 12:41 pm 1 comment

Polling and its impact on public policy

An interesting piece on the impact of polling on public policy in the US from my colleague Jeff Weintraub on our Public Affairs blog that is worth checking out here.

In contrast, I am not sure we need an online poll to establish whether polling has a big impact on the outcomes of public policy decisions at an EU level. I’ve discussed the fact it isn’t used more in previous posts.

In any case, it is an interesting debate in an EU context. Should advocates and policymakers in this town be making more use of polling both in advocacy and in making their policy decisions?

I’d be interested in your views and indeed examples of where it has proved valuable/not valuable.


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October 21, 2009 at 12:37 pm 1 comment

Twitter, the US elections and Brussels

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Check out the coverage of the use of Twitter in the US elections today referenced over at the Guardian but picked up widely elsewhere, here and here. As Americans are going to the polls they have been able to report their experiences at the booths using Twitter by adding the hashtag #votereport to their tweets.

Lots of long queues and dodgy machines as I am reading but hopefully not too many hanging chads by the end of the night. The site also includes a cool mash up that sees the reports coming in plotted on a Google Map.

Whilst we’re on Twitter, some interesting thoughts on the use of Twitter in a Brussels context on Steffen’s blog late last week over here. Worth a read.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine

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November 5, 2008 at 12:30 am Leave a comment

The EU-US healthcare divide

EU: Universal healthcare rules

In the EU, we take it for granted that pretty much everyone gets access to healthcare regardless of their ability to pay. Our healthcare systems are designed to provide universal coverage regardless of ability to pay and you’ll be hard pushed to find people who question that principle, even if many of us might criticise the systems themselves.

This means that on-line debate and blogging about healthcare in the EU examines specific issues such as healthcare recruitment and health technology assessment and looks at broader topics such as healthcare reform including how to make health systems more responsive to the needs of individuals (more “consumer driven”), it’s difficult to find anyone seriously suggesting dismantling universal healthcare in Europe.


August 13, 2007 at 12:47 pm 2 comments


The increasing use of social media in political campaigning in Europe became especially visible in France’s last elections (Royal vs. Sarkozy), but in the US they really have it down to a fine art. Right now in the US, with the race on for the 2008 presidential elections, everyone seems to be using social technology, such as YouTube, as part of their campaigns. The reason behind this is that the internet has created a platform for ‘openess’, enabling people to ‘get to know’ candidates before voting for them, exemplified by the Senator John Edwards podcast run on Pod Tech.

My search to find examples of social media at work in European politics wasn’t that fruitful – a blog here, a video there – except maybe for David Cameron and his ‘WebCameron’. Instead I stumbled across an interesting US example from entitled Netroots activism arrives.


August 3, 2007 at 4:00 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

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