How much does reputation of the industry influence policy-making in Brussels?

FleishmanHillard recently gathered representatives of the food & beverages, agriculture and retail industry to hear about the expectations of European consumers towards the food industry. To feed the debate, Nick Andrews presented the recent FleishmanHillard research called “Authenticity”. The research, undertaken in  Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK with expert consumers revealed that the industry is falling short on people’s expectations to provide transparency around production methods and sources, more personalised and easier to use products and services.

Commenting on the consumer’s expectations, the Deputy Director General for the Food Chain at DG SANCO, Mr. Ladislav Miko, shared with the participants his views on how the European Commission’s current and future initiatives will support the industry meet these expectations.

The Authenticity Gap research is available on our Center On Reputation website and will give you insights into what consumers expect from your industry! Reputation matters when it comes to policy-making and regulation too!

How is your company doing reputation wise and how much does it support or hinder your public affairs objectives?

Sophie Norman

Leave a Comment July 15, 2014

Let’s dance – the impact of the economic crisis on healthcare cues an intricate dance between EU institutions and Member States

The issue of healthcare sits in an increasingly delicate place in the European arena. Traditionally, healthcare has been a matter of Member State competence. That continues to be the case, but the impact of the economic crisis and intensified involvement of the European Commission in the economic governance of Member States, means that the institutions are cautiously engaging in a new dance on healthcare.

Now in its fourth year, the Commission provides so called ‘country-specific recommendations,’ or CSRs, on where some Member States should be focusing their budgets (and cuts). Such economic governance and scrutiny has spilled over into the arena of healthcare budgets, a large component of national government spending. These put the spotlight on the efficiency of health systems and expenditure. At the end of June the European Council generally endorsed the CSRs and today 8 July these were formally adopted by EU finance Ministers. It will now be up to the EU Member States to implement the recommendations when drafting their national budgets and other relevant policies.

As far as health is concerned, a step-change in recent years is the increasing number of countries (now 16) receiving CSRs relating to healthcare. With this trend we see European Health Ministers more ardent about claiming their stake in the economic debate, as witnessed recently when the EU’s Council of Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Ministers (EPSCO) gathered round the table in Luxembourg. A primary concern of EPSCO was the perceived lack of consultation and coordination with Health Ministers on CSRs and budgetary negotiations which impact on health. This signals a growing recognition at the highest political levels that more coordinated action, is needed to address healthcare issues in the context of economic policy in the EU.

What does all of this mean for the future of healthcare in the EU? It remains to be seen both how Member States plan to implement the CSRs relating to health, and how the European Commission intends to scrutinize action in this area. Given the fairly general nature of the CSRs, which propose such actions as improving the cost-effectiveness of the health-care sector, they may prove difficult to evaluate. Nevertheless, we are seeing a growing momentum by the EU to do more in health, and an increasing necessity for economic and healthcare decision makers to start dancing to the same tune.

Lindsay Hammes

Leave a Comment July 8, 2014

The most unexpected outcome of the rise of the leftist outsiders ‘Podemos’

King Felipe VI: Called to be a Symbol

In a turn of events that few would have predicted a fortnight ago, King Juan Carlos I of Spain (76) formally announced today his decision to put an end to his 39-year reign and abdicate in favour of Crown Prince Felipe (46). The decision follows three years of accelerated decline in the popularity of the Monarchy caused by family scandals and a series of major missteps by the King himself. The succession comes one week after the irruption into the Spanish political scene of Podemos (We Can), the leftist grassroots movement that obtained a stunning five seats and 1.2 million votes in the European Parliament elections on 25 May.

989-u00qd.AuSt.55

The rise of Podemos –created in March around a telegenic, fast-talking and pony-tailed university professor—crystallised the degree of dissatisfaction of a large sector of the Spanish electorate with the traditional political parties. Both the conservative Partido Popular, now in power in Madrid, and the Socialist Party lost millions of votes. More importantly, the poll marked the end of the de-facto bi-partisan system that has governed Spain since the restoration of democracy in 1976, where Conservatives and Socialists have alternated power for 35 years.

The upheaval caused by the election result has so far forced the resignation of Socialist Party leader, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, and opened an uncertain process to renew the party’s leadership. It has also signalled the pre-eminence, in number of votes, of the pro-independence ERC party in Catalonia over the more moderate CiU. But beyond specific effects, it has highlighted the ‘exhaustion’ –a term frequently used by political analysts—of the political framework that emerged after the death of General Francisco Franco in late 1975.

King Juan Carlos I, appointed by the dictator himself to preserve his regime, won the support of an overwhelming number of Spaniards by doing the opposite and championing the country’s rapid transformation into a constitutional democracy in the early days of his reign. His position was further enhanced when he aborted a military putsch in 1981. For years thereafter, the Monarchy served as a symbol –internally and internationally— of the ‘new’ Spain.  However, the combined effect of the corruption trial against his son-in law, the fallout from the King’s elephant-hunting trip to Botswana at the height of the economic crisis and his alleged dalliance with a dubious German socialite have led to approval rates below 50%   –and increasing calls for the abolition of the Monarchy.

Future King Felipe the Sixth has made efforts to disassociate himself from the reputation meltdown of the Crown. Over the past three years, as Juan Carlos has been in and out of hospitals, the Prince has raised his profile as a poised, articulate and socially-conscious, individual in tune with the times. At the same time, he has cultivated an image as a caring and modern family man, far removed from his father’s whispered reputation as a playboy and rumours about less-than-appropriate business deals.

During his televised abdication speech on Monday the King said that he took the decision to abdicate in January. This, however, contrasts with Juan Carlos’ own words during his last Christmas speech in which he affirmed his “determination” to continue discharging his duties. Whether carefully planned or forced by events, the royal transition acquires its full meaning only when examined in conjunction to the May 25 outcome. For the first time, a significant mass of voters channelled their opposition to EU mandated austerity, to rampant corruption among the traditional parties, to the financial system and to the Monarchy through a new “anti-system” political brand.

The ‘official’ Spanish body-politic –the main parties, the Government, the heads of key institutions, business leaders and academics— have tried to minimise the meaning of the ‘Podemos’ phenomenon and explain that its recent electoral showing cannot be extrapolated to upcoming municipal and general elections in 2015 and 2016. However, the Parliament that emerges as a result of the next general election is likely to confirm the decline of Conservatives and Socialists and further deconstruct the dominant statu quo.

Barely two hours after the abdication announcement, United Left leader Cayo Lara called for a referendum to abolish the Monarchy and social media exploded with calls for pro-Republic demonstrations. Regional groups favouring the independence of Catalonia and the Basque Country, as well as the new and radical movements like ‘Podemos’, are overtly or potentially anti-Monarchy and would have little choice but to support a potential groundswell for Spain’s transformation into a republic if public trust in the Crown is not restored.

The current Parliament –with a safe pro-Monarchy majority—will have to now take the constitutional steps to proclaim Prince Felipe as King, something that will most likely happen before the end of June. It is reasonable to think that Juan Carlos and his advisors have determined that a succession that is sure to be swiftly approved by the current Cortes will give the new King time to assert his own influence and project a totally new style.

In a country where emotions weigh heavily on voter’s choices, future King Felipe VI is faced with a daunting challenge: that of being a symbol of renewal. The question will be whether the institution he embodies –its reputation tarnished, its usefulness questioned— will regain the trust of Spaniards.

 

Carlos Lareau

Leave a Comment June 2, 2014

Not a moment wasted: Potocnik’s last act to ban landfill?

Environment Commissioner, Janez Potočnik, is an ambitious and tenacious man. In the dying days of this Commission, he is trying to push out perhaps his most ambitious law to date and overhaul Europe’s Waste law.

One of the last acts of his fellow Commissioners will be to back a call to effectively ban the landfill of household waste by 2030. Recycling targets across the board will be ratcheted up.

You would have thought that the Commission would not try and push out a major initiative in its dying days in office. And, whilst that is the normal rule of the Commission, like all good rules, there are exceptions, and here the President voiced support for the unwritten initiative before, so the current Commissioners  are going to bind their successors with an ambitious new policy and draft law.

The Commission’s internal sign off process to proposed laws, known as Inter Service Consultation, is carried out in relative secrecy. It seems to have started on 27 May and it will last 15 working days (weekends and public holidays excluded).  It will be interesting to see many objections come in from other services.

The Environment Commissioner has a good track of getting proposals out that he wants. Other Commissioners will have their eyes focused on post-Commission life. Commissioner Tajani, whose DG Enterprise Department, did so much work to block DG Environment’s initiatives, is now a MEP. It will be interesting to see if others inside the Commission, Governments or industry raise question marks about an outgoing Commission pushing out ambitious legislative proposals in their last moments in office.

Banning landfill will be a very tough act for some countries to ever meet. If adopted, local authorities may need to re-open long term waste recovery contracts with waste management companies who’ll need to invest in state of the art technology to divert household waste. Households will land up paying any additional prices for their waste collection. Many governments, still operating under tough fiscal restraints, will find it hard to pay for necessary infrastructure improvements.

This overhaul of Europe’s convoluted waste regulation regime will be one of the first new pieces of legislation for a new European Parliament to consider.

 

Aaron McLoughlin

 

Leave a Comment June 2, 2014

Clowns to the Left, Jokers to the Right, Stuck in the Middle with You

The headline above refers to a Stealers Wheel song from 1972 made famous (again) by Quentin Tarantino as part of the soundtrack for his deservedly acclaimed 1992 movie, Reservoir Dogs.

If you ask my teenage daughters, both of those references are “SO ancient! SO old!” But to me, they are extremely timely.

In the next few days, we are likely to see “blood on the floor” from some of the mainstream parties in the European Parliament. In fact the political scenario might make the scenes in Reservoir Dogs look like something out of Toy Story. In all probability, during the post-election phase, attentive observers will be able to see lead negotiators of those same mainstream parties sing the above song – probably off key and definitely not in unison –as a chorus.

Why? Politics. Tactics. Nationalities. All are legitimate explanations. Governance issues are equally important, chiefly the Parliament’s need as an institution to assert its position as a credible counterpart to the European Council.

But there’s a bigger explanation, a meta explanation, which transcends all of these reasons. If you believe in democracy, the explanation is this: real politics (not to be confused with realpolitik) is made by those people who will and can.

So you can make a very simple matrix…

martin 1

Brilliant people will arise on either side of the political spectrum. By showing that they are effective communicators, they will convince us that they could – probably – make European politics. These same people will also make it abundantly clear – as written in their very programs – that they are not willing to do so.  Despite the speeches, rallies and massive support…. nothing will materialize.

Throughout the political spectrum, you will also have profoundly good and willing candidates – soon to be MEPs – who have a lot of unguided goodwill but no real ability to put it to use. Failing to devise any revolutionary strategies and feeling disappointed at being misunderstood by electorate and colleagues (politicians rarely recognizes their own lack of abilities), they will become innocuous, doing no evil, but falling in line to follow those who are genuine leaders.    

Equally dispersed across the spectrum – but hopefully not in equal numbers – you will find those who don’t care and don’t want to do anything – the passive and disinterested. They ran for office and won the election for reasons unexplained and inexplicable. They will be forgotten even before the first picnic-trip to Strasbourg, regardless of how many times they are re-elected to Parliament.

And finally you’ll have those who are both willing and able to do what they are here for, regardless of where they stand on the political spectrum.

If an election can be about “Yes, we can” the post-election reality for ‘real politicians’ will always be “yes we will.” These latter specimens will be able to make political compromises and decisions that determine the future of Europe in a wider sense, because they can.  They will lead the colleagues who can’t step forward, and energize some of those who simply won’t, and in the end, it is they who will make politics – stuck in the middle as they will be.

 

Martin Bresson

 

Leave a Comment May 23, 2014

What will European elections mean for financial regulation?

You’ve all heard the story of the global financial crisis, the banks that failed, the bets that lost, and the governments that just didn’t know what to do. You’ve probably also heard about the deluge of economic initiatives and financial regulation that poured forth from the public sector in the wake of the crisis to try to make sure that ‘it will never happen again.’

What you may or may not have heard about, is the group of people in Brussels who played a big part in driving that effort forward – or sometimes forcing it to take a sharp turn.

Sure, Europe’s Finance Ministers and the folks who show up at G20 meetings a couple times each year are the ones who normally call most of the shots, but since Europe’s Lisbon Treaty came into force in 2009, the European Parliament has played an increasingly decisive role in shaping the content of EU law. Though this is the case across sectors, the response to the crisis created an unprecedented situation where this trend has been most acutely felt in the field of financial regulation.

Who are these ‘faceless’ Parliamentarians then? Well, as our PA2.0 blogger, Stephan Thalen, from the other week pointed out, most of the Parliament’s substantive work takes place in Committees, with the Economic and Monetary Affairs (or ECON) Committee being the one we’re getting at here.

European flag

Why do these people matter?

Given the impact of the global financial crisis, MEPs on the ECON committee have carved themselves a crucial role in the implementation of the G20’s post-financial-crisis agenda. Drafting their own version of the Commission’s proposals and fighting it out with Member States in trench wars that sometimes have dragged on for months on end. Integrated European banking, markets, and insurance standard-setters? Higher contributions for banks to pay in case of their failure? Strict limits on the bonuses that banks can pay their employees? Yep, those were all things the ECON Committee clung to in negotiations and didn’t let go of until they got their way.

So the big question then is, how do we expect this vitally important committee to change with the European elections this month?  It’s ultimately hard to say, as the composition of Committees is always the subject of a long and murky process of horse-trading before their creation (again, see Stephan’s blog). But based on the big trends we’ve been highlighting recently, and our understanding of each MEP’s prospects, we’ve come up with a number of outcomes we think we’re likley to see in ECON later this year:

  1. Center-Left / Centre-Right cooperation: Recent polls show that an EPP-Socialist grand coalition is likley to be the only workable majority in the next EP – and this will be reflected across committee structures – including ECON. While both are (for the most part) pragmatic, the two groups often do not see eye-to-eye, so the process of coming to common positions may become longer, and even more complex.
  2. Uncertain influence for smaller groups: The Liberals used to be the king-makers in ECON, but their future looks increasingly uncertain as poor election performance could diminish their ranks. Similarly, the UK Tories (who have been part of the somewhat-sidelined European Conservatives and Reformists – ECR – Group) in ECON may weather the 2014 poll well, but still face increasing uncertainty in the next Parliament . This means that the continued presence of traditionally market-friendly voices in ECON is at risk.  The Greens, who have been the main drivers behind top files such as the reform of bank structure and remuneration limits, have developed a strong working relationship with the Socialists in this Parliament, and look to stand a better chance of maintaining the influence they’ve gained.
  3. Significant turnover: Several important ECON MEPs have decided to step down ahead of this month’s election. This includes ECON Chair Sharon Bowles, Vice-Chair Arlene McCarthy, the EPP coordinator Corien-Wortmann Kool, and EPP veteran Astrid Lulling. Many other crucial MEPs are further considered to be at risk of not being re-elected in the coming vote. While this may not affect overall Group numbers, it could strengthen the hand of more experienced members who remain, including German MEPs from Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU (making them well placed to grab the Chairmanship of the Committee).

Also, a recent debate that we’re watching closely has been over whether or not the Parliament should have a specific committee to deal with Eurozone-only issues, such as oversight of the single currency, the Eurogroup, the European Stability Mechanism, and the newly formed Banking Union. While opposition to some form of ECON Eurozone Sub-Committee has softened recently, with German and French delegations warming to the idea, strong resistance is still expected from other influential groups such as the Polish delegation, who fear this could lead to a two-tier “ins” and “outs” decision-making model  and entrench divergent interests between the two sides of the currency bloc.

ECON1

So, how complicated can things get?

The ECON Committee stands to experience significant shifts in the next few months – but none more important than the numbers game of how the political groups count to a majority. While Grand-Coalition type configurations are easy to understand, their politics usually tend to be much less straightforward, relying on strategic trade-offs,   accumulation of favors, and often obscure negotiations. While strong positions are often harder to come to, the benefit, from the Parliament’s perspective, is that the position (once reached) will normally benefit from unusually strong support among its members and ideally be harder to dislodge in negotiations with the Council.

If you’re interested in an even more in-depth look at what we here at FleishmanHillard think the ECON Committee will look like after the election, and the implications this could have for financial services policy in Europe going forward, you can read our “Changing Faces in ECON” briefing written by FH’s Financial Services Practice.

 

Scott Martin

(@R_Scott_Martin)

Leave a Comment May 22, 2014

Becoming a European Parliament committee chairperson: How to ascend the ‘Iron Throne’

Brace yourselves – the European Parliament elections are coming. Though turnover will be less dramatic than the Game of Thrones cast (no spoilers or EU-version of the Red or Purple Wedding, I promise), Brussels can expect a significant number of new movers and shakers representing the different political houses and kingdoms of Europe to ascend their Institutional thrones this summer. This is especially so for the European Parliament, where hordes of wildlings, a.k.a. MEPs, will congregate following the May elections for the new Parliament’s first plenary meeting on 1 July 2014 to decide on committees, their composition and chairs.

European Parliament committees, as per its Rules of Procedure, are set up following a proposal by the Conference of Presidents (CoP) – if the CoP, which consists of the EP President, political group chairmen and a non-attached MEP, thinks Parliament needs a committee on the Seven Kingdoms, they’re the ones who decide. Expect most standing committees to return for the 2014-2019 parliamentary term.

Committee members are nominated by political groups and non-attached members, and are elected during the Parliament’s first sitting. This process is (painstakingly) repeated two and a half years thereafter during the mid-terms, so early 2017, ahead of the 2019 elections.

Each committee, however, has one chairperson who ascends the ‘throne’. From here they influence all rulemaking during their ‘reign’ – for those that aspire to ascend it or are interested in knowing how those who have did, here are three “easy” steps to becoming a Parliamentary committee chairperson:

  • Get elected

An obvious first hurdle, I know, but it’s easier said than done. For the 751 seats up for grab in the 2014 elections, there are already more than 6,400 (!) candidates – that’s a ratio of about 1:9, though this depends per country.

  • Understand d’Hondt

Not ‘The Hound’, d’Hondt. Named after a Belgian lawyer, the d’Hondt system is used (in practice – it’s not in the Rules of Procedure) for the allocation of committee chairs between political groups. Most of you likely understand the system or at least know of it – it’s widely used in Europe and the UK, including Northern Ireland (i.e. Westeros).

For those not familiar, you may want to reach into your inner Master of Coin as it helps to have some rudimentary math skills. Here’s the basic idea: a political group’s seat total is divided by 1 – this increases by 1 each time a group wins a committee chairs. As the divisor becomes bigger, the political group’s total in succeeding rounds gets smaller, allowing parties with lower initial totals to win seats. For a great example in Northern Ireland by BBC News, see below:

Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/

  • Excel at horse trading

Once you’ve entered the great halls of Spinelli, the skilful manoeuvring of a Littlefinger will be useful in becoming a committee chairperson. Though chairs and vice-chairs, the bureau, are elected by their respective standing committees in separate ballots using the D’Hondt system (see above), weeks of horse trading among the political group coordinators and national delegations ahead of the first plenary are what actually decide who joins the ranks of chairperson.

To give you a concrete example, Italy, the second largest delegation in the winning centre-right European People’s Party following the 2009 elections (breakdown below), saw the Parliament’s presidency go to MEP Jerzy Buzek of Poland, but instead was given control of the highest number of committees (see chart below), followed by Germany and France – a large number of vice-chair positions were also given to Italy. This system of ‘appointment by acclimation’ should again be expected this summer.

Using the d’Hondt system, the EPP with 265 seats received the first committee chair appointment. The divisor was subsequently increased by 1, leaving the EPP with 132.5, and therefore giving the S&D with 184 second choice. The same increase to the S&D divisor following its win would reduce its point total to 92, and thus allow the EPP to choose again in the third round. This process continued until the allocation of all committee chairs as per the chart below was completed.
Source: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/

Source: http://www.sieps.se

Though nothing can be said with certainty at this stage about who will claim each committee ‘throne’ given we’ll need to await the election results, expect behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing as well as trade-offs to dominate Parliament and its new inhabitants come June.

Stephan Thalen

1 Comment May 5, 2014

FleishmanHillard Roundtable: The future of EU-Swiss relations

FlesihmanHillard had the honour of receiving yesterday the Ambassador of Switzerland to the European Union for a roundtable on the future of the relations between the European Union and Switzerland.

In February, Switzerland voted in favour of a popular initiative restricting immigration for all foreigners, including those coming from the European Union. This raises doubts as to the compatibility of these new dispositions with the principle of free movement of people, which Switzerland shares with Europe as a member of its Schengen zone. The reaction from the European Union has been firm, and it was the right moment for us to ask an important question: what is the future of the EU-Swiss relations? Ambassador Balzaretti shared his views and unique insights with us, during a lively and fruitful discussion. Caroline Wunnerlich, Managing Director of FleishmanHillard in Brussels, moderated the roundtable.

The Ambassador of Switzerland to the EU and Caroline Wunnerlich

The Ambassador of Switzerland to the EU and Caroline Wunnerlich

2014, Year of change

With a new team of Commissioners and a new Parliament, the European Union will have the opportunity to engage in renewed dialogue with its neighbours and partners. But within these changes, there will be continuity, and Switzerland remains a very close partner of Europe: Switzerland is the third largest economic partner of the European Union. Europe and Switzerland are linked by bilateral agreements ranging from research, innovation, education, trade or agriculture; a number of new agreements are currently under discussion, covering issues as varied as the ETS, Galileo or electricity. The European Union and Switzerland have always enjoyed close economic and political ties, and the success of this event shows the strong interest of a wide range of stakeholders in the future of this relation. Although the debates were held under Chatham House rule, Ambassador Balzaretti kindly agreed to let us use here one of his sentences which, in our opinion, symbolizes this event: “We share the values of the European Union”.

A great success for the Black box!

The FH Black Box also made a great impression. Its six screens displayed data and visuals on the Swiss popular vote and on the reactions it triggered in the news and on social networks. The attendees showed a great interest in the wealth of information provided by the Black Box.

The Black Box

The Black Box

This roundtable was a success and the attendees had the opportunity to have an open and enriching discussion with the Ambassador. FleishmanHillard is proud to have organised this event, and the whole team is already looking forward to the next roundtable.

 

Lucie L’Hopital

Leave a Comment April 10, 2014

AN INTERESTING MONTH IN INTERNATIONAL POLITICS COMES TO AN END

March was an interesting month, and for a minute it felt like Europe was the centre of attention for the entire world: President Obama visited Belgium for the very first time, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited numerous EU countries, and Brussels was busy with the preparations for the EU-Africa Summit scheduled for early April. March also saw several extraordinary Councils on Ukraine and an extremely rare NATO Summit under Article 4. The removal of Russia from G8 also put the spotlight on Brussels as the selected location of the next G7 meeting. Finally, the publication of the ‘satirical’ cartoon of Obama in the Belgian daily De Morgen also made international press headlines, turning the world’s attention to a country “famous for chocolate and beer”.

The end of March also witnessed one of the most interesting conferences on foreign affairs in Europe – the Brussels Forum, an annual high-level meeting of the most influential North American and European political, corporate, and intellectual leaders. This year’s edition was spectacular and attracted an amazing crowd, including speakers such as Lady Ashton; Andrii Deshchytsia, Acting Foreign Minister, Ukraine; Heinz Haller, Executive Vice President at Dow Chemical Company; Toomas Ilves, President of Estonia; Vitalii Klychko, Chairman, Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms; President Herman Van Rompuy; Robert Zoellick, Chairman, International Advisors, Goldman Sachs and many others.

 Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine

Although the Brussels Forum showcased a number of discussions on Belarus, emerging economies, Pakistan, Afghanistan, energy issues and China, they were definitely overshadowed by the recent developments in Ukraine. In fact, some of the attendees partook in the Council meeting or travelled from Ukraine and Georgia. This made the discussion at the Brussels Forum quite heated and sometimes personal towards Russian representation present in the room.

Photo: Ewa Abramiuk Lété

Photo: Ewa Abramiuk Lété

So why do people care so much about our Eastern neighbour? President Obama described it in his Brussels speech: “To be honest, if we defined our interests narrowly, if we applied a cold-hearted calculus, we might decide to look the other way. Our economy is not deeply integrated with Ukraine’s. Our own borders are not threatened by Russia’s annexation. But that kind of casual indifference would ignore the lessons that are written in the cemeteries of this continent”. 

Ukrainians are currently preparing for the 25 May elections, which will be a crucial step towards leading the Ukraine out of the country’s deepest political crisis since 1991. “Our goal is to live in a new way. To form Ukraine in a way that there will be rich, free and honest citizens happy to be Ukrainians and to live in a country respected by the whole world,” said Petro Poroshenko, the current front-runner for the Ukrainian presidency.

So, it’s been an interesting month and some of the quotes above might spark further reflection. Most definitely March left us with a lot to consider.

 

Ewa Abramiuk Lété

*Photo: Ewa Abramiuk Lété

Leave a Comment March 31, 2014

THE EU AND NATO – A YEAR OF CHANGE

This year’s edition of Brussels Forum, hosted three interesting speakers: EEAS’s Lady Ashton, Council’s Mr Van Rompuy and NATO’s Rasmussen. All three of them will step down from their positions this year, which inspires for a reflection about their key challenges, successes and failures over the past years.

Since Van Rompuy became a President of the Council five years ago, we have seen a transformation of the Council into one of the most important EU institutions. A little joke made by President Van Rompuy during Brussels Forum actually contains a bit of truth about why the Council became so influential: “I took this job now almost five years ago, and some are saying that the European Council became the most important institution in the European Union. There are two reasons for this. I don’t know if it is true, but there are two reasons. The first reason, of course, is they had a brilliant President of the Council. The second reason is that we had a crisis, and a crisis helps a lot to put people together. We can’t have a meeting with the 28 leaders and then after the meeting I had to confront the president, say we had an excellent meeting, but we just didn’t agree on anything. That’s impossible. We had to agree. We had to converge. We had to take decisions otherwise we were punished by the markets the day after.”

barack1

*Photo: Ewa Abramiuk Lété

Lady Ashton also presented a few reflections about her achievements: “(…) success for me is about making sure there’s a second high representative, which there will be. And I said that for my time in office, there were three things that mattered. One, I had to build a service because when I started, we had lots of fabulous people, but they were scattered in eight buildings in Brussels and across the world doing things that were not what we do now. We now have 140 delegations that are EU operating across the world who are a real network of impressive people who can deliver the range of what the EU does”.

Indeed, it must have been a difficult job to create this machine, one which requires a skilful diplomat and negotiator, which Lady Ashton is. However, while the first part of the work has been done – creating a network of delegations around the world – it will be interesting to observe how this peculiar machine will develop under new leadership.

Strong words came from NATO Secretary General Rasmussen, who will be leaving his position this year but, according to the Brussels rumour mill, might remain in town in a different role. Rasmussen said “We cannot continue to disarm while the rest of the world is re-arming and some are rattling their arms on our borders. NATO’s greatest responsibility is to protect and defend our populations and our territories. To do that we must insure that we have the full range of capabilities to deter and defend against any threat. To back off diplomatic softpower with military hard power. Now we need real power.” Norwegian Jens Stoltenberg has just been announced as his successor and while congratulations to the new Secretary General are flowing in and the excitement around this new appointment is still high, it will be interesting to observe if his rhetoric will stay as strong.

Three strong individuals will leave Brussels, however I am looking forward to seeing which opportunities this change will bring for Europe and NATO.

 

Ewa Abramiuk Lété

1 Comment March 28, 2014

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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.

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