Upcoming elections in Europe – Why should Brussels care ?


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1 Comment October 7, 2015

Internet Commerce is put in question by today’s European Court of Justice ruling

What this will mean for both US and EU companies

Today thousands of potential jobs, billions in revenues and any cooperation such as medical research is put into question in a landmark decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Luxembourg. After a multi-year back and forth nail-biting legal exercise the CJEU has today ruled that the Safe Harbor data-sharing agreement between the EU and the US is invalid. It has also ruled that national supervisory authorities should be able to launch court proceedings to over-rule any data-sharing agreements between the EU and third countries.

What does that mean? The US-EU is able to transfer data through various mechanisms including an agreement called the Safe Harbor Agreement. Previously that worked well as the EU saw that it provided adequate safeguards. Today the CJEU has ruled (courtesy of PRISM and Mr. Snowden) that it does not. So whilst the transfer of data is not invalid, the process to do so has become less clear with national data protection authorities now having increased powers as a result of this decision to intervene directly.

A cloud of uncertainty has covered the EU

If you thought moving your customers’ data to the Internet/Cloud was a risky and uncertain procedure well unfortunately it just got worse. A whole new can of worms has opened up.

We hope the sober minds of the US and EU will react sensibly to resolve the many issues now being raised. The most challenging and frightening outcomes are on the table include:

  • Data flows between the EU and the US could be suspended. Without a valid EU-US data transfer agreement in place, it is unclear how trans-Atlantic data transfers could continue to take place.
  • Negotiations between the EU and US to review the Safe Harbour are already in an advanced position will now have to be renegotiated.
  • Negotiations to complete the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) could be delayed.

There is also the slippery slope. The GDPR, currently being negotiated, would allow for the Commission to define a list of third countries to which data can be transferred. This judgment means that this list would not be definitive. Each of the 28 Member States and pressure groups could launch court proceedings to over-rule this list and refuse data transfers to any country it considers not to have a high enough level of protection for EU citizens. This would cause uncertainty and fragmentation for businesses.

Next steps – don’t worry the world is not doomed…

  • The European Commission is in the process of renegotiating the Safe Harbor agreement with the US – since 2013 (hopefully now with a new name made of numbers that doesn’t make it a target to regulators) . Today’s decision will likely complicate the talks and an increasing of the legal bar and requirements to be considered adequate safeguards.
  • We understand that the US Government’s department of commerce is preparing guidance for companies, following today’s judgment. This is expected to come out at the end of this week.
  • AmCham has already issued a response to the case. We expect that many other trade associations will also be issuing statements and guidance in the coming days.

Here’s a quick update : Official European Commission Response

Key highlights: Vice-President Timmermanns said the Commission was ‘not surprised’ by the ruling, as it is very much in line with the Advocate General’s opinion issued 2 weeks ago and a validation of the Commission’s own stance with the 13 recommendations they have been negotiating with the US on Safe Harbor since 2013. He sees it as ‘neither a huge reinforcement, nor a huge blow’.

The Commissioner Jourova highlighted 3 actions:

  1. Safe Harbour negotiations: the European Commission will undergo is to ensure ‘sufficient’ safeguards will be met for EU citizens through stepping up and finalising its negotiations with the US on revising Safe Harbour. However, she declined to give a timeline, saying that negotiations had already been delayed past the expected deadline of summer 2015 due to national security reasons.
  2. Data transfers: Commissioner Jourova confirmed that EU-US data transfers cannot continue under the Safe Harbour mechanism. She said that other international data transfer mechanisms must be relied upon instead, which are provided for in the current Data Protection Directive: standard contract clauses, binding corporate rules (for intra-company transfers) and derogations such as the performance of a contract, public interest grounds (including the fight against fraud), the vital interests of the data subject, or in cases where the individual has given free and informed consent.
  3. Prevent uncertainty and fragmentation: The Commission will provide guidance to the National Data Protection authorities to ensure be coordinated on alternative ways for data transfer and as it applies to businesses. Information will be published on the Commission website soon. The Commission said it understands the business need for a coordinated approach to data protection in the EU, and avoiding fragmentation. They are already in ‘intensive discussions’ with national data protection supervisory authorities and the Chair of the Article 29 working party. More meetings will take place over the coming weeks.

GDPR: Commissioner Jourova said that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) negotiations are still on track to be finalised by the end of the year. She said the ruling supports the regulation, as the regulation would strengthen the power of national data protection supervisory authorities.

The irony

The outcome of the case was the result of one student’s vision to taking on the US Government to prevent unlawful surveillance of personal data. BUT as Cynthia Rich, an analyst in Washington D.C., rightfully highlights in a blog that killing Safe Harbor will not have much of an impact on the surveillance rules of the US or all the other EU countries spying on foreign countries. It will however hurt the business and anything that requires international data transfers.

By the way there are benefits to the Internet!

Ever wonder how important the data flow between the US and the EU really is? The success of the Internet relies on the flow of information and data between countries. It is core to the Digital Single Market initiative to reboot Europe’s sluggish economy. While US internet companies are aggressively ramping up its storage and processing capabilities in the EU it is far from capable to take on the massive flow of data generated in the EU. For the moment the engine to really make cloud computing services as we know it work is storing and processing the data in the US. It gets worse. Cloud Computing mechanics is not clear cut to drop data in the EU and expect it provide the 99.9% reliability. Redundancy of data often means duplicating information several times around the world.

If we see companies, governments, consumers and scientists sharing information on a wide range of issues across the planet then we can start believing industry analyst figures that foresee the global cloud computing market will grow from a $40.7 billion in 2011 to $241 billion in 2020, according to Forrester Research. Cloud computing will generate nearly 14 million jobs worldwide from 2011 to 2015, according to a study by the analyst firm IDC. This is just the tip of the iceberg as tens of billions of euro in both public and private spend on medical and scientific research is made in the US and EU each year with increasing trans-Atlantic cooperation.

Ray Pinto


3 Comments October 6, 2015

Capital Markets Union, wait …. what?

In case you haven’t heard it enough yesterday, the European Commission unveiled its long-awaited Capital Markets Union (CMU) Action Plan.

Well technically they did more than that … On top of announcing their detailed and long-term plan to achieving better integrated and functioning financial markets in Europe, they also published a first package of proposals – a new framework for securitisation as well as a new regime to better calibrate risk for infrastructure investments by insurers. And if that was not enough (try and keep your breath on this …) they also launched a consultation on covered bonds, venture capital and a cumulative impact assessment of the agreed legislation passed in the last five years on financial services in Europe….well if that isn’t something?

But, before we dive into the significance of all of this – let’s start at the beginning:

Let’s go back: What was this all for again?

Jobs and growth, my dear Watson! Jobs and growth …

Baker Street Signboard, Sherlock Holmes Cap famous as Deerstalker, Smoking Pipe and Vintage Magnifier on Grunge Wood Table

Since Juncker’s team came into office, almost a year ago, we have seen its motto being repeated over and over again and this is no surprise when you take a look at the EU’s current economic situation. To overcome the bleak economic outlook, Commissioner Jonathan Hill was given the task to use the potential of financial markets to complement bank lending, “unlock funding for Europe’s growth” and support the Investment Plan and in general make the financial world a better place.

With a Green Paper out earlier this year – the Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services, and Capital Markets Union has certainly been busy trying to find ways to remove obstacles to investment and making sure that capital markets better serve end-users – whether they may be corporates, SMEs, investors or citizens.

And this CMU Action Plan: what exactly is it supposed to achieve?

Undeniably, what was published yesterday is quite extensive! From trying to improve funding and access to finance for SMEs, via encouraging infrastructure investments, boosting pension funds, insurance, and fund managers, to supporting retail and citizens’ investments and savings opportunities – all the while trying to remove legal barriers to cross-border financial services activities.


Source: European Commission

That said, yesterday’s CMU Action Plan also aknowledges the role of banks which finance 75% of the real economy in Europe. The Simple, Transparent, Standardised (STS) Securitisation proposal also proposed yesterday by aiming to increase credit availability and reduce cost of funding for banks stands as one of the proposals recognising that freeing up banks’ balance sheets will support bank lending.

In addition, it is also about deeper integration and financial stability. The end-game results being that more uniform and integrated capital markets are supposed to help Member States share the impact of economic shocks and strengthen Europe’s resilience.

More than that, it is about reflecting and recalibrating complex and (most of the time) inter-dependent financial services legislation. This second attempt at looking at the cumulative impact of recent texts will also set an interesting benchmark for the next few years.

So what now – and where do we go from here?    

 This is probably the million-dollar question everyone will want the answer to.

You could argue yesterday’s stream of publication stands as an undeniable success. And it does because it delivers on the political promise that Commissioner Hill made at the start of his mandate to have a sound plan in place to achieve a ‘true and genuine’ CMU by 2019. It is also ambitious with a first set of proposals on infrastructure and securitisation also published yesterday – which anchors CMU as a concrete and immediate project.

You could also be dumbfounded by all the rest of the actions set down in Lord Hill’s plan for CMU – from (possible & set) legislation, launch of studies and working groups, support to industry-led initiatives and ongoing recalibration work: it is a lot to do in a limited timeframe.  Remember Bolkestein’s 1999 Financial Services Action Plan … so 2019 seems perhaps quite ambitious to carry out all these (experimental) investigations to better integrate financial markets in Europe.

Delivering on what Lord Hill often refers to as the ‘classic single EU market project’ will take time though and involves a lot of actors beyond the usual financial services crowd. Insolvency law and securities ownership legislation will mean national Justice Ministries will have to get on board if this project is going to be a success.

By nature, it will be a step-by-step project whose tangibility and impact will be hard to define – especially when you have 28 Member States at different stages in the development of their financial and banking markets. Completing it all also won’t have a symbolic ending line – which was the case for Banking Union. There are no plans to establish a single EU supervisor for financial markets here as Lord Hill alluded to in his press conference (despite Juncker in the 5 Presidents reports calling otherwise).

What’s for sure is that keeping track of all these initiatives, and making sure they stay coherent with each other and in line with the CMU objectives, could already be difficult enough for the Commission. But when you think of the unfinished business for financial services legislation and what’s to come –  bank structure, the introduction of the Leverage and the Net Stable Funding ratios, an expected CCP Recovery and Resolution Plans to name a few – coherence could then be even harder to achieve.

At least, we can be re-assured that a plan exists and wait for the next wave of CMU-related regulation. The review of the Prospectus Directive – to facilitate SMEs’ access to financial markets – is expected as soon as November.

Sandrine Lapinsonnière

9 Comments October 1, 2015

A Yorkshireman at the European Parliament: It ain’t Yorkshire, but it ain’t bad!

My first few weeks of FleishmanHillard have been a real whirlwind of learning new skills, meeting new people, and just a little bit of socialising (on Plux of course!). Needless to say, I’ve already experienced some pretty amazing things, however, one of the best experiences I have had to date came when we (the interns) were taken from work, across Place Lux, and into the European Parliament itself. Not only were we getting the opportunity to see inside the Altiero Spinelli, Paul-Henri Spaak and József Antall buildings, but we were having this experience with the aid of two expert guides in Goran Gotev and Simon Rooze, two former MEP advisers. For a politics buff like myself, it really doesn’t get much better than this, so understandably, I was pretty excited – even if I was feeling slightly “mal à la tête” in the wake of a not insignificant Thursday evening at PLux.


The excitement built as we went into the back entrance of the Spinelli, through airport-esque security checks, and were given MEP guest badges. Goran and Simon then took us to the small event rooms near the restaurant, explaining the dos and don’ts of events, from remembering projectors to booking food and how to smuggle giant plants through security for events. As we moved on through the restaurant, Goran shared insights on where to meet an MEP for lunch (provided the topic of conversation didn’t require too much privacy). Avoid long tables, he said – who were we to doubt him!

We moved through the main lobby, past the banks, shops and one of the many smoking rooms (so alien to me as a Brit). Then came the best bit; we went into the viewing area and looked down on the hemicycle itself, and it was every bit as huge and imposing as one might imagine. This part was made even better by Goran and Simon knowing to take us into the empty reporters gallery nearer the action (were we part of the 4th Estate?). Our expert guides explained how the live translation worked during plenary sessions, showing us the various language booths. They also explained the seating arrangement of parties from left to right and the area where the President and staff sit. It was all pretty amazing, I suppose it’s like when you see a celebrity in real life, and you’re kind of awestruck trying to process the reality of that which you have seen in the semi-reality of the media so many times before. After anecdotes on the MEPs’ sitting arrangements, we moved on to the lifts, by TV studios, the moving (both literally and figuratively) ‘Confluence’ sculpture and up past the member’s post boxes, though as one might imagine, they aren’t used that much these days.

Lastly, we headed into the József Antall building and room ‘4Q2’, a mini hemicycle in which parties can meet and have votes or meetings. We sat down in the front row and Goran and Simon explained the Parliament’s nuances (hold on tight!), from committees and rapporteurs to ordinary legislative procedure. I think I speak for everyone when I say how impressed I was; not only by how complex and difficult to grasp these processes were, but also by just how much Goran and Simon knew about them! We finished with questions and minds abuzz we headed back towards the entrance. Whilst walking round the Konrad Adenauer footbridge and looking down through the glass on to the tourists below, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of smug superiority, they were outside, and if they got inside they’d only get a generic Parliament tour, whilst I had had the inside track, and what an experience it was.

Ben C. Merritt

5 Comments September 29, 2015

Alexis Tsipras and the curious case of time travel

On Sunday, Alexis Tsipras, Greek Prime Minister and leader of the left-wing SYRIZA party, managed to achieve the inconceivable: time travel! After seven months in government, capital controls, a referendum, a failed negotiation with international creditors and a new memorandum, Alexis Tsipras’ party not only managed to get elected with a significant difference over its main rival, the centre-right New Democracy party, but will maintain a coalition with the Independent Greeks (ANEL), his former conservative coalition partner, just like on 25 January 2015. The balance of power may appear to have remained the same, however, does this mean that nothing has changed for Mr. Tsipras (and for us) in seven months?

die hard

What hasn’t changed – the overall political landscape:

  1. Yesterday’s win can only be credited to Mr. Tsipras. The lack of concrete proposals on a series of critical reforms, did not put SYRIZA in pole position, however it was Tsipras’ charisma that managed to unite voters and convince them to give him, and not necessarily his party, a second chance. This new type of “cult of personality” is something to look out for in other European elections, such as Poland and Spain. Voters may turn to leaders such as Pablo Inglesias from Podemos to incarnate “a new vision” even if their parties do not put forward extremely innovative ideas.
  2. Greeks don’t see their future outside the Eurozone, though hard times lie ahead. This is the reason why Popular Unity, a SYRIZA offshoot, which suggested an alternative to the euro, did not manage to score above the 3 per cent benchmark in order to enter the Parliament. The demise of anti-euro parties will put pressure on Mr. Tsipras to manage to maintain SYRIZA’s anti-systemic and anti-austerity rhetoric while conforming to his creditors’ requests. In the coming months, he will have to manage citizens’ disenchantment with the harsh measures prescribed in the new memorandum while going ahead and implementing measures he has actively disagreed with. The end of October will be particularly critical, as the first reform appraisal will take place. Greece is already behind on deadlines for passing reforms and some of the most contentious dossiers, such as the increase in VAT in islands, social security reform and the recapitalization of banks, have not taken place. Indeed, this will be the government’s big stress test both internally, with citizens and its coalition partners, and with its creditors.

election results

What has changed – peoples’ belief in politics:

  1. Greeks have become increasingly disenchanted over the very short electoral cycles Tsipras’ party may have won 35.5 per cent of votes, however, that result must be put into perspective. Only 43 per cent of Greeks went to vote in yesterday’s elections; that is a notable decrease from 64 per cent participation in the January 2015 elections. Through abstention, Greeks not only demonstrated their disagreement over the government’s decision to call for a general election for the second time in seven months but also their disbelief that elections would change Greece’s current situation. Going forward, low turnout may put pressure on Mr. Tsipras to work very hard to maintain stability in his Coalition, as Greeks indicated they are not in for another election in six months. However, similarly to Andreas Papandreou’s rise in the 1980s, Mr. Tsipras is also likely to ride the “charisma versus apathy” wave, making him a potential “long-term leader” in Greek politics for the next years.
  2. SYRIZA’s “mainstreaming” opens a debate on the future of social-democratic parties in Europe. SYRIZA’s divide from Populist Unity managed to mainstream the party, yet maintaining an anti-systemic rhetoric; that enabled SYRIZA to gain more influence in the space traditionally covered by parties that identified themselves as social-democratic. However, even if he manages to unite the left, in a similar fashion to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party in the UK, a significant number of moderate social-democrats remain unrepresented. Will they shift their support to centre-right parties, themselves often indulging into populism to gain votes from its conservative factions, or will new powers emerge? This remains to be seen.

What’s on for Europe?

  1. Tsipras’ win may also impact the debate on the reform of the Eurozone. Over the past months, there have been increased discussions on the strengthening and development of mechanisms that would enable the Eurozone to get back on track for economic recovery and to prevent another crisis in the future. However, wouldn’t that reform be automatically put on the backburner, if more parties with anti-austerity rhetoric get elected in Europe? With one Member State being led by a party lacking credibility by its peers to deliver the necessary reforms in his country, the needed reforms on an Economic and Monetary Union scale seem to be wishful thinking at this point.

On Sunday, Mr. Tsipras proclaimed that “SYRIZA was die hard.” Excitement aside, both Mr. Tsipras and Mr. Kammenos, ought to move on fast from triumphant “die hard” to realistic “work hard”. If they don’t deliver on the reforms Greece may find itself in a difficult situation vis-à-vis its creditors and back into political turmoil with a new round of elections in the coming six months. In the words of John McClane, “Welcome to the party, pal!”

Ilektra Tsakalidou, with help from Claire Bravard and Martin Bresson

2 Comments September 22, 2015

5 things Brussels’ newest airline association should be doing


The deadline for applications closed recently for a plumb new job in Brussels – the head of the new airline trade association representing Europe’s five largest airlines – AirFrance-KLM, easyJet, Lufthansa, IAG and Ryanair.

Following the tumultuous weeks before the summer that led to the fracturing of the airline association world in Brussels, the chosen candidate could be forgiven for wondering how she/he is going to bring the membership together to successfully advocate industry positions in Brussels. The timing for the sector is critical, especially with the European Commission currently preparing its Aviation Strategy for release in early 2016.

Reflecting upon the best practices we have seen with associations that FleishmanHillard supports, our transport team has identified five things that will be important for this new airline advocacy body to incorporate into its work.

aviation fh

1. Think beyond the traditional when it comes to airline positions

Traditional airline associations in Brussels have tended to focus on traditional airline issues, be it emissions trading, passenger rights, Single European Sky or state aid in the sector. Such industry specific issues will of course remain central priorities for the new association. However, policy-makers in Brussels, fixated on Europe’s future recovery and growth, are increasingly asking more of the major industry associations in Brussels than simply positions on core industry issues – a central role for the new association will be to convey its members’ vision for the future of the industry. Whether it be the digitalisation of services in the single market, the approach to multi-modal travel solutions or the future of carbon reductions for the industry, the new association will need to be able to convey forward-thinking and positive measures that mirror the agendas of the policy-makers themselves.

2. Leverage airlines’ national footprint in Brussels conversations on policy

The ability to collectively leverage the national influence that its membership provides will be a critical, especially as national interests more and more dominate the new Brussels environment. From the European Parliament, where MEPs and their offices are always alive to listening to their own national constituents, through to national ministry officials negotiating in Council working groups, the ability of the airlines to mobilise the national as well as European audience can serve well the advocacy goals.

3. Use channels that keep a drumbeat of conversation going with relevant policy-makers

At the same time as looking beyond traditional issues, the new association should also embrace the full span of channels with which to convey its messages. Meetings and events are important points in any ongoing advocacy activity, but increasingly, social media channels such as LinkedIn and Twitter allow the conversations with key policy makers to continue in-between those set-piece moments of engagement. A recent study by FH found that 61% of MEPs surveyed follow social media conversations daily in their legislative work. So to ignore such media would be to lose a huge opportunity in terms of conveying association positions.

4. Qualify contribution to jobs and growth beyond the sector

Growth and jobs are the centerpiece of the European Commission’s agenda. Under the new regime, Commissioners and Vice Presidents are litmus testing new initiatives against their contribution to jobs and growth. The aviation industry’s own contribution is well documented, most recently through ATAG’s Benefits Beyond Borders report. Such data will continue to be critical in underpinning the advocacy effort in Brussels, and demonstrating aviation’s “value add”. The sector’s positive impact of course spreads to nearly every corner of Europe’s economy – the ability of the new association to therefore harness the support of other industry sectors, that depend on aviation for their own economic well-being, will be key.

5. Deliver member value through bench-marking reputation and measuring improvement

A fresh start for an industry association provides a unique opportunity to put in place a robust system of performance bench-marking. Setting out and agreeing on a core set of measurable objectives will allow the association to clearly define its own success and calibrate its ongoing strategy. Doubtless a core aspect of the activities of the association will be to develop the reputation of the sector with policy-makers. Initially, and periodically henceforth, testing the policy-maker perceptions of the airline industry will allow a clear assessment of the ongoing effectiveness of the association in this regard.

Rob Anger

Leave a Comment September 15, 2015

Operation Europe

This is the “last chance” Commission…

This dramatic statement was pronounced by Jean-Claude Juncker in October 2014 to Members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, during his formal presentation of the College of Commissioners and their proposed 2016-2020 programme.

Juncker to deliver his first ever SOTEU!

On Wednesday 9 September, Jean-Claude Juncker will head back into the Strasbourg hemicycle for his first ever speech on the so-called State of the European Union (or SOTEU). Although not as eagerly expected by citizens and the media as the original USA version, the SOTEU address has become a major milestone in EU politics since it was first launched by former President Barroso in 2008.

As the SOTEU traditionally addresses the EU’s key challenges and provides an opportunity to introduce major policy initiatives, President Juncker is expected to present his main accomplishments from his first year at the helm of the European Commission, as well as lay out his vision to address the burning issues that the EU is currently facing.

In front of him will sit a full parliament of Members who have shown signs of dissatisfaction with their once favourite candidate, their “spitzenkandidat”. Juncker indeed secured his appointment in large part thanks to the support of the European Parliament. A year later, after mostly focusing on Council matters such as Greece and the migration crisis, some might say that the European Parliament has been left in a vacuum with too little legislative work to do. To soften critics, Juncker will have to deliver a balanced speech, calling on all institutions to cooperate for the sake of the future of the EU.

FH Stethoscopes and tweezers to the ready – It’s time to play ‘Operation Europe’

The EU seems in no better shape than last year, and Juncker will need to convincingly perform a series of highly delicate operations to heal the life-threatening conditions Europe is currently fighting, including internal disorder, existing EU weaknesses and international conditions:

Operation Europe

  • The first year of the Juncker team in office has resulted in a sharp decrease in legislative files, most notably in areas such as sustainability and environmental issues, where the EU traditionally leads the way. Looking at the 2016 European Commission Work Programme, what’s at the forefront of Juncker’s thinking?
  • Jobs and growth are the backbone of Juncker’s mandate. Will he use the speech to confirm that his Investment Plan has delivered on its promises, and has boosted Europe’s growth and created jobs? Although recent figures show that unemployment in the euro area is at its lowest since February 2012, is this trend looking set to continue, or will Juncker need to intervene further in order to succeed?
  • Through his vision of a more dynamic and effective institution, Juncker has turned the European Commission into a very political animal. But does the European Commission have broad enough shoulders to deliver on its President’s promises?
  • Juncker had already identified the “scores of immigrants” arriving at the gates of Europe as a major challenge. Recently calling for “collective courage”, Juncker is expected to present a new proposal that addresses the migration crisis, to show that Europe still has a heart and is willing to help those seeking a better life.
  • As opponents continue to vilify TTIP, Juncker will need a lot of elbow grease to progress on negotiations and ensure that the EU remains a competitive trade partner globally.
  • The Greek crisis is probably one of the only achievements of this Commission thus far. Although the euro zone Member States have been slapped on the wrist for allowing Greece into the euro zone in the first place and lost credibility for endless “absolute final last possible chance before ultimate and irrevocable catastrophe Councils” to avoid a ‘Grexit’, it seems Juncker’s former role as President of the Eurogroup has paid off in so far avoiding a ‘Grexit’. However, as the Greek crisis is far from being resolved, how will Juncker address the issue moving forward?
  • The European Union will rise and speak as one at the Paris Climate conference (COP21) next November. Criticisms concerning the low level of ambition for the conference are increasing, as are fears that COP21 will fail. If the EU wants to breathe life into the climate change debate, courageous proposals need to be made.
  • Recent attacks on European soil and the rise of ISIS in the Middle-East have led Juncker to propose reinforced cooperation mechanisms to protect European citizens. Will the European Commission manage to convince EU Member States to have the stomach to work together?
  • Juncker is not expected to go into the details of specific EU policies, however the promises of an EU Digital Single Market (DSM) regarding jobs and growth are too important not to mention. DSM and Juncker’s future legacy are joined at the hip.
  • The EU cannot be navel-gazing and has to play a central role in international foreign affairs. From the Chinese economic slowdown to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Juncker will have to keep Europe from falling on its knees.
  • President Juncker is unlikely to voluntarily touch upon Brexit, which feels like the sprained ankle of the EU… very painful and capable of making us fall any minute. However far right Members of the European Parliament might push Juncker on the issue, aiming to show once again that the EU is on the brink of toppling over.

The SOTEU address will give us a sense of the current mood within the European Commission and the European Parliament, as well as an understanding of what Juncker deems his main achievements are so far.

We will closely watch Dr. Juncker perform all these sensitive operations, following the live debate from the EP and online and will regularly take the pulse of our European patient. Follow us on Twitter (@fleishmanEU) to find out how Dr. Juncker is doing fixing patient Europe!

The Institutional Research Unit

2 Comments September 8, 2015

European politics of gender equality: the mountain that gave birth to a mouse?

On paper, gender equality is high on the current EU agenda. In his 10 ‘Commandments’, President Juncker has committed to a more gender-balanced Commission; the European Parliament has maintained continued pressure on other institutions to present and adopt regulatory measures; and, just last week, Commissioner Jourova pledged to present a comprehensive legislative package on gender equality in 2016.

Source: Greens/European Free Alliance Group Promoting gender equality in Europe: more than a game

Source: Greens/European Free Alliance Group

This focus on gender equality shouldn’t come as a surprise; women can be the edge Europe needs to stay ahead in a competitive global setting.

There is a clear business case for more gender equality in the EU, with numerous studies showing the economic benefits for businesses in fostering diversity in senior positions – investors also care more and more about companies’ corporate and social responsibility performance. In addition, to keep its position as a global agenda-setter, the EU can only benefit from adapting to social changes and acknowledging the powerful voice of a growing number of female thought leaders. After all, we’re in the age of Malala, Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, Taylor Swift and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg.

However, recently the EU seems to have a limited impact when it comes to pushing gender equality forward, and progress has been stalling in the last ten years:

  • Gender-related law passed in the last two Council Presidencies is almost non-existent, and some measures such as the Maternity Leave Directive have been withdrawn, while ongoing files like the Women on Boards Directive are stalled, and adopted measures such as recommendations on gender mainstreaming face implementation issues.
  • Statistics paint a bleak picture: persisting pay (16.4%) and pension (39%) gaps[1], continued gender imbalance in decision-making (see graph below), and prevalence of gender-based violence.
  • Progress amongst Member States is uneven, and at the current pace equal pay will have to wait 70 years (that’s something to make former Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding furious!)
Source: European Institute for Gender Equality

Source: European Institute for Gender Equality

Will Commissioner Jourova’s upcoming legislative package bring some new energy to the gender equality project? Despite the EU’s ability to set political agendas, legislating gender equality faces many obstacles within the institutions, while cultural and subsidiarity issues can delay progress in Member States. Overall, it seems that what’s needed for concrete progress is a comprehensive push where the EU, Member States and the industry alike focus on what they do best, be it agenda-setting or legislating, to strive for a more equal Europe.

Institutional hurdles at EU-level       

Within the EU institutions, it seems that gender as a policy issue is not currently being prioritised. While gender equality is a third of Commissioner Jourova’s mandate, only 8 policy officers in one dedicated Unit are currently focusing on gender equality in the Commission. In the European Parliament, the formal impact of the gender equality Committee seems equally limited – despite continuous work to pressure other institutions to adopt legislative measures, most recent projects have been dedicated to progress reports or non-binding resolutions. Finally, there’s no Council formation dedicated to gender equality.

As for the role of dynamics between institutions, they often stall the legislation that manages to make its way through to negotiations. The Maternity Leave Directive proposal, which seeked to extend the minimum leave period from 14 to 18 weeks, was recently withdrawn by the Commission due to being blocked in the Council and despite the efforts of the Parliament – the same situation that stalls the Women on Boards proposal aiming to improve gender balance in corporate governance; showing the difficulties of transitioning such proposals from a more ambitious Parliament to a more conservative Council.

Source: AFP/Getty Images MEP Licia Ronzulli votes for the extension of paid maternity leave.

Source: AFP/Getty Images
MEP Licia Ronzulli votes for the extension of paid maternity leave

Member States’ role: How important is the subsidiarity issue?

Several Member State-level issues keep gender equality from progressing faster. Gender at a national level is increasingly bundled with other discrimination issues in administration and is often justified solely through economic goals such as labour efficiency, rather than claimed as an objective in itself. Public servants working on gender mainstreaming within other policy issues are often too strained working across multiple files to make a difference, while the EU-recommended gender impact assessments are almost non-existent – the soft nature of most recent EU law on gender issues makes for weak regulatory pressure on Member States.

On a more political level, some Member States have shown not to appreciate being told how to manage gender relations – due partly to the politically sensitive nature of the subsidiarity debate. Indeed, although most Member States proactively recognise the importance of gender equality, the issue is so embedded in national culture that trying to introduce EU law on the topic can lead them to adopt a defensive position – partly explaining Germany’s stalling of the Women on Boards Directive in Council, despite recently passing legislation at national level to improve gender quotas on company boards. This is coupled with a resurgence of ultra-conservative parties associated with traditional gender roles preferences in several Member States – while Sweden maintains the only self-proclaimed feminist government and diplomacy in the EU.

The future of gender equality: Much more than economic performance

Commissioner Jourova’s forthcoming proposals could bring a comprehensive policy package to the table – but they’re unlikely to succeed in bringing genuine gender equality to the EU without a much stronger and committed support from the EU, Member States and the industry.

In addition, depending on the content of the policy package, and in reaction to Commissioner Jourova’s statement that it will mostly focus on ‘economic prosperity, not social change’[2], perhaps it is necessary to acknowledge that long lasting change will only be achieved when gender equality is decoupled from economic performance and progresses at all levels of societal activity: while women are a formidable workforce that is currently underutilised, gender equality goes far beyond labour efficiency, which is just a tree in the forest of women’s rights.

Lucie Martin

[1] Statistics sourced from the Report of the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality adopted on 13 May 15, on the EU Strategy for equality between women and men post 2015.

[2] Heath, R. ‘Maternity leave’s pregnant pause’ in Politico, 4th August 2015 (online edition) – article available here : http://www.politico.eu/article/europe-bailout-women-jourova-employment-equality/

10 Comments August 13, 2015


environmental conservationToday, in a post Kyoto Protocol period, the world faces the same challenge as back in 1997 – We are again facing the need to reach an international agreement to set the scene for effective action against climate change. There is however a considerable difference between today and 1997 – climate discussion has been elevated to a different level, where it has become a great concern of the majority of governments, corporations, NGOs and citizens.

Governments and climate change

Despite many disbelievers, governments have become more concerned. The emotional speech of the Philippines Delegate at the opening of COP-19 demonstrates the effects climate change could have on those most vulnerable countries. The fact that to date 25 countries[1], representing almost all continents have already submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contribution to a new Climate Change Agreement is also a good step towards reaching an agreement. In November 2014, the US and China agreed to cap and reduce emissions, and to work together to forge an international climate agreement in 2015 – yet another major step forward. Last but not least, the EU agreed on a binding target of at least a 40% domestic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990. Clearly, governments are concerned.

What is the role of business?

Now, let’s turn to the businesses. Have they become more concerned about climate change? I do believe so. At the end of July 2015, the White House launched the American Business Act on Climate Change. Under this scheme, each participating company has announced new pledges to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and increase low-carbon investments, deploy clean energy and take actions to build a more sustainable business. As part of the American Business Act, Alcoa pledged 50% less GHG emissions in the US by 2025 (in comparison to 2005 levels), while Coca-Cola has pledged to reduce carbon footprint by 25% by 2020. Other companies, such as Apple, Golden Sachs, Google and Microsoft have pledged to use 100% renewable energy.

Furthermore, the statistics about the investments in clean energy and low carbon development speak for themselves. Out of the $359 billion invested in 2012, 62% came from private investments ($224 billion) versus 38% ($135 billion) from public investments.

Having business on board is therefore key, both in terms of changing corporate behaviour as well as in terms of securing future investments in low carbon economy.

You, me… us, the citizens

Source: Yale

Source: Yale

According to a Yale-led survey of 119 countries, a staggering 40% of the globe’s population has never heard of climate change, or its effects. This rises to more than 65% in some developing countries, like Egypt, Bangladesh, and India, according to Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. Interestingly, the research showed that in the U.S. views on climate change were strongly linked to their politics.

Especially in developed countries, the awareness of climate change is high. For instance, in September 2014, an estimated 400,000 people marched through midtown Manhattan as part of the People’s Climate March. With more than a million of activists around the globe, the role of civil society pressuring governments, pushing for new laws, policies or strategies on climate change is increasing. “Many of even the world’s poorest countries now have active civil society coalitions that work on climate change, and they are increasingly influential,” according to Dr Hannah Reid of IIED, an editor of a report Southern voices on climate policy choices:  civil society advocacy on climate change. Civil society is becoming better organised, cooperates more with governments and is better trained in communicating with the media.

New voices…

Air pollution in Paris, Photo: Reuters

Air pollution in Paris, Photo: Reuters

With 4,416 cities in the world with a population of over 150,000, cities are becoming an important voice in the climate change discussion. There are several initiatives aimed at mayors which particularly tackle climate change: the World Mayors Council on Climate Change, C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, Mayors Adapt and many others. At the end of July 2015, dozens of environmentally friendly mayors met with Pope Francis in Vatican to commit to reducing global warming and helping the urban poor deal with its effects. It is perhaps one of the most important initiatives of Vatican, following the release of the landmark environment encyclical ahead of the climate negotiations in Paris.

 What next?

As Nobel Laureate Al Gore stated during his last Davos speech, in order to reach an agreement in Paris in 2015 there needs to be political will across the globe, and this political will is a “renewable resource”. There is therefore an obvious need for this political will to be “backed” by the support from the industry, civil society and ordinary citizens.

With the Paris COP21 climate change negotiations in December 2015 approaching, we will see more voices present in the discussion. Whether we will be able to reach an agreement or not, climate change has become a concern for many. The feeling of concern for the future, as well as a more positive feeling of the fact that we are building a cleaner world, will be a major stimulus behind the negotiations.

12 August 2015

Ewa Abramiuk Lété is a public affairs and communications specialist who supports clients in the energy, transport and utilities sector. All above stated opinions are hers.

[1] status 11 August

5 Comments August 12, 2015

Circular Economy – Parliament presents its wish list whilst Commission remains tight-lipped

While the European Commission is not revealing much about its vision on how to achieve a “circular” economy, the European Parliament has now made its mind up. The own-initiative report from rapporteur Sirpa Pietikäinen, adopted yesterday in plenary with 394 votes in favour, 197 votes against and 82 abstentions, aims to inspire the Commissions’ discussions on the new Circular Economy package, which is expected before the end of the year. Whether the EP’s recommendations will put further pressure on the Commission to come up with an ambitious proposal remains to be seen but one thing is certain, the Parliament has its “wish list” ready.

Last June, the adoption of Mrs. Pietikainen’s report by 56 votes in favour reflected a large political consensus in the Environment committee. However, in the period leading up to the plenary vote, the tabling of new amendments and the request for split votes for various provisions showed that diverging views may challenge this consensus. And it did indeed. Interestingly, while the content of the report remains mostly the same, a few key changes shed a new light on the Parliament’s approach of the dossier. In an attempt to offer more flexibility and address the risk of over-regulation, the Plenary has noticeably softened the Parliament’s language and readjust some expectations downwards.

Parliament softens overall resource efficiency target and confirms waste targets

It is on targets that the plenary vote had most striking and symbolic impact. While the Environment committee decided to call for a binding target to increase resource efficiency by 30% by 2030 compared with 2014 levels; the target is no longer legally binding. On waste however, expectations are unchanged. The Commission should foresee a waste reduction target for municipal, commercial and industrial waste for 2015 and increase recycling and reuse target to at least 70% of municipal solid waste and 80% recycling of packaging waste by 2030. The Parliament wants such targets to be the same in all Member States while the Commission has already indicated that it will not be excluding differentiation to a certain extent. The binding food waste target (30% by 2025) and marine litter target (50% by 2015 compared with 2014 levels) also remain on the Parliament’s wish list.

Indicators are still on the menu as well. A lead indicator and a dashboard of sub-indicators on resource efficiency should measure resource consumption, including imports and exports, at EU, Member State and industry level. Interestingly, the Parliament points out the need to adopt a lifecycle approach and to apply a footprint methodology. In other words, products and services should be considered broadly and indicators should reflect at least land, water and material use as well as carbon emissions. According to verbal statements from Commission officials, the Commission is indeed planning to measure circular economy progress by using a dashboard of indicators.

Access to information reduced to consumers’ awareness

Access to information is another area where yesterday’s vote had a significant impact. Until then, the Environment committee had come to the conclusion that information about products should be enhanced:  consumers as well as businesses should have access to information about the resources a product contains and on its expected lifetime. Now the Parliament simply and vaguely “notes that it is crucial to raise consumers’ awareness and increase their proactive role.”

Product design remains high on Parliament’s agenda

Product design is another key aspect for the European Parliament. Products should be durable, repairable, reusable and recyclable. The Eco-design Directive is considered as the best instrument to meet such ambitions. On this matter the Plenary aligned with the Environment committee: the directive should be reviewed by the end of 2016 in order to expand its scope, introduce mandatory product passports and implement self-monitoring and third-party auditing.

The reference to Green public procurement disappears

During the conference organised by the European Commission on June 25, a significant number of speakers and participants mentioned the use of green public procurement as a tool to boost the circular economy. At that time, these views were reflected in the Environment committee report which called on the Commission to propose compulsory green public procurement procedures. The reference to compulsory green public procurement has been watered-down as it now just refers to public procurement without the “compulsory green” component.


The Circular Economy will keep EU institutions and stakeholders busy in the months to come. While the Parliament has now clarified its expectations, the European Commission must make important decisions. When withdrawing the previous Circular Economy package, they promised “a more ambitious” package. The question is whether the new proposal will meet this high level of ambition or whether the Commission is, rather optimistically, shooting for the stars. We will be able to judge in a few months when the Commission is expected to publish the new package. Until then, stakeholders have the opportunity to express their views by contributing to the Commission’s public consultation which is open until 20 August.

Lara Visser and Pauline Tawil

Leave a Comment July 10, 2015

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