E-commerce: the needle in the DSM haystack?

On Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, Catherine Armitage takes a look at e-commerce in the EU and asks, is online shopping the key to the Digital Single Market?

Today is Black Friday – the biggest day in the e-commerce calendar. It started out as an American phenomenon, marking the busiest shopping day of the year (falling on the day after Thanksgiving) and signalling the start of the Christmas shopping period. However, over recent years Black Friday has spread across the Atlantic and retailers across Europe are now embracing Black Friday too. It’s not only Black Friday – there’s also ‘Cyber Monday’ which takes place next Monday.Wikipedia tells us this was actually invented as a ‘marketing term’ to encourage people to shop online. Online shoppers in France are currently seeing advertisements for ‘Cyber Week’ on e-commerce sites, and Amazon in the UK is announcing a full week of ‘Black Friday deals’.

So, on this momentous day (or, rather, week) for the e-commerce world, it seems appropriate to write this blog post about e-commerce in the EU and the Digital Single Market.

The European Commission’s Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy is increasingly looking more and more like it’s all about e-commerce. This is no surprise to many, like me, who have been excitedly following the DSM since the strategy was launched 6 months ago. The strategy document itself has a short ‘e-commerce’ section, which only appears to cover consumer protection. But a careful reading of the full document reveals that e-commerce is at the heart of the Commission’s DSM strategy. Online consumer protection is a start, but there is much more that could have a profound effect on any businesses that buy, sell or trade online.

Geo-blocking, for example, is all about e-commerce – now that it’s not about copyright (see my previous blog post on geo-blocking). Companies that use geo-localisation techniques to offer shoppers relevant information based on their location will need to persuade policymakers at the Commission why this is a positive, useful way of helping consumers navigate e-commerce websites. And they’ll need to show how this compares to the offline world.

The Commission’s ‘comprehensive assessment of the role of platforms’ announced in the DSM strategy will also touch on e-commerce sites, as well as services which enable online payments. In the public consultation on platforms, which was launched in September, the Commission mentions specific online market places (Amazon, eBay, Allegro, Booking.com) and payment systems (PayPal, Apple Pay). There are also measures which impact the whole ecosystem of online shopping, such as parcel delivery and harmonising VAT across the EU. Anyone working in the retail sector today will know just how much these two things can help or hinder selling online across the EU.

Finally, for any e-commerce sites which allow vendors to sell on their platforms, the Commission is looking at changing the rules on ‘mere conduit’, which would mean that in the future e-retailers could be required to actively police third-party listings on their sites and remove any content which breaches copyright rules – both for virtual goods (e.g. films, music) and physical goods (e.g. fake designer handbags).

So, even though only 1 out of the 15 sections of the DSM strategy is labelled ‘e-commerce’, online shopping is the thread that runs through a huge part of the Commission’s ambitions to create a true digital single market. To make it clearer, the team at Fleishman Hillard have developed a useful timeline which brings together all the e-commerce elements from the different bits of the DSM. As you can see, there’s a lot to digest. The DSM has the potential to fundamentally change the e-commerce landscape in the EU over the next five years. So, to all those who say the DSM is complicated, I say not at all – it’s simple. It’s all about shopping.


Catherine Armitage

Leave a Comment November 27, 2015

Digital Single Market – in like a lion out like a lamb?

The Digital Single Market needs no introduction when talking to people in Brussels. It is one of the Juncker Commission’s flagship initiatives, launched amid much anticipation back in May this year. The ‘DSM’ strategy announced a range of measures and ideas to improve access to online goods and services and help them ‘flourish’, and ‘maximise the growth potential’ of the Digital Economy in Europe. What does that mean exactly? Well, beyond the Commission-speak, it’s pretty simple really. But it takes a bit of digging to get to the core of what the Commission is trying to do.

First of all, it’s worth looking at why the DSM is such a big deal. This is an ambitious project. And, so far, attempts to introduce policy on digital issues at EU level have not been easy. There was the ‘Connected Continent’ proposal hailed by Commissioner Neelie Kroes as  ‘the single biggest thing the European institutions could finalise in 2014 to boost growth and jobs’. That was blocked in Council amidst squabbles over spectrum and roaming, and the institutions only managed to finalise it in October 2015 – having deleted most of the points which the Member States couldn’t agree on, leaving only about half of the original proposal. Then there is the General Data Protection Regulation, a hugely ambitious project to bring EU data protection laws into the digital era. That’s taken almost 3 years to finalise, and the Parliament and Council are still struggling to find agreement on some fundamental issues. And finally, the Network Information Security directive, a hugely important piece of legislation designed to protect us all from cybersecurity attacks – that’s also been in the works for almost three years. Just to put that into perspective, when the Commission wrote both these legislative proposals in 2011 and 2012, no-one had heard of Edward Snowden or Max Schrems and Uber, Snapchat and Tinder hadn’t been invented yet.

So, scene set. We get it. It takes a long time to pass legislation in the EU – that’s no surprise. But what I hope my little history lesson here has also shown is that when we’re talking about digital issues, the world moves fast even if the European institutions don’t. Which is why the Commission is trying to learn from past mistakes with its new flagship initiative, the DSM. This time, before even starting to write any legislative proposals, the Commission has been bending over backwards to get input from as many stakeholders as possible – both on a political and industry level. Politically, the Commission has been highly involved in the preparation of the Parliament’s report ‘Towards a Digital Single Market Act’ as they see it as an opportunity to figure out what MEPs want (or, more likely, what they don’t want) and forge some political compromise before the legislative process gets started. Similarly, industry has been trying to provide input to more than 10 public consultations launched on the DSM since September.

On the most ambitious (and, possibly, the most controversial) parts of the DSM, the Commission is moving forward cautiously. Geo-blocking, for example, was touted by Vice-President  Ansip as a ‘game-changer’ back when the DSM was launched in May this year. Ansip’s ‘crusade’ on geo-blocking, however, appears to have been scaled back. Whilst Ansip used to talk a lot about the frustrations of not being able to watch his favourite Estonian TV programmes online when he’s in Brussels, the public consultation on geo-blocking, which was launched in September, appears to focus almost entirely on geo-localisation techniques used by e-commerce sites – and largely overlooks the issue of copyright territoriality. The Commission has now announced that it will publish a proposal on ‘cross-border portability of online content services in the internal market’ under the banner of ‘copyright reform’. Which in all honesty sounds like it will tackle what Ansip originally called ‘geo-blocking’. Geo-blocking, therefore, appears to have been scaled back from a very complicated (and politically charged) question of copyright to focusing solely on e-commerce.

So, if geo-blocking is the first issue to be scaled back in the name of political compromise, what will be next? Lately, Commissioner Oettinger has been talking a lot less about his ambitions to regulate ‘platforms’, having faced strong criticism from MEPs across all parties and industry stakeholders. And what about copyright? We understand the Commission’s approach is to split it up into several ‘bite-sized’ pieces of legislation tackling specific issues, rather than attempting to reform all EU copyright rules in one go. But don’t worry – there’s still plenty of bite left in the DSM to keep everyone busy for the next year. The DSM may have come in like a lion, but it’s certainly not going out like a lamb.


Catherine Armitage





1 Comment November 13, 2015

A viewpoint from a digital native – the Digital Single Market

My first weeks as an intern in the technology team at FleishmanHillard have been a whirlwind, to say the least. As a Politics and Law student, I am very passionate about the work that me and my team do, and this has been the best educational experience for me so far.

For instance, I have become very interested in the Digital Single Market (DSM) and in issues such as data protection. The hot topic on data protection in Brussels over the past weeks has been the European Court of Justice’s decision regarding the Safe Harbour data transfer agreement between the EU and the US. Now, that might not mean a lot to people outside the Brussels bubble – but it should. The news strongly impacts both businesses and regular people, as it will, for instance, have an impact on e-commerce and online purchase. This has made me realise that perhaps not many people know very much about the Digital Single Market (DSM) either, and about the Commission’s work and how it impacts our everyday lives. So – here’s your crash course on the Commission and its DSM strategy!

What’s all this – digital single market?

Our world is changing as a consequence of technology, but online barriers mean we are not quite embracing the change yet. The European Commission is trying to break down online barriers and make the online and digital world more accessible through the Digital Single Market. Perhaps what interests young people the most is the availability of online goods and services – who doesn’t enjoy a little bit of online shopping?!? However, we still live at the border between the two worlds, the online and offline world, still with one foot in the other, not fully immersed in the wonders that the online world can offer us. We are the generation that is breaking down the barriers keeping us from enjoying the real digital experience, and the DSM is the regulatory tool that aims to help us by making the digital, online environment more accessible.

It can help you!

If you need convincing, let’s take an example! I was born in Romania, but I’m studying in the UK, and now working in Brussels – roaming charges are a pain! I constantly have around 4 SIM cards with me, because it is much cheaper to constantly change your phone number and use a local provider than keeping one number, and using roaming. The Commission, through the DSM, will end all roaming charges as of 15 June 2017. It might seem like a trivial thing to get excited about, but for people who travel a lot, this is really exciting news!

Something else that the DSM is aiming to achieve is to make e-commerce easier (hurray!) and tackle geo-blocking. Geo-blocking is a particularly annoying part of the online world – it means that, depending on which part of the world you are in, you might not have access to every online service available to other countries. For example, for many young people, including myself, online music and films play a big part in our daily lives. However, in Romania it is often the case that when trying to access this type of content I would get a message that it is not available in my country. Seems a bit annoying, doesn’t it?

Digital skills – need to adapt or run away?

Another, very important, aim of the DSM is to advance digital skills, making it easier to live in such a digitalised world. Take teachers for instance. Most of them do not belong to the digital generation, but they have to teach children who were born in it and who are sometimes more savvy than they are. Digital skills have also become a huge part of the job market – in a job market that increasingly puts an emphasis on an applicant’s digital skills, it’s almost impossible to find a job if you’re not tech savvy.

“Back to the future”

Now- a little bit of geek time! October 21st was “Back to the future” Day! For all fans of the 1985 and 1989 movies, this was the day when the truth came out: is 2015 as the movie makers imagined it 30 years ago? Hover-boards are still not a real thing, although technology has matched the writers’ imagination with gadgets such as video glasses, the existence of video calls, or big screen TVs. I believe this is our “back to the future” moment and we have the opportunity to change the world as we know it– 5 years from now, will we live in the Digital Single Market world? I hope so.

Andreea Ghita

Leave a Comment November 6, 2015

Becoming “FH Fundamentalists”

“My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions,” said Peter Drucker, the father of management consulting. Had we met Mr Drucker we’d probably have asked him “what are the right questions to ask in order to become a good consultant to our clients?” Unfortunately for us, Peter Drucker passed away 10 years ago – fortunately, FleishmanHillard organises the “FH Fundamentals” training every six months for young consultants from all over the EMEA region to get to know each other and further familiarise themselves with the values that make FH the best communications agency in the world.

The latest generation of "FH Fundamentalists" from Brussels, London, Paris, & Milan

The latest generation of “FH Fundamentalists” from Brussels, London, Paris, & Milan

But let’s cut to the chase – what are the five questions a communications and public affairs consultant should ask himself or herself in order to provide its clients with the best services?

  • Do I have enough “face time” with my clients? Even if one works day and night on an account spending time face-to-face with their client will enrich the relationship and will enable to address issues that are to “sensitive” to be discussed over email.
  • I am thinking creatively about my account? Beyond the day-to-day tasks it is very important to shake the status quo and present your clients with new ideas. All ideas are good – may they be big or small. At FleishmanHillard, we try to present our clients with one new idea a month – ambitious? Not at all, considering the diversity of expertise we have in our office.
  • Is Twitter the be all and end all of communications channels? Not at all! Once our client’s communications objectives and messaging is approved there are a wide range of channels to disseminate messages in order to target the right audience. Think creatively – all your money doesn’t have to go to full page ads in media and all your energy doesn’t need to focus on advertorials!
  • Is measuring results necessary? Yes – our clients are constantly connected and want to feel in control of the information they receive. Hence, measuring results is paramount to developing productive relationships with them. However, all measurement is not good measurement. Our objectives need to be clear and mutually agreed from the very beginning and data should be analysed in a relevant way to fit the client’s business and advocacy objectives.
  • I’m a young consultant – does this mean I should be terrified of presentations? Quite the opposite! Make sure you know what your role is; don’t read out a script (last time someone read you a story was probably your mother trying to send you to sleep); focus on the audience’s needs; keep eye contact with EVERYONE in the room; interact with your audience by asking questions – and above all REHEARSE. Assuming you know your subject, simple steps are the key to minimizing the pre-presentation stress.

In the FH pyramid of training FH Fundamentals is the basis – as we know the basis is the most important part; it ensures stability. And for communications consultants having good bases is key to understanding our clients’ needs. We may have not drunk from the Holy Grail however we did ask ourselves some questions about our current accounts – now it’s up our managers to embrace our improved selves!

Working on our mock pitch

Immavera & Adrien working on their mock pitch with colleagues from London and Munich

Building on Peter Drucker’s inspiring quotes, we too would like to contribute to the Consultant Hall of famous quotes, with a somewhat more impertinent twist to it.

For instance, young FH consultants like to say: “My colleagues are my best friends and my family at the same time.” What we mean: “I spend more time with my colleagues than with my friends and family combined.” Also heard: “I feel privileged to be exposed to such a high degree of expertise on a daily basis.” What that young and dynamic FH consultant actually means: “I can speak in acronyms for hours on end without ever feeling the need to rely on actual words.”

The latest “FH Fundamentalists”, Immavera Sardone, Ilektra Tsakalidou, and Adrien Rorive

1 Comment November 2, 2015

Upcoming elections in Europe – Why should Brussels care ?


Click on me !

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

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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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